It would be a hard heart indeed that was not stirred by the story California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger told Tuesday night about his journey to becoming an American. For those of us mostly familiar with the governor from either his macho Terminator or comedic Twins days on the big screen, suddenly finding his speech so moving was unexpected.
Arnold recalled his days as a young boy living under the tyranny of totalitarianism in Europe. He lyrically traced his path to the day he celebrated his new American citizenship with a flag draped around his massive shoulders. In doing so, he skillfully landed a one-two punch: He reminded us all what it means to be an American, and at the same time alluded to the role America played in the downfall of the Soviet empire. He didn’t specifically mention Ronald Reagan. But then he didn’t have to.
Furthermore, the political strategy of attacking the Democrats by aggressively promoting a positive vision of a unified America, juxtaposed with the Democratic convention emphasis on “two Americas,” was pure brilliance. Peter Jennings, typically searching for ways to undermine Republicans, was reduced to a lame sports analogy. Rudy Giuliani had compared the GOP to the Yankees; Jennings invoked that comparison and added dryly, “but tonight the Yankees got beaten by Cleveland 22 to nothing.”
Arnold continued rhetorically defining what it means to be a Republican. Do you believe that “government should be accountable to the people?” he asked. Should a person be “treated as an individual, not as a member of an interest group?” Does your family “know how to spend your money better than the government does?” The answer every time, of course, was the rousing: “Then you are a Republican!”
In his definition of a Republican, Arnold went on to include an accountable educational system, belief in the U.S. over the United Nations (a crowd-pleaser if there ever was one), and a belief in a “fierce and relentless” opposition to terrorism as further hallmarks of 21st century Republicanism.
Then he concluded his definition of GOP principles with this new entry into the political lexicon: “To those critics who are so pessimistic about our economy, I say: Don’t be economic girlie-men!”
This was political theater at its best. It was political history in the making.
Why, then, was I left with the slight sense of sorrow? Like everyone else in the hall, I thrilled to Schwarzenegger’s story of immigrant-turned-star-turned-governor. . .
But as I reflect on the celebration of his life, justifiable though it may be to rejoice in Arnold’s impressive achievements in the realms of sports, business, film and politics – enough surely for several lifetimes – I’m left wondering if there isn’t something ultimately hollow in this tale. After indulging in an enthusiastic guffaw over the picture of Democrats as “economic girlie-men,” one might pause to consider the adjective specifically attached to the laugh line.
So Democrats are effeminate and impotent when it comes to . . . economics? That’s the j’accuse? Well, sure, that’s one score card. Even an important one.
But look back at Schwarzenegger’s rallying cry – the intellectual core is economic opportunity, with a bridge over to vigorous defense, frosted with a fillip of plain vanilla educational accountability. All well and good.
Still, is that all?? Was this not at one time the party of Abraham Lincoln? Was this not the party that freed the slaves? In his time, Lincoln confronted the great evil of man denying another man’s humanity. A practical politician, Lincoln did not call for the immediate abolition of slavery, but he made clear his opposition, calling a “zeal for the spread of slavery” something that he “could not but hate.” And, of course, eventually, he led our country through war toward the Emancipation Proclamation.
This is the heritage of the Republican Party, and the adopted lineage of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. In Lincoln’s time, the moral challenge was the pain and death of those in bondage; in our time, the challenge is the pain and death of those who are helpless. Arnold spoke movingly about the opportunities, benefits and blessings of being in America and how Republicans provide the right principles and policies for people to achieve. But as the party of Lincoln, Republicans must also address the moral challenges of our day in principles and policies.
Vice President Cheney praised President Bush for being unafraid in calling terrorism “evil” in the international arena. Likewise, it is time to acknowledge evil on a personal level: Men still deny the humanity of other humans. The unborn child is the most defenseless among us. Through the abolition of slavery, the GOP was once a party that defended the weak and the powerless and furthered the cause of justice. It is a task well-suited for the manly virtues and broad shoulders.
The abolition of abortion is the internal challenge that confronts this generation.
George W. Bush has risen to the task and defended the unborn.
If he truly aspires to a leadership that evokes the spirit of the highest American ideals, Arnold Schwarzenegger must do the same.
Anything less is just being a girlie-man.
Janice Shaw Crouse is spokesperson for Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee. She covered the Republican National Convention as well as the Democratic National Convention.