Ballot Box

The Real Thing?

Blogging from the Republican Convention, Day 4.

6:38 p.m. PT

Tommy Franks, the general who led the war in Afghanistan, headlines tonight’s lineup of military brass for Bush. It’s the GOP’s answer to the “band of brothers” featured at John Kerry’s convention. Franks hammers the offense-defense shtick Rudy Giuliani broached Monday night. Bush is taking the fight “to the terrorists,” Franks keeps saying, whereas “some” (read: Kerry) would treat the war on terror as a “law enforcement” matter and “retreat into a defensive posture,” hoping the terrorists won’t attack us again.

I’ve heard this misrepresentation of Kerry’s position so many times I hardly notice it anymore. The only offensive military effort Kerry objected to—and it was only in manner—was the war in Iraq. And Iraq wasn’t a terrorist threat, so it’s false to describe Kerry’s objection there as having anything to do with the war on terror. The selling point for the Iraq war was weapons of mass destruction. What does Franks have to say about that? He applauds Bush for caring so much about American troops that he “made sure everything possible was done to protect our troops from the weapons of mass destruction we all expected.”

And, hey, it worked. No American troops were injured by weapons of mass destruction.

Iraq had “an avowed hatred for our country,” says Franks. Well, yes. But if this is going to be the standard for pre-emptive wars, we’ve got a long line of targets in front of us.

A strange theme runs through Franks’ comments. “I’ve looked into this man’s eyes, and I have seen his character,” he says of Bush. Later, Franks says he’s seen “resolve in the faces of the new leaders of Iraq and Afghanistan as they build those new nations.” Soon, he says, we’ll see new elections in those countries. The elections haven’t happened, and Bush’s promises haven’t panned out. But none of that matters, in the view of Franks and many Bush supporters, when you can look into the president’s eyes, or look into Iraqis’ faces, and see the fond hopes and good intentions within.

I screwed up a couple of days ago when I said Michael Steele, the lieutenant governor of Maryland, was quoting Lincoln as he reeled off a series of philosophical statements. The text of Steele’s speech attributed those quotes to Lincoln, but Steele left out the Lincoln reference when he read the quotes onstage, and it turns out they weren’t Lincoln’s. Tonight Franks quotes Lincoln in his text and onstage, so I’ll say up front that I’m just taking Franks’ word for it that the attribution is correct. According to Franks, “Lincoln once said, ‘Character is like a tree, and reputation is like its shadow.’ The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing. Citizens and friends, I’ve been with this president in tough, uncertain times. George W. Bush is the real thing.”

It’s the perfect metaphor for Bush: He’s the tree in this campaign. All the solidity, all the consistency, all the agility and brains.

5:56 p.m. PTActual sentence spoken to God by Bishop Keith Butler of Southfield, Mich., in the “religious” invocation at the outset of this evening’s proceedings: “We give thanks to you because more families in America are enjoying the benefits of this nation’s economic recovery.”