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THE REPUBLICAN CONVENTION | CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK

No Joke, Twins' Act Needs Work

September 01, 2004|Paul Brownfield | Times Staff Writer

The Bush daughters, fresh from their booing this week at the MTV Video Music Awards in Miami, came onstage at the Republican National Convention on Tuesday night and introduced a new strategy in the war on terrorism: giggling.

They were there to introduce their father, President Bush, who appeared via satellite from Pennsylvania, where he stood in front of a softball game and introduced First Lady Laura Bush.

But there were hiccups along the way to the first lady's entrance, courtesy of her 22-year-old twin daughters, who carry themselves with an implied raunch.

The strategy Tuesday, apparently, was to have sisters Jenna and Barbara humanize and soften the grim-faced Politburo image that dogs the Bush-Cheney campaign, which hasn't made much of an effort to court those young Americans who call it a good day if they've remembered to TiVo "The Simple Life."

So here they were, girlie and giggly and glammed-up (Jenna in some kind of Juicy couture-looking track suit top over white pants, Barbara in a black cocktail dress).

They told slightly off-color jokes, apparently to drive home the point that, supporting a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage aside, their parents weren't totally freaked out about S-E-X. Her grandmother, Jenna said, "thinks 'Sex in the City' is something married people do but never talk about," getting the show's name wrong. Barbara said, "Jenna and I are really not very political." She's the one who graduated from Yale.

The Republicans, you were reminded, are really good at chest-thumping and flag-hugging, but they ought to stay away from showcasing their privileged, Prada-wearing first daughters until the campaign is over.

After the speeches were over, even CNN's talking heads seemed to be struggling to make sense of the sisters' sister act. Judy Woodruff stammered, "I'm not sure what that was about," while an incensed Jeff Greenfield called the appearance a "frankly discordant moment."

The evening's convention program was called "People of Compassion," though it might have been more accurately termed "People of Dubious Celebrity." The heavily promoted California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was the highlight, taking the stage just as the broadcast networks joined the convention for their one hour of coverage, from 7-8 p.m.

Schwarzenegger did his I'm-living-proof-this-is-the-land-of-opportunity routine, tracing his picaresque saga from Austrian wimp to action star and governor.

Schwarzenegger's speech played well on TV and in the hall, but less so in the VIP box, where Schwarzenegger's wife, Democrat Maria Shriver, was repeatedly caught on camera not responding with any enthusiasm as her husband said things such as: "If you believe that this country, and not the United Nations, is the best hope for democracy, then you're a Republican."

On MSNBC, word that "Police brace for further protests" kept crawling across the screen, but none of the cable networks' cameras could be bothered to interrupt their afternoon and evening programs to show actual dissent.

You know dissent. It's what Schwarzenegger said makes our country so great. Or, as the Bush twins might put it, "stuff I guess that people are saying about our dad."

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