Tuesday, August 31, 2004

GOP Convention time. I’m not watching any of it, would like nothing more than to ignore it, but it impinges on my consciousness. Kind of like a looming appointment with a proctologist.

David Brooks’s NYT column today is entitled “The Courage Factor.” Brooks has a point insofar as the most important thing (for the purposes of the GOP Convention) about featured speakers John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, and Arnold Schwarzenegger is not that they’re social moderates. It’s that each of these has the public image of a man of guts and action.

Brooks pumps up his triumvirate as being “obsessed with character.” You know: integrity, incorruptibility, the whole Boy Scout handbook. Personally, I’m about ready to puke from the comprehensive recent demonstration of what the American press and public define as “character” in a politician. Brooks applauds John, Rudy, and Arnie for being renegades who defy “litmus-test politics.” It strikes me that not all litmus tests are created equal, and the litmus test in the Bush White House is blind loyalty to Bush. But what the hell, I’m not a Bush voter or even a David Brooks reader, normally.

Okay, looking at these heroes one at a time: Schwarzenegger certainly embodies the Austro-American dream of enterpreneurial narcissism. But archaic courage? Is this really what Homer and Malory had in mind--being a bodybuilding champ then action movie star? Honestly, what Schwarzenegger has is not courage but chutzpah. Brooks’s obsessed-with-character argument has one especially gaping hole: the long string of sexual assault allegations against Arnold. I put Arnold in the Bush league of punks, whose “character” is marked by belittling and abusing people in lower stations.

It’s a remarkable fluke of history that John McCain, the most popular politician in America for the last four-plus years, hands down, wants to be President but isn’t, and isn’t even a candidate this year. To guard his chances in 2008, McCain is, as David Broder puts it, “struggling manfully” (how else does McCain do anything?) to preserve his rep for straight talk with his endorsement of Bush for Prez, despite their well-known past differences. Broder pussyfoots around the big issue between McCain and Bush: the despicable smear job that the Bush Campaign perpetrated on McCain in the 2000 primaries. To many of us, the Straight Talk Express has been permanently derailed by McCain’s swallowing his wronged honor in order to do Bush’s bidding. So much for obsessed with character.

And Rudy Giuliani… You know, I’m sorry, but I can’t slag Giuliani too much. (I prefer not to know exactly what he said at Madison Square Garden last night.) I know that many New Yorkers have a list a yard long of gripes with the Giuliani reign as NYC mayor. And it’s quite a recovery for Rudy to be associated with the concept of personal character after his public infidelity and ugly tabloid divorce of a few years ago. I myself had no use for the guy either, until September 11, 2001. For the week or so after 9/11, Rudy was my best friend: just about the only person who made me feel better. I once said that I wish we’d had President Giuliani on 9/11, but on second thought, no, if Rudy had experienced the attack abstractly the way Dubya did, he’d probably have been as blustering and ineffective as Dubya was. But in the heat of the crisis at Ground Zero, when Bush would have soiled his chinos, Giuliani came through with personal courage, eloquence, tireless hard work, and compassion. He was exactly what the doctor ordered.

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