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PBS: Home of Polite Disagreements

Reported by Judy - September 3, 2004 -

PBS presented another night of political discussion that offered disagreement without shouting, interruptions, or other insanity. Liberal Mark Shields and conservative David Brooks each articulately defended his respective end of the political spectrum, but I thought Shields was a little more in touch with reality.

Brooks called Bush's 62-minute speech (four minutes shorter than Clinton's 1996 convention speech) "a powerful and great speech" that was "stirring" at points and offered "a ton of stuff" in new domestic initiatives that broke with 30 years of Republican attitudes toward government. "This was not your traditional, get government off your back" Republican agenda, he claimed.

Historian Michael Beschloss also noted a "long list of domestic proposals," but found the most important message to be that America must be prepared to defend itself, indicating Bush hopes to recreate the political climate of the 1970s and 1980s which was dominated by Republican claims to be better at national defense than Democrats.

Shields, however, did not see an agenda for the future, only the message that, "You ought to be afraid and I can make you safe." He dismissed the so-called domestic agenda, saying, "If any of them comes to pass, I will be astounded."

Over the week as a whole, Brooks saw "a lot more substance" than at the Democratic convention. Shields made the point that the difference between the two conventions was best summed up by comparing the two keynote speakers: young, hopeful, positive Barak Obama and the "angry, sour, bitter" old man Zel Miller. Brooks insisted that the speeches this week were "outstanding."

Many of the speeches I heard this week were horrible. Schwarzenegger had a powerful delivery, but his message was a string of trite platitudes about the American dream. The second-tier speakers did little more than read straight from the tele-prompter, turning to one side to read for 15 or 20 seconds and then turning to the other side to read some more.

The Bush twins were immature and their humor was lame and took too long. Their best joke went over everyone's head. When discussing the partying they did at school, one of them said, "When we were young and irresponsible, we were young and irresponsible." That's the same answer George Bush gave during the 2000 campaign when reporters asked if he ever used drugs.

The occasional shots of Dick Cheney in the audience were remarkably similar. He always looked like he had stomach cramps. He did manage a weak smile when Bush referred to him in his speech, but I wish the camera would have switched to him when Bush mentioned his support for banning gay marriage. Did he applaud?

As for Brooks' claim that Bush's speech was not about getting government off our backs, he's right. It was about letting government meddle in the most private parts of our lives by forbidding such things as abortion and gay marriage.

Shields was right-on about the tone of the convention. During the Democratic convention, Fox and Friends referred to the proceedings as a "Bush bash-a-thon" even though Bush's name was rarely mentioned. Republicans offered viewers bitterness and bile.

I thought both Bush's speech and the convention ended on a flat note. His sentence about this being "liberty's century" surely was intended as a big applause line, but it didn't get it.

It didn't deserve it.