NEW YORK—Zell Miller will be the most notable apostate at the Republican National Convention, but Ed Koch gets to be the first. At the first GOP convention ever held in New York City, the first speaker after the opening remarks by Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie and RNC Co-Chair Ann Wagner is the former mayor, a Democrat. “Why am I here?” the jovial Koch asks the smattering of assembled delegates at the sparsely attended Monday morning session. “I’m here to convert you. But that’s for the next election. This year, I’m voting for the re-election of President George W. Bush.” The small crowd gives Koch a huge cheer.
Koch is followed by another New York mayor, the current one. At the first GOP convention ever held in New York City, Republican Michael Bloomberg declares, “Welcome to America’s New York.” It’s a strange choice of words, one that makes it sound as if the Republican delegates suspect they somehow landed in Russia’s New York. (Perhaps that was the New York that Koch presided over.) But Bloomberg’s choice of words is telling. The picture of New York painted during the convention’s morning session is a city in tune with the rest of the country, the South, Middle, and West that most Republicans hail from. Maybe Bloomberg should have said, “Welcome to Red America’s New York.”
After Bloomberg speaks, a video produced by the History Channel tells the political history of the capital of Blue America, but it’s really the history of the Republican Party in New York. We hear about the birth of Teddy Roosevelt, for example, but not, say, the Stonewall riots. (The video also contains the first bit of disinformation at the convention: It calls TR “our second-youngest president” when in fact he was the youngest president, taking office as a 42-year-old after the assassination of President McKinley. JFK, at 43, was the youngest man elected to the presidency.) “America’s New York” is where the Bill of Rights was written, not where the gay rights movement began. It’s where Abraham Lincoln, the most beloved Republican, denounced the spread of slavery at Cooper Union. It’s also home to the machinery of global capitalism: the New York Stock Exchange and the headquarters of more major corporations than any other city.
Long before we get to Rudy Giuliani, New York Mayor No. 3 of the day, the message of Day 1 couldn’t be clearer: Don’t worry, nervous visitors. Despite what you may have heard from your friends (or seen from the protestors), this is your town!
But the Big Apple love-in doesn’t last all that long. No one denounces the city, of course, but the disconnect between the majority of New Yorkers and the majority of Republicans comes across during the succession of speeches by GOP congressional candidates. In the most Jewish city in America, Mississippi congressional candidate Clinton LeSueur strays from President Bush’s carefully inclusive religious rhetoric. Instead of making the nonsectarian statement in his prepared text—”The very foundation of this country is faith”—LeSueur says, “The very foundation of this country is Christianity and faith in Jesus Christ.”
Ted Poe, a congressional candidate from Texas, goes even further. He compares Upper West Side liberals, at least implicitly, to the nation’s enemies in the war on terror. The country is currently fighting for freedom abroad in Iraq, Poe says. But it’s also fighting for “basic American principles” at home. “This threat is real,” he continues. Don’t “complain and criticize as the French did in the war in Iraq.” No, this dangerous “threat” must be stopped with a fierce barrage of smaller government and lower taxes. “Sitting on the sidelines is not an option,” says Poe, sticking with his hilariously inappropriate analogy. “Now is not the time to be a French Republican” (or, as the official transcript of his piece has it, an all-caps “FRENCH REPUBLICAN”).
Who screened Poe’s speech? Sure, it’s not prime time, but certainly someone pointed out (or someone should have pointed out) that it wasn’t a good idea to compare Democrats, by far the majority in New York, to Baathists.
Maybe Poe was more shocked by the scale of the anti-Bush protests in the streets than he should have been. He expected the Republicans to be greeted in Manhattan as liberators.