Quest for the Presidency, 1992

By Peter L. Goldman; Thomas M. Defrank et al. | Go to book overview
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20.
This Way to the Jihad

In the normal course of events, the renomination of a sitting president is as formal and as stylized as a tableau vivant at the court of Louis XIV -- a set piece meant to flatter the once and future king. But the convention ratifying George Bush's candidacy for a second term was nearer Grand Guignol as political theater. It began with a mistake -- a deal making Pat Buchanan the de facto keynote speaker -- and ended with a pasted-up acceptance speech including practically everything except poetry, promise, or hope. The acts between got mostly negative reviews for their shrieky tone. For four nights in Houston, it was as if the melancholy state of the union counted for little as against the scarlet sins of liberals, lesbians, Democrats, feminists, congresspeople, gays, Greens, trial lawyers, single women who had babies, all women who aborted them -- and, at the head of their advancing columns, Bill and Hillary Clinton.

The show in some measure followed the normal thermodynamic of party conventions: the cooler the voters to your own man, the higher the heat applied to the opposition. But some of Bush's handlers conceded afterward that they had let the brimstone quotient get out of hand. They had arrived in Houston with four strategic goals: first, to humor the party hard core with large helpings of red meat; second, to tiptoe around the abortion issue without anybody noticing; third, to put forward a credible domestic agenda; and, fourth, to showcase Bush as a leader with a vision for a brighter tomorrow. They succeeded only at the first of these goals: the red-hots, a campaign topsider gloated afterward, were white-hot now. The rest of the screenplay somehow got left on the cutting-room floor.

The die had been cast with the decision, after the primaries, that Buchanan had to be appeased -- that he and his brigades of the right could wreck the convention if they were not made part of it. Bush himself was a quadrennial red-hot, ever willing to treat with the party right in election years; he had magically got over his initial nausea at the idea and had authorized Charlie Black and Jim Lake to enter

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