TCS Daily

The GOP Takes Manhattan

By James K. Glassman - August 30, 2004 12:00 AM

In Manhattan these days, I'm reminded of the immortal words of Pauline Kael, who, despite her stupid politics, was America's greatest film critic.

Kael, who wrote for the New Yorker magazine, expressed astonishment at Richard Nixon's landslide victory in 1972. "How could that be?" she demanded. "I don't know a single person who voted for Nixon!"

With the Republican National Convention set to begin here Monday, it's hard to think of a stranger venue than New York City. This is a city filled with Pauline Kaels and Michael Moores. (By the way, Kael despised Moore as a moviemaker. In 1991, she said of "Roger and Me," Moore's documentary about General Motors, "The film I saw was shallow and facetious, a piece of gonzo demagoguery that made me feel cheap for laughing.")

Not only do they detest Bush, but Manhattanites can't imagine anyone voting for him. Or for any other Republican, for that matter -- other than maybe Rudy Giuliani, who himself is not particularly well-liked on the Upper West Side or Soho or other haunts of the chattering classes.

I have news for these folks. Times have changed. Republicans have held the presidency for 16 of the past 24 years, the Senate for 14 of those years and the House for 10 of them (and counting). Republicans hold governorships in 30 of the 50 states, including the four most populous -- and hold both legislative houses in 21 states, compared with 17 for the Democrats (in 1990, the Democrats held 30 to the Republicans' 6).

Intellectually and morally, the Democratic Party has been withering on the vine since Ronald Reagan's election in 1980. The New Deal is long dead, but the party still lacks a purpose.

When I was publisher of The New Republic magazine nearly a quarter-century ago, we adopted as our long-term project to find a new agenda for the Democratic Party. That project is still unfulfilled, and the victory of Bill Clinton, a charismatic figure without ideas (read his book if you don't believe me), has only prolonged the agony.

Today, the four most popular politicians in America are all Republicans. Three of them will be on display at the convention: Sen. John McCain of Arizona (speaking Monday night), Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California (Tuesday), and former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani of New York (Monday). The fourth is Colin Powell; by tradition, the Secretary of State does not address party conventions.

The Republican Party has a spectacular bench, including Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a surgeon; National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, the former provost of Stanford University; and HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, architect of national welfare reform as governor of Wisconsin.

Lesser-known Republican stars who will speak at the convention include Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, the first African-American to be elected statewide in Maryland history, and Rep. Heather Wilson of New Mexico, a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy and the first woman veteran ever elected to Congress.

Establishment media coverage makes Republicans look like yahoos and religious fanatics. That's hardly a surprise since members of the national press corps identify themselves as liberals over conservatives by five to one, according to a recent Pew Research Center study; American citizens, on the other hand, identify themselves as conservatives over liberals by three to two.

McCain and Powell are portrayed in the media as weird anomalies. In truth, both are rock-solid Republicans because they enthusiastically embrace the party's values of military strength and foreign-policy seriousness. Similarly, Schwarzenegger and Giuliani are at home in a party that stresses choice and responsibility. To too many Democrats, the term "choice" means only the legal right to abort a fetus.

My own leanings toward Republican candidates derive from the party's free-market economic principles and its national security policy. No, I don't think there should be a constitutional amendment barring gay marriage, but that's hardly a reason to support John Kerry. I'm in the process of launching a new organization, Investors Action, which will represent the interests of America's 93 million small investors, who have far more affinity for GOP economic policies than Democratic ones.

The press has had a terrible problem lately dealing with Vice President Dick Cheney's favorable comments about the authority of the states to define marriage, gay or otherwise. The truth is that while the Republican Party does have its share of closed-minded bigots, it is far, far more inclusive than the Democrats, who tolerate no dissent on issues like abortion.

Almost certainly, the media will portray the events in New York as a show staged to make Republicans look more tolerant and compassionate than they really are. That's nonsense. The Democrats are the insular ones -- and New Yorkers, despite flashes of good sense like the election of Giuliani, literally so.


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