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Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Republican Convention Day 1 and 2

August 30: Day One in New York
7 am:
I came in on the red-eye this morning, landing at 6:30 am. I stand in the taxi line at JFK, blinking blearily at the guy who grabs my bag and tosses it into his car- I could swear that that was Dennis Kucinich. Couldn't be, could it?

10 am:
I lived in this city for 3 years, in the mid-1990s, and every time I come back he place has changed a little bit. I used to work steps away from Ground Zero, at the World Financial Center, so I figured that I'd take a quick tour of the area. Kucinich (?) drops me off right near Ground Zero. The energy and excitement of the financial district that I remember so well has all but disappeared. The grave, solemn site has now given way to lots of construction activity and occasionally the majestic towers of light that stretch into the sky - I had seen the site before, and I already understood how the lack of the huge, twin towers has changed the skyline.

This time, what struck me most was the sheer enormity of the reconstructionarea. It's a 9 square block area, and it took a good half hour to circumlocute. It's completely leveled now, and I had a chilly feeling as I surveyed the palpable emptiness, a gaping hole punched into a piece of valuable cloth, stretched over an unmarked graveyard.

2 pm:
The event begins! A lot of the book's contributors showed up - Grover Norquist, Stephen Moore, Art Laffer, Phyllis Schlafly and Star Parker. All this brain power in one room! We got great press coverage, from the LA TIMES, the NY TIMES, and even my favorite TV show: THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART.

Not to choose favorites, but Star absolutely rocked the house. She was definitely the most passionate, direct and "no holds barred" speaker we had. She wrote a terrific piece on welfare reform, and she has such a great story of personal transformation as well that she was an absolute hit.

6 pm: Dinner in Times Square, at Bubba Gump's Shrimp Co., with my co-editor Rod Martin, his wife, and John Mark Huckabee, the son of the Arkansas governor.

August 31: Day Two
9 am:
So, I've talked to many of the delegates here, and so far they seem to be happy with how things are going. All agree that we had a couple of very strong speeches last night. John McCain gave a spirited defense of President Bush's reasons for invading Iraq and effecting regime change. As usual, he eschewed attack politics and refrained from even mentioning John Kerry (though the highlight of his speech was a not-so-veiled reference to Michael Moore. Moore was actually in the press boxes in the back of the room, and as McCain tagged him as a "disingenuous filmmaker," many in the audience turned to laugh merrily.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has faded into the background, and his predecessor - Rudy Giuliani - was met with a thunderous applause that eclipsed all others. Giuliani (characteristically) went right after Kerry, calling him a flip-flopper and ill-equipped to be commander-in-chief.

Noon:
Lunch with the Iowa delegation, which was kind enough to invite me to one of their affairs at the Sheraton Hotel. Like most Republicans in this town, they are feeling pretty cheery.
I know that this has been a close race up until now, and I still think the election will be a squeaker, but I am reminded that in 1996 and 1984, the races were pretty close heading into the convention of the party of the sitting president. In each case, the president ran away with the election by shining at the convention.

I feel like President Bush has a pretty good story to tell here:
* National security - clearly, this is a Republican strength, and in this city there's a strong feeling that Bush will knock this issue out of the park come Thursday's speech.
* The economy - the US has had the fastest GDP growth over the last four years of any G7 nation. The unemployment rate is 5.5 percent, which is almost exactly where it was when Bill Clinton was re-elected in 1996 - and at that time, the press was calling it the "strongest economy we've had in three decades." Bush has the lowest misery index (inflation plus unemployment) of any president since LBJ. So Bush's record on the economy is actually very good - which is amazing, considering the shocks it has undergone: a popping of the stock market bubble, the terrorist attacks, and the corporate accounting scandals that sunk Enron, Worldcom, Nextel, and others

10 pm: Off to the Garden, to catch some of the speeches. So here I stand, after an absence of about a year, in the midst of my old digs once more - in the midst of a bustle and turmoil , to which lunchtime in the Tower of Babel was foolishness.

I don't have a pass to get in, so I just stand outside to soak up the atmosphere. From morning till night, these streets have been crowded to suffocation with citizens, and police officers, and fire companies. The air is filled with music, and I wonder where such multitudes of people could have come from.

Aman Verjee is Director for Strategic Planning of a Silicon Valley Company and is the Editor of Thank You, President Bush, which is on sale now.

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