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September 03, 2004

The Speech

Quick version:

I thought it was a good speech. Very bad at first, and then better. Good lines here and there. But I personally didn't feel the sort of "wow" I got from Schwarzenegger, Guilliani, or Z Diddy.

On MSNBC and FoxNews, everyone was saying it was a great speech, but then, they almost always say that.

A B+ overall, grading slightly charitably.

The Bad: The whole beginning was, to me, bad. And it's gotten worse as I've thought about it.

Bush has a problem. The problem is he "needs" (I question that, but that's the CW) some domestic agenda for the second term. The problem is that 1) he's supposed to be a conservative restraining the growth of government and 2) philosophy aside, he's got a huge budget deficit caused by a combination of the War on Terror, lingering aftereffects of the inherited recession, and his tax cuts.

So he can't really promise a lot of big programs, even if he were inclined to do so (which, quite frankly, he does seem to be on occasion).

So what to do? I think he could either argue that now is not the time for massive new federal programs; we have a war on, for god's sake. He chose not to make this case.

He could have presented a fairly comprehensive and conservative case for reforming, shrinking, cutting, and streamlining government. He chose not to do that, either. I suppose that talking about "streamlining government" isn't politically smart when a lot of people are nervous about losing their jobs; they don't necessarily want the country's biggest employer downsizing at this time.

He could have competed with Kerry in terms of spending; he half did this, and this bothers me greatly.

What he mostly did is propose a bunch of smaller-bore programs which, while expensive, aren't that expensive (I'm guessing-- I don't have my adding machine out). The trouble is that people inherently comprehend that he's not really proposing a whole hell of a lot; there's nothing like Clinton's "100,000 new cops on the street" that will catch the public's attention and persuade them (perhaps dishonestly) that you're "really doing something" to solve a problem.

So I don't know who this program is supposed to appeal to. It obviously won't appeal to liberals-- they hate him with a crazy passion. It also won't appeal to moderates, who don't have the partisan passions of liberals, but who want all the big-ticket government spending liberals favor (they also want their taxes cut simultaneously, and they also, by the way, want the deficit reduced simulataneously, and they're not very keen on Vulcan mathematics).

And it won't appeal to conservatives, who saw an awful lot of money flowing out of the government to buy Bush's re-election.

One of his biggest ideas -- that whole social-security private account thing-- is potentially a vote-winner and simultaneously both liberal (in ends) and conservative (in means), but no one who is not a diagnosed maniac thinks we're likely to see this actually happen.

Social Security will not be changed in any meaningful way until it becomes bankrupted. Anyone who proposes the changes which are necessary gets demagogued and then loses elections; therefore, no one actually tries to change the system.

Plus, actually shifting to Bush's plan would cost a trillion dollars in transition costs which it doesn't seem we really have at the moment.

All I can say is that this "agenda," such as it is, can be called an agenda, and thus Bush's people can claim, with technical accuracy, that he does have an "agenda" for his second term. But I really do not expect a lot of people to be fooled by this.

On the other hand, Kerry's agenda is hugely expensive and of course is even less likely to actually be passed into law than Bush's. I think people realize that, too; I don't think anyone is actually sitting at home right now thinking that John Forbes Kerry is actually going to solve the "plight of the uninsured." We've heard that song before. The country kinda-sorta wants to insure the poor but definitely doesn't feel like paying for it. So we give this problem lip service every four years and then forget about it.

Sort of like our quadrennial promises to pay teachers as much money as doctors.

I don't know how this shakes out. The country seems to always give the benefit of the doubt on these issues to the Democrats, even though I have to think they're smart enough to know that nothing is going to change or, if things do change, it's going to change in ways not of their liking.

I think it was a mistake to delay announcing his second-term domestic agenda until this speech, though. It was not only a laundry list; it wasn't even one of the more interesting laundry lists.

Bush actually had an ambitious domestic agenda in the first term. Most if it didn't necessarily cost a lot of money (testing, vouchers, faith-based charities, etc.) but it was Big Idea stuff that seemed as if it could actually make a difference.

He's accomplished some of that and been forced to drop other bits. Nothing in his domestic-agenda this time around is intriguing. The "Ownership Society" just turns out to be a group of privatizing initiatives we've largely heard before. Some of this may be good policy, but I doubt it's vote-winning politics.

The Good: The defense of Bush's foreign policy was well done, and obviously there was some genuine conviction and passion in his words, but I have to say Bush presented no new real arguments or facts in defense of his policies. Either you buy it or you don't; I can't imagine that what Bush said actually persuaded people who weren't already on his side.

On the other hand, how one says something can persuade on a deeper, less logical level, and perhaps Bush's presentation of himself as a reluctant warrior who feels the weight of all the deaths of the past four years will persuade some security moms who want to be protected by a tough guys who hurt.

I can't say. I thought it was sweet that Bush choked up when discussing military families, but it didn't further persuade me to his cause. I already knew that he was a fundamentally decent (and sometimes emotional) man; so no new information on that score for me.

Bush has a problem that drives me to distraction. When making a point, he has no follow-through. He seems to be setting up a gorgeous shot then he short-arms it and sends it trickling off the green. He's been frustrating me for four years.

Example: He mentions that Kerry called our allies the "coerced and the bribed." Why not finish this off properly?:

My opponent promises to use his vaunted powers of diplomacy to bring new allies to our cause, and frighten off would-be attackers. And yet he called the coalition fighting side by side with us in Iraq the, quote, "coerced and bribed." Who were these "coerced and bribed" nations? Britain and Australia, the two nations that have fought with us in every major war since World War II. Italy, a nation that has been on our side from the Cold War to the Gulf War. Poland, one of our newest and strongest allies since Ronald Reagan helped them liberate themselves from Soviet domination.

John Kerry's first act of diplomacy as a presidential candidate was to call the nations risking and losing lives to aid us the "coerced and the bribed." The only nations he seems to have a kind word for are those who have opposed us at every turn. Not a promising start. And not the sort of treatment likely to earn us future friends.

Wordier, yes. But that doesn't just mention Kerry's unforgiveable insult, it uses it to attack Kerry's "Big Idea" for fighting the war on terror -- i.e., be very nice and diplomatic.

I think it would have been worth the extra ten seconds. I think several of Bush's key points would have been worth an extra ten seconds here or there.

Why not remind people of the fact that we had to bomb Iraq every other year during the nineties? Do people remember that Iraq was a foreign-policy/military nightmare every sixteen months or so?

The "Ugly," "Mean-Spirited," and "Hateful:" By this I mean Bush's comparisons with John Forbes Kerry. We all know it's an act of "hate" for a Republican to attempt to compare himself favorably with a Democrat on an issue where Republicans traditionally have an advantage (the military, foreign policy, etc.) And of course we all know that Democrats can press their own advantages to their heart's content; it's never mean to claim that Republicans hate old people, for example. That's just the truth.

Bush's comparisons were fairly effective, but honestly, we've heard them all before, so it's hard for someone who follows this stuff every day to guess how these chestnuts play with an audience which might be hearing them for the first or second time.

It does seem to me that Bush is betting that Kerry's vote against funding the troops is a very big deal. I think it is a big deal, but I also think that people expect a certain amount of cynicism from their politicians (particularly liberal ones, and particularly liberal ones attempting to hide their liberal inclinations), so I don't know what people make of this. They probably figure that Kerry just voted as he did for political purposes; is that a bad thing, as it seems to me, or do they count that as so much cynical political business as usual?

Style/Stagecraft: The floating in-the-round stage looked pretty cool. Bush looked pretty good throughout the speech -- he's actually a sort-of good-looking guy.

He didn't smirk. I think he's really been training himself not to smirk. A lot of times he has his mouth turned down on one side and turned up on the other; I wonder if this is him fighting his natural tendency to smile (which is interpreted as "smirking").

Thankfully didn't let the convention delegates go too far with that flip-flop, flip-flop thing. Honestly-- Republicans get the "Stepford People" insult a lot; we don't need to feed that beloved media put-down by engaging in dopey, forced mass-chanting behavior. I cringed every time they started that cultish chant. Yeah, I know they're just having fun, but it looks bad.

His delivery was really very good. I still don't think Bush has every come close to equalling his September 14th address to Congress, but he read this speech smoothly and fluidly and with great eye-connection to the crowd and camera. He also hit his dramatic marks well-- quiet and grave this moment, playful here, booming and resolute there.

Summing up: I think I've just seen too many Bush speeches to be very impressed by them any more, particularly when he's adding nothing really new to the debate (which is most of the time). A lot of time I watch his speeches just to hear the Parade of Fabulousness; i.e., "I couldn't be happier than to be here with you in Scranton; you have a fabulous Mayor here in Scranton, and I thank the good Congressman from the fourth district for welcoming me; you have a fabulous Congressman from the fourth district."

I guess this is one of those speeches where you say "He did what he had to do, and he delivered the speech well."

I think, though, that the net effect from the entire convention will be very positive. I don't retract my previous belief that, to the extent that conventions can shape public opinion in this jaded 50-50 nation, this will be one of the conventions that will.

Grades: Allah's presenting a round-up in which some offer letter-grades, so I'll do so too. Here are the grades for the speakers I saw:

Ron Silver: Terrific speech. Serious, sober, and compelling. B+.

John McCain: I didn't see all of his speech, in fairness. On the other hand, what I saw did not compel me. He made a good point that sanctions-regime supposedly "containing" Saddam was about to break down.

I can't grade him, since I didn't see enough. From what I saw: B+. Some good points, but he came across as half-hearted. He didn't want to be at the convention, but felt obliged to be there, if he wanted to be the last speaker at the 2008 convention.

Rudy Guiliani: Good stuff. I had just commented to someone that Guiliani had recently picked up an attribute he didn't have when he started out -- warmth, humor, affability. I've always been a huge fan, since his first failed run for Mayor, but he always came across as a bit cold.

My only fault with Guiliani's speech is that he was too much the Borscht-belt comedian, too jovial and affable for a speech about such weighty issues. I would have preferred the Old School Rudy for this speech.

But a great speech. I was thrilled he mentioned the German appeasement of the Palestinian Munich-Olympics terrorists. A.

Arnold Schwarzenegger: Arnold's speech was less weighty than Guiliani's. But it was extraodinarily well-delivered, and the man's charisma beamed. His Jeff Foxworthy-patterned "You may be Republican if..." stuff was simple but convincing. While his "economic girlie man" has the potential to backfire (no one out of a job wants to be called a girlie man; that's not what Arnold said, but it could be interpreted that way), the rest of the speech was just an amazing performance. Not only did it psych up the footsoldiers, it actually might have summoned a few new recruits.


The Twins: They started off very weak and annoying, and then went on for far too long. Who was responsible for this? Show them, let them speak briefly, let them tell a funny story about their parents, and then get them off the stage. They are a pair of 22-year-old giggling girls, for crying out loud.

They actually got better as they went on, and became endearing. But the length of it was unforgiveable. And I don't think it's a good idea to undermine the main thrust of the convention -- 9/11, "the most important election since 1948," etc. -- by a pair of girls who, while charming and cute, are actually less accomplished at this point than Mary Kate and Ashley. D.

Laura Bush: Didn't watch her.

Zell Miller: A barnburner. Devastating. The only problem is that on some cameras he looked insane, because from some vantages it appeared his eyes were rolling up into his forehead. FoxNews seemed to have the worst shot of him (thank goodness-- FoxNews viewers will forgive that).

He seemed much too angry to me. I think a friendlier, warmer, more-in-sadness-than-anger tone would have made his speech twice as effective.

Even with the counterproductive anger: A.

Dick Cheney: To be honest, I've forgotten just about everything Dick Cheney said by now. He let the flip-flop, flip-flop business go on for far too long. I remember liking his speech at the time, but it didn't hold a candle to Zell's conflagration. B

President Bush: For reasons explained at far too great a length above: B+, but I'm not really sure about the +.

Overall Convention: A. Very well done. Other conventions might have a better speaker here or there, but few will have so many good-to-great speeches, and I don't think the trick is likely to be repeated again any time soon.

And, why not grade Oliver Willis as well?

Let me share some of O-Dub's insights with you.

On the pre-speech film narrated by Fred Thompson:

I swear to Jeebus, I'm going to vomit. This is just weird.

That's the entire post, by the way. He thought that was important enough to not only type up, but then slap a headline on it and push "POST."

This is another good one:

Kerry To Bush: It's On, Biatch

It's not just that it's old and trite and not funny. It's also that it has that stink of forced "zaniness," like when a bunch of people who don't know or like each other are trapped together on New Year's Eve and so they decide to play strip Jenga to be "wild."

Grade: F/Incomplete (please see me after class!)

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posted by Ace at 01:22 AM

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