final night of RNC

Live, From New York, It’s 2000….If you took the Iraq and 9/11 stuff out of Bush’s speech last night (and I realize that’s a big chunk, but stay with me here), you didn’t hear much in the way of policy that wasn’t omnipresent in Bush’s 2000 campaign. No Child Left Behind? Check. Medicare? Check. Tax Cuts (oh, excuse me, Tax Relief)? Check. Rah rah, Small Businesses; Boo hiss, Trial Lawyers? Double check.

It sort of leaves you wondering what the domestic policy of a second Bush administration would really look like. We’ve known for a while that he’s not exactly a big ideas guy, but the apparent lack of a theme to last night’s speech still came as something of a surprise. The first three-quarters or so was simple a laundry list constructed by Karen Hughes–lots of non-sequiters, some handy applause lines, and some statements that seemed to confuse the audience. My favorite moment came when Bush noted that “two-thirds of moms now work outside the home” and the crowd hesitated, then offered tepid applause. Conservatives have railed about the evils of women working outside the home for so long that I think the audience wasn’t really sure for a moment whether this statistic was something to be cheered or jeered.

The only faintly stirring portion of the speech was the last quarter, which must have been written by chief speechwriter Mike Gerson. Even then, Gerson–who is one of the best speechwriters around, regardless of what you think of his politics–didn’t come up with any memorable phrases that will define Bush’s address. He even fell back on the Ecclesiastes passage, “There is a time for everything” that ?ber-Democrat Bill Clinton used in his own convention speech. (I was struck by the use of the phrase “Whatever it takes” to describe what America will do to defend itself. Sounds a bit like “By Any Means Necessary” and I’ve never really thought of W. as a Malcolm X kind of guy.)

By far, the biggest cheers and ovations came when Bush denounced gay marriage (I couldn’t see Cheney from where I was sitting…any television shots of him applauding that line?) and after several of the jingoistic, We-don’t-answer-to-no-one statements. The folks around us were whooping and hollering at those, and starting “U.S.A.” chants whenever they got the chance. I had a flashback to sitting in the middle of the football stadium at Penn State for a Michigan away game a few years ago–it’s a little frightening to be that outnumbered by a rather rabid crowd.

And so, quite possibly the most meanspirited convention in recent memory ended. I realize that 1992 is well-remembered for Buchanan’s disturbing speech, but what exactly were people expecting from Pat Buchanan? The hateful rhetoric this time around was launched by the likes of Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney and Dennis Hastert. These are the supposedly mild guys who are supposed to make the party palatable to independents, but apparently they didn’t get the party memo because they were all too busy overcompensating for their moderate leanings. I honestly don’t think it would have been any worse to have actual rightwingers like DeLay behind the podium.

Finally, I have one belated note on Cheney’s speech and reception. I’m pleased to report that nobody likes Dick Cheney, not even Republicans. By 8:30 on the night of Edwards’ speech in Boston, the venue was packed so tight people could hardly move in the aisles. By 8:30 on Wednesday night, hundreds of seats were still empty and attendees seemed in no hurry to secure a spot. Cheney was received with polite, but exceedingly brief, applause. And even his former boss, George H.W. Bush, barely clapped at most of Cheney’s applause lines. When Cheney engineered a cheap ovation (something like “stand up to support our troops”) George and Barbara Bush remained seated. The man is incredibly lucky to still be on the ticket at this point, but no one–and certainly not Cheney himself–seems to be happy about it.

Update:Almost forgot. Zell Miller was supposed to be a special guest in the Bush family box last night but was reportedly disinvited after the Republican party decided to start distancing itself from his gone-off-his-rocker speech on Wednesday. They’re so loyal, those Republicans.