Women’s Events Help RNC Get Back on TrackSeptember 03, 2008
Okay, so the first thing I need to say is this: I am writing this blog from the Xcel Energy Center press area. Yep, your intrepid Public Policy Director managed to score press credentials for the rest of the week! I fondly refer to it as laptop row. The bad news is I am kinda beside the stage, so I can’t see the speakers at all. But the good news is there’s a jumbo-tron, and AAUW is in the building, so who cares? J And, I have to say, there were no lines to get into the arena. After the long waits in Denver, this was a most welcome change.
But, back to the beginning of this eventful day. Tuesday started bright and early — a drizzling, fall day unlike the heat and humidity of Monday. One thing I am already discovering about this convention is that I’ll be spending a lot more time in the car. Denver was very walkable and had a free public transit system downtown. Here in the Twin Cities, events can be as much as 30 minutes apart by car. All I can say is, thank goodness for the GPS system Hertz threw in when I rented my zippy little Ford. The other appreciable difference — other than the switch in mascots from donkeys to elephants, and the very different platform of course — is the notably larger police presence in St. Paul. Today, in an anti-poverty march, even more protesters were arrested, and tear gas and scatter bombs were used on the crowd. Contingents of police in full riot gear line the streets all day. I’m not sure if I should feel safe or intimidated; I think I feel a little bit of both.
The first order of the day was an AAUW co-sponsored event with the White House Project (WHP), billed as a celebration of women’s leadership. The VIP reception and discussion also featured a screening of a wonderful documentary, as part of the IMPACT Film Festival. The film is a bipartisan look at women in the Senate in 2006, and I’d highly recommend it for a branch activity or state convention entertainment. AAUW of Minnesota members joined me at the well-attended reception, including state co-presidents Karen Kirkwood and Mary Parchetta. The event provided good visibility for AAUW — several people at the reception told me how glad they were that AAUW was in St. Paul for the convention — and also another golden nugget about AAUW’s impact: WHP President Marie Wilson got her political start with AAUW in Iowa!
Next, it was off to the Lifetime Every Woman Counts reception for women members of Congress. Here, as in Denver, I was able to interact with members of Congress in a more informal, relaxed way than is usually possible in our nation’s capital. Reps. Kay Granger (R-TX), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), and Virginia Foxx (R-NC) were in attendance. I introduced Foxx, who beat seven better-funded men to win her seat a few years ago, to a woman congressional candidate from Pennsylvania. The congresswoman immediately started mentoring the new candidate — looking at the candidate’s literature, telling her to wear her name tag on the right side, and other tips. It was pretty interesting to watch — it wasn’t gentle, but it was sincere and supportive, and it was clear that Foxx was interested in seeing more women join her in the House. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) had been scheduled to be at both the Lifetime and the WHP/AAUW event but didn’t come to St. Paul because of the natural disasters looming over her state; she was missed.
Next, I was off to the Republican Majority for Choice’s Big Tent Reception at Dove Hill, a truly majestic private home along the posh Summit Street in St. Paul. Former Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-CT), a good friend to AAUW who lost her seat in 2006, was on hand to deliver an eloquent speech about how the need to protect reproductive rights transcends party lines. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), one of AAUW’s champions on the Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, delivered a stern message to the party’s moderate wing. Specter said he couldn’t “claim to be a leader” of the party’s moderates. “A leader has to have followers. And when you’re in the telephone booth of the United States Senate with the other moderates, there’s nobody to follow you. You can hardly be a leader.” Specter ticked off the list of moderate Republicans who greeted him when he first got elected in 1980, people who are no longer there: names like John Chafee and his son Lincoln Chaffee (just defeated in 2006), Weicker, Hatfield, Packwood, Danforth, Heinz, and Matthias. “And today we’re in the telephone booth,” he said. “It’s lonely.” Christine Todd Whitman was more upbeat. “We are the majority not just of the Republican Party but, frankly, of the American people,” said the former governor of New Jersey and former EPA administrator. “The American people are not hard-nosed, narrow-minded, litmus-test people. They are in the center. That’s where we are.”
After the Big Tent reception, I made my way through checkpoints and riot police to the Xcel Energy Center. The theme for Tuesday’s proceedings of the 2008 Republican National Convention was “Putting Country First,” and the convention resumed with a full if compressed schedule. Former President George H. W. Bush and former First Lady Barbara Bush were in the house and received an especially affectionate response from the crowd, both when they entered the arena and after a special video tribute to the 41st president.
First Lady Laura Bush led off the headliners of the night, introducing her husband who spoke to the crowd via satellite. But before she handed over the microphone, she said, “I’m proud the country’s first female vice president will be a Republican woman!” and went on to say how important women are to the Republican party, naming three very visible women in the Bush administration: Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, and of course Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice — herself often talked about as a presidential candidate. The only other line that got more applause was when Laura Bush talked about how proud the country should be of the two newest members of the Supreme Court: Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, nominees that AAUW opposed after very careful consideration and consultation with our member leadership.
In an amusing nod to their occasionally rocky past, President George W. Bush talked about McCain’s penchant for speaking his mind and not hesitating to disagree. “Believe me, I know!” said Bush. “But after all the debates and when all the commercials have been run, I am confident that Americans will look closely at the experience and the values of the candidates, and they will cast their ballots for the McCain-Palin ticket.”
A special video tribute to former President Ronald Reagan painted McCain as a foot soldier of the Reagan Revolution. Actor, presidential candidate, and former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-TN) gave a moving recitation of McCain’s five-year imprisonment in the Hanoi Hilton, lauding his courage, character, and fortitude. Thompson also talked about “what a breath of fresh air Gov. Sarah Palin is,” saying “she’s the only nominee in the history of either party who knows how to properly field dress a moose — with the possible exception of Teddy Roosevelt!”
In a provocative move, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) addressed the crowd in the night’s keynote. “What’s a Democrat like me doing at a Republican convention like this?” asked the former Democratic vice presidential candidate. “I’m here to support John McCain because country matters more than party.” Clearly, the gloves were off on this first full night of the convention.
NOTE: This blog entry was written following the second day of the RNC Convention.