RNC Endgame


So the Republican National Convention is over, and, later today, this special convention blog will shut down; readers are invited to join the ongoing "news, views, and abuse" over at Reason's staff blog Hit & Run.

What's left to say about the RNC, an exhausting event as these things always are (political conventions are like triple albums that should have been double albums at best)? As Matt Welch suggests below, and a number of us have suggested over the past few days, it was a hugely successful bash (apt word, that) for the GOP, one in which they sharpened their campaign rhetoric and, more important, defined the Democrats and John Kerry as a party of craven cowards too wishy-washy to fight for all that is good and decent in the world.

If Kerry linked Iraq to Vietnam, Bush cast it in terms of World War II and the Cold War, twilight struggles whose outcome will determine whether the country survives. Bracketing the question of whose characterization is more accurate (short answer: neither), it's clear that Bush's formulation is far more attractive: Not only did the U.S. win both those wars, but they suggest a degree of unified purpose that is elevating and ennobling.

Bush's speech last night had more than its bizarre moments: If I'm not mistaken, increased funding for community colleges will somehow help us defeat international terrorism. But picking up on all of the week's previous speeches, it also hammered large themes–about America's role in the world as guarantor of freedom and liberty, about the need for an "ownership society," and more–that were generally lacking at the Democratic convention a month ago.

There remains a real question of how the economy will affect the election. As the Republicans will tell you, unemployment now is right around where it was when Bill Clinton sent Bob Dole packing in '96. But there's also a sense that the economy is underperforming; job anxiety seems to permeate the culture in a way it never did in the late '90s (yes, yes, "permeate" is a soft measure, but what can you do?).

There remains a real question, too, of who exactly was watching the GOP convention. While it's interesting to note that the Fox News channel killed its cable competition, it's not as if the RNC was the last episode of M*A*S*H, the Who Shot J.R.? episode of Dallas, or Granny's epic battle with a "giant jackrabbit" on the Beverly Hillbillies (for a time the highest-rated regular episode of a TV show).

Whatever the audience for it, Bush's speech certainly made this much clear: It explicitly tossed overboard the Reaganite mantra that "government was the problem, not the solution" and embraced "compassionate conservativism" as the party's new ethos (given Reagan's manifest lack of interest in actually curbing government spending, this may mean less than it seems to).

To be sure, Bush mumbled some lines about fiscal "restraint" and simplified tax laws even as he slogged through a list of expensive new government programs and credits that will only pile on more spending and pages to the tax code (this was all on top of his recitation of the expensive new programs, such as No Child Left Behind and the Medicare drug benefit, that got passed in his first term). But he made it clear that as a majority party, the GOP would not hesitate to use the U.S. treasury as a slush fund to keep voters happy. That may well be enough to guarantee him a second term.