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.

11:22 a.m. PT—I'll wrap up the review of Tuesday's speeches with Laura Bush. First of all, I like Laura. But any spouse who talks this much about enjoying the campaign trail must have a screw loose. I constantly hear and read about political spouses who want nothing to do with campaigning because it's so repetitive, exhausting, and privacy-invading. It eats your family life. The media expose your every quirk and hound your children. Some political spouses talk or even threaten their partners out of running for president.

Not Laura. "I'm enjoying this campaign," she volunteered. Speaking of her daughters, she effused, "We are so happy they are campaigning with us this fall." I hope for her sake she was faking it. But it didn't look that way.

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

Discussing stem-cell research, Laura engaged in a bit of artful timing that the transcript doesn't capture. "I could talk about the fact that my husband is the first president to provide federal funding for stem cell research–" she began. This was a gesture to the secular middle, the folks Kerry has been trying to pry away from Bush on the grounds that Bush has limited money for such research. But the delegates in the hall last night represented the religious right more than the secular middle. So before they could absorb the slap, Laura rushed into the second half of the sentence: "and he did so in a principled way, allowing science to explore its potential while respecting the dignity of human life." At this point, Laura paused, and the delegates applauded. They got their bouquet, while the press got its "Bush supports stem-cell research" line.

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Laura tried to convey what her husband is like in person. She started off by confirming the impression we all get: He always "knew where he wanted to go." Later, she boasted, "His friends don't change—and neither do his values." But when it came to Iraq, her spin changed. Before the war, "I knew he was wrestling with these agonizing decisions," she said. Agonizing? More than any other president, Bush has denied agonizing about almost anything. It must be Laura who did the agonizing. She'd like us to think her husband is as reflective as she is. She'd like to think so herself, and I'm sure she does. But we're not married to the guy. We've just hired him for four years. So it's easier for us to face up to his thoughtlessness.

You can't expect objectivity about a candidate from his wife—actually, in the case of Teresa Heinz Kerry, you can—and Laura certainly seems smitten. "I've seen him return the salute of soldiers wounded in battle," she said last night. I'm not sure what this signifies, coming from a man who never served in battle and has sent these soldiers into harm's way on false pretenses. But evidently, in Laura's eyes, it amounts to valor. She went on to applaud the troops' "infectious spirit of uniquely American confidence that we are doing the right thing and that our future will be better because of our actions today."

The person most clearly infected is Laura herself. After all, she shares a household, a dinner table, and a bed with the Typhoid Mary of American overconfidence, her husband. "He brings that optimism, that sense of promise, that certainty that a better day is before us to his job every day," she told the audience. That's Bushism: Ignore the evidence, believe, and reality will follow. "With your help, he'll do it for four more years," Laura concluded. I'm sure she believes that. But reality is something else.

9:45 a.m. PT—I want to go back to a couple of speakers I didn't have time to discuss last night. One is Michael Steele, the lieutenant governor of Maryland, my state. I met Steele a few months ago at a television studio. Nice guy, very friendly. Maybe that's what happens when you're a minority within a minority—in Steele's case, a Republican who has to deal mostly with Democrats (Maryland's majority party), and a black guy who has to deal (especially in his party) mostly with whites. I've always suspected that being gay and Catholic, or being Jewish and Republican, has the same healthy effect.

Steele was given plenty of time last night to tell minorities why they should consider the GOP. He did a good job, foreshadowing many of the points Arnold Schwarzenegger would make later in the evening. "You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift," Steele said, quoting Abraham Lincoln. "You cannot help the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer. ... You cannot build character and courage by taking away man's initiative and incentive. You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they should do for themselves." The delegates responded with a furious ovation.

Steele hammered two of my favorite black Republican themes. One is self-help: "We must look to ourselves and not to government to raise our kids, start our business, or provide care to our aging parent." The other is a shift from civil rights to better economic exploitation of those rights. "What truly defines the civil rights challenge today isn't whether you can get a seat at the lunch counter," he said. "It's whether you can own that lunch counter."

The wisest line of the Democratic convention came from Bill Clinton: "Strength and wisdom are not opposing values." The wisest line of the Republican convention so far has come from Steele: "Hope is not a strategy." Pressing this theme, Steele shredded the piety so many liberals mistake for good policy: "Hope doesn't protect you from terrorists. Hope doesn't lower your taxes. Hope doesn't help you buy a home. And hope doesn't ensure quality education for your children. ... It's results that matter."

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