NEW YORK – An estimated 50,000 Republicans from all 50 states
gathered in Madison Square Garden last night for the first evening
session of their national convention, following their ceremonial
nomination of President Bush to shepherd the party for
another four years in the White House.

Ashley Dinges
AP PHOTO

The four-day convention was inaugurated with speeches that
highlighted Monday’s theme, “A Nation of Courage.” Former New York
City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) praised Bush’s actions in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001
terror attacks in their primetime addresses.

Democrats have criticized the lineup of speakers at the
convention as a parade of moderate Republicans whose views do not
align closely with those of the Bush/Cheney ticket. Republicans
have responded that the speakers reflect the diversity of opinion
within the party.

Such a shift along the political spectrum is consistent with the
race to the center that has traditionally occurred after the
primary season concludes, when candidates must appeal to a broader
audience.

McCain, a moderate policy maker in his party who ran in a bitter
race for the White House against Bush in 2000, addressed the
ongoing war in Iraq.

“After years of failed diplomacy and limited military pressure
to restrain Saddam Hussein, President Bush made the difficult
decision to liberate Iraq,” he said, alluding to the failure of
Clinton-era policies to weaken Saddam’s regime.

McCain’s next target was filmmaker Michael Moore, who delivered
a harsh critique of Bush’s war on terror in his recent film
“Fahrenheit 9/11.” The senator called him “a disingenuous film
maker who would have us believe that Saddam’s Iraq was an oasis of
peace when in fact it was a place of indescribable cruelty, torture
chambers, mass graves and prisons that destroyed the lives of the
small children held inside their walls.”

The crowd’s response to this remark was so enthusiastic that
McCain had to implore the delegates to let him continue his
speech.

McCain then justified the war on the same grounds Bush used when
it became clear that no weapons of mass destruction would be found
in Iraq. “Whether or not Saddam possessed the terrible weapons he
once had and used, freed from international pressure and the threat
of military action, he would have acquired them again,” he
said.

“I commend to my country the re-election of President Bush, and
the steady, experienced, public-spirited man who serves as our
vice-president, Dick Cheney,” he said later.

The war also became Giuliani’s most stinging point of criticism
of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the Democratic presidential
nominee.

Unlike McCain, Giuliani – who is also moderate on many political
issues – did not shy away from direct attacks on Kerry. He
criticized the Democratic senator for his decisions during a
procedural vote on a defense-spending package.

“My point about John Kerry being inconsistent is best described
in his own words when he said, ‘I actually did vote for the $87
billion before I voted against it.’ Maybe this explains John
Edwards’ need for two Americas – one where John Kerry can vote for
something and another where he can vote against the same thing,”
Giuliani said, as the convention center roared with laughter.

In repeating a stock criticism of Kerry as wishy-washy and
inconsistent, Giuliani, who gave the last speech of the night,
attempted to contrast the leadership styles of the Democratic
nominee and Bush.

“President Bush sees world terrorism for the evil that it is.
John Kerry has no such clear, precise and consistent vision,” he
said.

While united with their party on criticism of Kerry, both
primetime speakers have strayed from the party or the Bush
administration on several issues during their political
careers.

McCain’s prominence at the convention masks his track record
with Democratic candidates. The three-term senator has worked
closely with both John Edwards, Democratic vice-presidential
nominee, and Kerry, a fellow Vietnam War veteran.

McCain and North Carolina senator Edwards collaborated with Sen.
Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) on a regulation bill for managed health
care, while McCain and Kerry first cooperated in the early 1990s
investigating reports of American prisoners of war still being held in Vietnam,
which turned out to be unsupportable. The pair next worked to end
the trade embargo on Vietnam and reestablish diplomatic relations
with the southeast-Asian nation. Most recently, Kerry and McCain
together established standards for fuel efficiency in cars.

Last night, McCain was again conciliatory, calling Democratic
lawmakers his allies against the common enemies of democracy. He
has gained respect from Democrats for crossing party lines by
fighting for campaign finance reform – which he helped move through
Congress in 2002 – even when such measures have distanced him from
some Republicans.

With respect to Giuliani, the former mayor gained national
visibility with Republicans and Democrats alike when he led New
York during perhaps the most difficult period in its history.
However, he has withheld his support of Bush’s proposed
constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage, voicing
support instead for giving same-sex couples the legal privileges of
heterosexual couples at the state level.

Giuliani also disagrees with Bush’s checks on research that seek
to use human stem cells to generate organs and tissue for the ill.
In 2001, Bush limited federal funding to existing lines of
embryonic stem cells, which have not yet differentiated into cells
that make up specific parts of the body.

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