Blogging from the Republican Convention, Day 2.

Politics and policy.
Sept. 1 2004 2:22 PM

Laura Agonistes

Blogging from the Republican Convention, Day 2.

(Continued from Page 1)

Great point. Unfortunately, it left Steele in the awkward position of trying to explain why, if results matter more than hope does, we should vote for a president who's running on hope and lousy results. So Steele touted Bush's tax cuts as a benefit in their own right, glossing over their failure as economic policy and their tiny benefit to the folks he was appealing to. I nodded when Steele said government's job was to "give us the tools we need and then get out of the way and let us put our hopes into action." But that was Bill Clinton's philosophy, too, and he gave us much better results than Bush has.

If economics and self-help are the best messages of black Republicanism, the worst is surely the manipulation of religion and character issues to con many blacks into voting against their interests. Steele took a step in this direction when he used John Kerry's foreign policy to argue that Kerry lacked the "strong leadership" to run a good domestic policy. And he totally crossed the line when he hammered Kerry for opposing a federal ban on gay marriage. Republicans use the gay issue with blacks because polls show they're morally conservative. But banning gay marriage won't buy you a lunch counter.

I almost laughed out loud when Steele said he'd been inspired by "Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, Ronald Reagan, and Maebell Turner (Steele's mother)." In the back of my head, that old Sesame Street tune began playing: One of these things is not like the others … And when Steele boasted that "a majority of Republicans in the United States Senate fought off the segregationist Democrats to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964," all I could do was smile. Many of those Republicans are no longer Republicans. And those segregationists are no longer Democrats. And the Civil Rights Act is the reason why.

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8:48 p.m. PT—Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader, takes the stage around 9 p.m. ET. He's here to play doctor. Years ago, when Frist was first elected to the Senate, Bob Dole delivered one of his trademark giveaway lines, announcing at a press conference that Frist was on hand to give the GOP "credibility" on medical issues. That's Frist's job again tonight. He's going to try to sell America on the virtues of the prescription-drug program Bush signed this year, which was supposed to be a big political winner but hasn't turned out that way.

Frist opens with a Dole-esque gaffe of his own. His prepared text accuses some Democrats of not wanting "seniors" to participate in the drug program. Frist accidentally calls them "senators." This slip takes place just as Frist is about to accuse Democrats of caring more about politics than patients. Evidently it's Frist who has politics on his mind.

The speech is laden with dumb lines. "Tell 'em Dr. Frist prescribed it," the senator quips.

He calls Kerry "the Dr. No of tort reform." He says Kerry's prescription will be "Take a handful of tax increases and don't call me in the morning."

Here's a prescription for you, Sen. Frist: Take two new speechwriters.

Frist rehashes the usual Republican rhetoric against Democratic health care ideas. He accuses Kerry of a "trillion-dollar government-run plan" that will "empower those who tax you," not "those who cure you." He touts health savings accounts as a way to "own" the money you save for medical care. But he also touches on two of this year's most interesting emerging issues.

One is tort reform, featuring John Edwards in the role of Satan. Frist practically shouts, "The culprits are the personal-injury trial lawyers, and we oppose those predators!" A faint hiss emanates from the floor. Frist rips the "litigation lottery" in which lawyers get the "jackpot" and everyone else pays. "You can no longer be pro-patient and pro-trial lawyer!" he fumes. He speaks of a good doctor who, despite never having been sued, has been priced out of the liability insurance market by doubling rates. The upshot, according to Frist, is that the doctor has dropped the insurance.

I guess I'm missing something. The doctor has dropped insurance for physicians who might get sued for malpractice and lose. But the doctor hasn't been sued, because he doesn't commit malpractice. What exactly is the problem here? Isn't this a libertarian success story?

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