Just beneath the surface of Tuesday’s Republican convention speeches we could see the tensions of the various speakers.
Sensing Bush’s weakness after admitting that we can’t win a war on terror, Arnold Schwarzenegger had to hit one out of the ballpark, to move viewers past such issues in order to project a sense of strength and reliability. So, Arnold told his personal story: how he arrived in America at age 22, nearly penniless and unable to speak English.
It was Arnold’s first big speech. He had to skip over anything that would bring to mind his former life as an oiled-up subcultural strongman. He had to win one for his team, to set his own ambitions aside, at least for the moment.
It was a difficult assignment. Just the day before, Arnold gave a short speech in which he loosely joked that he was in New York to accept his party’s nomination to be president. Of course he said, oops—wrong speech, as if it was all just a gag, but there was an unmistakably serious tone in his voice.
Just beneath the surface, Arnold seemed to signal that, yes, he is available for 2008, which, by the way, would require Congress to pass a new constitutional amendment (just in time for Arnold).
Last night, however, the whole endeavor hinged on Bush’s re-election. Given the situation in Iraq and the fizzling of Bush’s proposal for an anti-gay marriage amendment, the Arnold-in-2008 scenario hung vaguely in the balance.
With that in mind, Arnold chose to flatter his audience by praising the greatness of America, a country so rich and wide-open that it, alone, was the best hope for democracy, NOT the United Nations…. America is a place where, if you work hard and play by the rules, anything is possible---even a constitutional amendment.
To make the sale, Arnold had to both please and impress. No mention of drugs and crime, no hints of roughness. Instead, Arnold painted us a footpath to the stars by drawing on his boyhood impressions of our distant nation and by praising Bush’s actions during (yet undeclared) wartime.
Replete with a Terminator reference and lavish praise for the Republican Party, Arnold seemed to suggest that although most of us have long lived here, we need to be sold on the basic goodness of America—in Arnold’s image, of course.
To early boosters like Kenny Lay and Michael Millken, with whom he met in Palm Springs just 30 days after Lt. Governor Bustamante declared his campaign to recoup all billion extorted from California during deregulation power scams, Arnold must have seemed a winner. Since taking office, Arnold has declared no interest in getting the billion back, hence critics’ suspicions that something truly wrong occurred during the Palms Springs meeting.
Arnold wasn’t the only one doing personal repair work on the speaker’s podium. One Bush daughter wedged in a heavy-handed remark about her father’s youthful indiscretions, as if to excuse her own legal troubles for an underage alcohol purchase some months earlier. Apparently, the Bush camp now considers such subjects innocuous, further proof that the man is, after all, merely human.
In the end, however, Arnold wasn’t to be outdone. At a time when the public appears to doubt Bush’s ability to square with the public honestly (i.e WMD’s) and resolve the traumas that strikes in Iraq daily, Arnold dredged up his circus-like “girlie man” remark to put down Bush’s detractors.
It was a truly primitive moment. To hold up and deride supposedly feminine attributes of more globally-minded others (who Arnold apparently fears to name), to cast questions about war and national consensus in terms of a supposedly lesser feminine gender, could, in the future, cost Arnold votes that he now takes for granted.
For a man known for early addictions to both boasting and physical culture spectacles, a man facing at least one sexual harassment lawsuit plus the accusations of numerous others, Arnold’s “girlie man” put-down seemed most ironic.