DAN K. THOMASSON New York represents risky pick for GOP
NEW YORK -- The question most asked around here is why the Republican Party would hold its national convention in perhaps the most Democratic city in the nation. The expenditure for the affair is likely to set a record in security alone and the benefits to George W. Bush in terms of carrying this city or state in November are expected to be minimal.
But that isn't necessarily the object. The answer most often given for coming here is the 9/11 connection. The president's motives are less rooted in convincing the citizens of this hugely diverse metropolis that he sympathizes with their loss on that fateful day in 2001 and understands their problems than they are in emphasizing to the rest of America that he is a capable leader in the war on terrorism.
It is a major theme of his campaign for re-election to demonstrate that rather than the picture of ineptitude and confusion that his detractors accuse him of, he is a strong leader who is more likely to prevent another such attack than is John Kerry.
It's a big-time risk in a place that has five Democrats for every one Republican and has easy access to every dissident with a cause from across the nation and around the world. It is vulnerable to protest from the organized type to the average disgruntled man on the street discombobulated by security that seems almost unprecedented even in a day when Americans have become used to it. Even the unfailingly polite and genial members of the New York Police Department and their support troops don't do a lot to ease the oppressiveness.
Tens of thousands took to the street Sunday to protest the war in Iraq and other causes, castigating the president in the rudest of terms and demonstrating, the Republicans hope, a type of behavior that will turn undecided voters toward Bush. Under the circumstances, one can hardly blame the land, sea and air demonstration of force from Uptown to Downtown, from mechanized and mounted and helicopter patrols augmenting the foot troops and riot police. Terrorist groups made it clear with the Madrid train bombing that their object was to disrupt and influence the democratic voting process. And in that case they succeeded. New York has been one of their favorite targets.
That security, of course, will get tighter, if possible, as the convention week moves on, climaxing with Bush's acceptance address on Thursday night. In the meantime, the references to 9/11 and ground zero and the World Trade Center probably will greatly exceed the 100 or so made by the Democrats at their convention in Boston four weeks ago. Until the president's appearance the theme will be emphasized by a string of party luminaries from former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to New York Gov. George Pataki who will cite the huge increase in funds the Republicans have provided to first responders and the strengthening of cooperation between all law enforcement agencies, local, state and federal under Bush mandates.
Republican Party Chairman Edward Gillespie has left little doubt what the objective this New York adventure has been. He said that it was appropriate for the Democrats to talk about 9/11 at their quadrennial convention and it is just as appropriate for the Republicans to do the same.
Missing from his explanation, however, was the fact that Bush, who missed the Vietnam experience, is running against one who didn't and the "Kerry as a hero" theme played quite successfully in Boston, despite unsubstantiated attacks on its authenticity that have occurred lately.
But don't be mistaken. Nine-eleven is only a part of the piece Republicans would like to orchestrate for the pubic in the brief amount of time they will have on national television. The president himself is scheduled to explain where he stands on many of the domestic issues of the day from the new Medicare reform to the No Child Left Behind Act, contrasting the fact that the Democrats, in their dwelling on Kerry's actions over four months in Vietnam, spent relatively little or no time talking about Kerry's years in the Senate during the Boston convention.
What the Republicans are betting here is that the convention will come off without a major hitch, demonstrating to the world that the president's policies and support have made this city much more secure and that the forces assembled here are capable of meeting most situations. If they can do it in this most vulnerable of cities, they can do it anywhere. It's a gamble they think is worth taking.
XThomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.