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Republican Convention Diary: Monday

Robert G. Kaiser and Lucian Perkins
Washington Post Associate Managing Editor and Photographer
Monday, August 30, 2004; 12:00 PM

Associate editor Robert Kaiser and Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Lucian Perkins are at the Republican Convention in New York collecting images and impressions in their Convention Diary.

Kaiser and Perkins were online Monday, Aug. 30, at Noon ET to give their thoughts on the convention, the speeches and the Bush-Cheney ticket.

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The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


New York City, N.Y.: Hello from a former DC-area resident. I don't have a question, but a comment. Well, two. First, enjoyed the installment -- keep 'em coming! Second, you're right about the other cops not having time off -- those not at the convention sites are working 12-hour shifts in other posts all over the city -- from the baseball and tennis events to their regular jobs. (My brother is a rookie in Brooklyn, working midnight to noon.) This is not an easy time for any of them, so thank you for pointing out that they were friendly and polite. They're just doing their jobs, and they deserve respect.

Enjoy my hometown!


Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks for that info. It had to be the cops were all on overtime.

And welcome to all to our Second Convention Diary. We are delighted to be in NY among a lot of patriotic American Republicans and a city full of characters. We will enjoy it for sure!

The game plan: we'll run around town and see and so as much as we can, trying to share photos and words with you that show you what it's like to be here with a WashingtonPost Press Pass around your neck. If you want us to see something or answer some particular question, tell us so here, or send an e-mail to conventiondiary@washingtonpost.com.


Encino, Calif.: Was Ellis Island prepackaged with Republicans or were Democrats allowed into the audience to hear Cheney? What was the response?

Robert G. Kaiser: Good question, which I can't answer. We weren't there. We can't be everywhere, alas. I'll try to get an answer from a Post reporter who was on the scene, and post it later.


Placitas, N.M.: Some of my friends on both sides of the political fence have speculated that a convention surprise will be the anouncement that Mr. Cheney will drop out for health reasons and will be replaced on the ticket by Senator john McCain. However, could the real (October) surprise be that Carl Rove will wait until October to see what the poll numbers are before decidcing whether it is necessary to drop Cheney and thereby give the President's campaign and huge boost at the most critical time of all. By golly, what a surprise that would be. Do you think its possible? Likely?

Robert G. Kaiser: It's Karl, as in Marx. Just kidding. But that's how he spells it.

And no, I say again that there is ZERO chance of Cheney's dropping off the ticket, this week or at any time. I do not know what so many people bellieve this is possible. What makes anyone think it is? Has either he or Bush given us the slightest reason to believe it? No.


Rosslyn, Va.: How badly do you think the protesters will disrupt the RNC? Do you think things will be so bad that you will be able to hear the chants from inside Madison Square Garden?

Lucian Perkins: I would be very surprised if the protests disrupt the RNC. NYC police have a very heavy presence and the the area cordoned off. I suspect their may be some minor disturbances, but nothing to interfere with the convention itself. But who knows.

What I do find interesting is that some of the delegates are intimidated by the rumors that New Yorkers are anti-Republican. Demonstrations like the one last night where protesters confronted delegates at theaters, probably confirmed that in their minds. One Republican coordinator told me that many delegates are afraid to leave their hotel rooms--partly from their own fears of believing that New York is a dangerous city and from the belief that it is anti Republican. That is one thing we will look further into.


U.S.: What are Republicans saying privately about how the decision to convene in New York City has played out?

From the outside, it sure looks like all their original rationales have backfired or disappeared.

Are they just making the best of a lousy situation, or do they still honestly believe there's value in their being in New York?

Robert G. Kaiser: We will pursue answers to this question, which we don't have today. I think your judgment may be premature. There seems no doubt that, starting with VP Cheney's speech yesterday, the Repubs intend to make a great deal of 9/11 and Bush's response to it. And in my opinion this makes sense. That really was Bush's finest hour--at least after the very clumsy first 24 hours. He did rally the country and the world, and lots of Americans who didn't like him before, or since, were very pleased with the way he handled the crisis. Of course he and his supporters would like to recreate those feelings now, when his political life is on the line.

But if they overplay their hand, I agree with you that it could be very risky. They'll be walking a fine line here all week I think.


Arlington, Va.: One of the commentators on Oxblog wrote that the coverage of Sunday's protests by the New York Times and The Washington Post did the protesters both a service and a disservice. According to him, they did the protesters a bad turn by emphasizing altercations at the expense of coverage of their substantive issues, but did them a favor by focusing only on clean-cut protesters and not reporting on the prevalence of fringe elements from the outskirts of the left wing. I'd be curious to hear whether you think this is accurate.

Robert G. Kaiser: You know, our job is not to do services for anyone but our readers, whom we want to inform about what happens. Given the anxiety over violence before the march, and the promises of some anarchists and others to make mischief, of course we reported the altercations. I'm not sure what the critics mean when they say we don't give adequate coverage to their "issues." Do we need to write more about popular disapproval of the Iraq war and other Bush policies? Have we not written acres of copy on these subjects for months? Personally I think some demonstrators think that if they show up with a sign, we should devote inches of type to their issue. But we devote type to NEWS, not to emotion or opinion. Or at least that's what we try to do.

I saw the NBC Nightly News last night, which I thought was a big plus for the demonstrators. It did emphasiz ethe mainstream nature of the crowd, and gave them credit for strong emotions on important issues. It was a lot more important in electoral terms than what the Times or Post published.


Wheaton, Md.: How much concern is there within the convention that there might be terrorists outside among the protestors?

Robert G. Kaiser: We are a terrorized society, and there is plenty of evidence of that in NY. I have the same feeling I had in Boston: Given the thick, all-encompassing security blanket that covers NYC this week, any terrorist who thought this was the time and place to make trouble would have to be totally crazy. Of course, we know that some of these people ARE crazy. But I don't expect terrorism in NYC this week.


Pittsburgh, Pa.: While I won't be watching the Republican Convention (it will just make me mad), I will be looking forward to your online chat this week. A question about the protesters. It was quite a sight to see yesterday, but is anything else (in terms of organized protests) scheduled for this week? I understand that the protesters in Boston were relegated to a very small area outside the Fleet Center. Other than Central Park, anyplace else protesters are not going to be permitted to gather? Also, the press didn't give must ink to the protesters in Boston, will it be the same in NY?

Robert G. Kaiser: Yes, there are protests scheduled all over town all week. We'll tell you more as the week progresses.


Clarkston, Mich.: The question for most people should be, am I better off now than I was in August of 2000.
Although the president cannot control many things, a Republican President with a Republican congressional majority can be held accountable for the state of the divided Union. I for one, think the U.S. was better off before George W. Bush took office. The rest of the world, especially allies, think we were a much better ally then, than we are now. I would think our enemies are delighted with the Bush policies, we are roundly despised around the world, something that can only help terrorists recruiting! The streets of NYC also seem to echo, George W. Bush should go and quickly!

Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks for posting. I hope others who disagree will post today, and later in the week too!


Monterey, Calf.: I'm hoping that you will share as many first hand reports/observations from Sunday's peaceful protest march as you can.

I am particularly interested in your comments on the march's size and what seemed to be by all accounts a very benign, festive atmosphere.

Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks. Here's a link to the good Post story on the march. I'll add a little here, and Lucian may add some more.

I thought the crowd estimates were understated. The demo was enormous, and the crowd was mostly very good natured. It reflected the division in America not between Red and Blue or Dem and Repub, but between the major strains of anti-Bush feelings. There were angry, obscene slogans painted on the bodies and signs of a lot of the marchers, mostly young people, and there were lots of grandmothers, families, square-looking suburbanites and other agents of mainstream America marching beside the punks. And they all seemed to get along fine.

We had heard that some Repubs were hoping for ugly violence and some kind of replay of Chicago '68, a sad episode in our history which, among much else, certainly helped Nixon that year. But nothing remotely like that developped Sunday in New York.

Lucian Perkins: In many ways it is too bad this protest was not in Central Park. It was very difficult from the size of the streets that the marchers walked to get a sense of how large it was. It was also, very hot, humid and crowded. I was very surprised to see the very young and aged who manage the tough conditions. As Bob said it was a very peaceful crowd, and I think, a very dedicated one.


Portand, Ore.: The next President of the United States will have the senior senator for Arizona as the Chairmen of the Armed Services Committee. And even though the hard-right of the GOP (for the record I'm a moderate) has a reputation of punishing certain senators by trying to keep them out of important positions, God help the politician who stands in the way of McCain getting that position. The next president and the appropriations committee are going to have their hands full... The days of porking up the defense budget for non-defense items, cuttring special deals for defense contractors, and comming to committee hearings unprepared are about to be over.

Personally, as a card carrying Republican, I can't wait for McCain to get that position his earned it.

Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks for the interesting comment. McCain of course will, if the Republicans hold control of the Senate, have to contend with Sen. Ted Stevens, who for years has controlled Appropriations, and has a lot of interests in the Defense spending bill which his critics label "pork."

But keep in mind how close the Senate races are, and how good the chances are for the Dems to recapture control. We can go into this in more detail some other time, but as Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska told us this morning, the chances are 50-50 today.


Arlington, Va.: Given the huge costs for security and dealing with protestors, and the lack of any meaningful bump in business (at least for Boston), do you expect cities in the future to refuse to bid for the conventions?

Robert G. Kaiser: Very good question--for conventions, and for the Olympics too after others realize how much Athens and Greece have paid this year. I think any mayor who went out of his/her way to get a convention in 2008 would be way out on a political limb. I'll be interested to see what happens.


Flint, Mich.: don't you think the next for years could be some of the most challenging years we've experienced for a long time. Baby boom retirements, deficits, financing our military. It could be really tuff.

Robert G. Kaiser: Yes indeed.


Indianapolis, Ind.: : The more someone says something the more a person has a chance to think about what it REALLY means. McCain has said President Bush "hasn't flinched from hard choices." Those words are even going to be in his speech tonight. While I was cooking breakfast this morning I got to thinking about what those hard choices were:

Afghanistan? That didn't seem like such a hard choice to me. Imagine where Mr. Bush would be politically if he HADN'T invaded Afghanistan!

Iraq...We beat the pants off them in 1991 and we certainly believed they had WMD's back then and we whipped them in about 100 days (I still have my Time Magazine cover with the soldiers cheering.) So I can't imagine whipping them again was ever in doubt...especially if you expected to be viewed as a hero and liberator (as Bush did) after it's over. Who wouldn't want that kind of adulation and praise? IT probably made the decision a tad more appealing.

Those are the two BIG decisions President Bush has made. So I can't think of any hard choices that McCain might be referring to.

Bush certainly hasn't made any difficult economic policy choices; not one.

Do either of you care to speculate about what you view as difficult choices Bush has made.

Lucian Perkins: Well, Iraq should have been a very difficult choice for one. Despite the ease of the 1991 campaign, there were many people who strongly believed that invading Iraq would prove to be much more challenging than the war in 1991.

Robert G. Kaiser: I agree with Lucian; going to war has got to be a tough decision, and I do think it's what the Bush people have in mind when they make this claim.


washingtonpost.com: 200,000 in N.Y. Protest Bush (Post, Aug. 30)


San Antonio, Tex.: What an interesting juxtaposed pair of reports to open your RNC Convention Diary: the have-a-great-deals counterbalanced by the satirical protestor have-nots pretending to be the have-mores (Billionaires for Bush).

But why, oh why, would TimeWarner/CNN/Ted Turner & Co. throw such opulent parties during both the DNC and RNC gatherings? It's nice that working journalists can get a bite to eat, but why is the cable/publishing giant spending such BIG bucks? If I recall, Rep. Nancy Pelosi was the guest of honor at the Boston fete. Currying favor with the FCC or SEC, or just hospitable hosts?

Second, yesterday's protest march--with so many themes--can probably be sumarized as the ABB rally of all time. But this week, there will be other, smaller protests. Thurday it be be VVAW: I didn't know they're still around. Which of the other protests this week will be noteworthy and which will you be keeping your eyes and lens focused on. P.S. Love the CD's audio!;

Robert G. Kaiser: haven't yet decided what we'll try to look at this week. Our main job is the Republicans, not the protestors, of course. But we'll do some of both.

How big corporations decide to spend money on parties and such has always baffled me. If I were a time-Warner stockholder, I'd be wondering what was up too. I can't imagine Time-Warner got its money's worth from that party. But this kind of expensive-but-only-vaguely-purposeful PR is not something I have ever understood.


Washington, D.C. (Dupont Circle): Hearing that Guiliani and McCain are speakers for tonight makes you realize that the Republicans are really trying to put on their "compassionate conservative" face for the convention again. As a Democrat, I actually have a fair amount of respect for both of these politicians. My question is, do you think there is a chance that this can backfire on Bush? It seems as though he may look less good when compared to these moderate, respectable peers. Then again, I assume that its not as if the general public will be seeing those speeches, similar to the DNC.


Robert G. Kaiser: Well, thanks to the networks again, you are right: the general public won't be exposed to most of the proceedings of this convention. The idea that McCain's speech tonight--given his past criticisms of Bush and his campaign, up to his recent denunciation of the Swift Boat commercial--is not "newsworthy" is utterly laughable. But that, willy nilly, is the position every network has taken, by deciding months in advance to ignore tonight's events.

I'll be interested to see how, particularly, television news handles the Repubs speedy return to Compassionate Conservatism for this convention. Will it wash with voters? Don't know.


Kansas City, Mo.: Given the cultural divisions, the war, the economy, etc. Do you forsee much chance that the GOP convention in 2004 could become the Chicago Democratic Convention of 1968 -- in the streets?

Robert G. Kaiser: No sign of that as of this morning.


Frankfort, Ky.: Why the Republicans discriminate against gays and lesbians? Why don't they respect the freedom of all Americans and treat them equally regardless of their biological and idiological status?

Robert G. Kaiser: "The Republicans" is an entity that doesn't really exist in the way you suggest. The conservative, religious Republicans generally do adopt anti-gay positions; Dick Cheney, on the other hand, has tried to show tolerance, prompted no doubt by the fact that his daughter is a lesbian. The NY Republicans so on display here, Pataki and Guiluiani particularly, have long been sympathetic to gays and lesbians, especially by contrast to their more conservative fellow Repubs.

I suspect you can answer the "why" as well as I. America is a complicated, enormous society. For myself, three years in the Soviet Union 30 years ago was all I needed to make tolerance my most important personal value, but lots of other Americans obviously put other concerns higher on their personal agendas.


New York City, N.Y.: President Bush's HIV/AIDS domestic and global policies lacks credibility and accountability to those us in HIV/AIDS community. Efforts in prevention and care have begun to see a reorganization in the way HIV/AIDS is addressed by CDC and the NIH. The science behind HIV/AIDS contiunes to be undermined by an abstinence based agenda. Funding for HIV/AIDS was either flat funded, eliminated or given to faith based organzations who have little or no experience in dealing with HIV/AIDS. My question is: What additional changes can we expect if President Bush is re-elected for another 4 years? Will parmaceuticals benefit more then individuals infected with HIV/AIDS and will getting people to get an HIV test to find out their status, jeopardize an already failing health system?

Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks for posting. I really have no idea what the answers to your questions might be. I have spent some time thinking about what a second Bush term would be like, when he no longer has to worry about following his father into political humiliation by losing his reelection campaign. I honestly think it might be very, very different from what we have seen in the last four years. But for the life of me I cannot define the different. But think about it: A George W. Bush whose main concern is his place in history would, I think, have to be quite a different guy than the one we've seen for four years, who, in my opinion, has made avoiding his father's fate the first rule in everything he has done as president, nearly.


Washington, D.C.: How significant of a factor will the 9/11 attacks be in the Bush show this week? It was just after the attacks that the country rallied around the president and he polled in the low 90's on job performance.

Robert G. Kaiser: I tried to answer this above. I think it will be very important all week.


Tucson, Ariz.: Are you covering the demonstrations? If not, why not?

Lucian Perkins: We are covering some, but not all--there are demonstrations planned daily around the clock in different parts of the city. However, the ones we aren't covering, our colleagues at the Post are.


Confessions of a liberal...: During the past three years, especially in the months following our invasion of Iraq, it has seemed abundantly clear to me that there was a heavy conservative/corporate bias in the news.

If the networks truly are giving as short shrift to the Republican convention as you say, I'm gonna have to eat a little crow.

On what basis, really, are they making their decisions? Ratings (ie profits) and ratings alone?

Robert G. Kaiser: It's all money. They decided long ago--before the conventions in '96, if memory serves--to cut coverage way back to the paltry few hours we'll get this week. As I've written here before, I personally find this appalling. These institutions would make NO profits, would not exist, were they unable to use the public airwaves that belong to the country, not to them. In light of that fact, their decision to give minimal coverage to the rituals of our presidential selection process is indefensible. Or so it seems to me.


Rockville, Md.: This post really is just a request that your paper cover some planned protests against the media (primarily network and cable television) that are planned on Wednesday from what I understand! I'm looking for more info about it, ie times/places. If you watched the C-SPAN coverage of the protests yesterday, a lot of people chanted against Fox News and their bias, which was heartening to see! Unfortunately, the other cable networks aren't any better! Take last night's sorry coverage of the Republican Convention as an example! You had Chris Matthews fawning all over his Republican guests and questioning why ALL Democrats are rude, after he asked how many Republicans were in the crowd at Herald Square and a FEW Dems heckled! You had Fox News STILL covering the Swift Boat crap, when this week should be focused on the Republican Convention. You had Novak on CNN marginalizing the protestors and asking why there weren't any Kerry supporters in the crowd, when if you watched it on C-SPAN you would have clearly seen some people with Kerry signs! Unfortunately, the rest of the Capital Gang hacks didn't refute his claims!! What a bunch of worthless hacks! Thank God for C-SPAN! Anyways, could you PLEASE report on ANY protests against the SO CALLED LIBERAL MEDIA, especially the cable networks! Thanks!

Lucian Perkins: We'll keep our eyes open for any and all protest against the media--and believe me as hard as some of us try, there is plenty to protest about.


Crowd estimates....: I was at the "million man march" in Washington DC several years ago and felt pretty confident that the crowd size estimates there of around 750,000 was in the ballpark.

Yesterday's march in Manhattan -- honestly -- seemed even bigger. I've never seen anything like it in this country.

Would you venture a guess -- even just an upper and lower range -- to go along with your sense that the estimates were low?

Robert G. Kaiser: Well, I was in the MMM too, and I had a similar sensation yesterday to yours. But I reminded myself that the Mall and area around it is a lot more wide-open than 7th Ave in NYC. The sardine effect made the march yesterday seem much bigger than it might have seemed in an open are like our Mall in Washington.

I am not going to make an estimate, because to do so would imply that I have a basis for making it, and I do not.


Flint, Mich. (with a follow up): This kind of ties in with the question from Indianapolis. Do either of you really believe whoever wins can make the really hard decisions we will be confronted with in the next term.

I'm taking about the deficits, the baby-boom retirement, etc. I'm asking because this generation of politicians HAS NEVER seemed interested in making hard choices. So I'm asking, do either of you think our leaders are ready. No matter who the leader is? ARE THEY READY?

Robert G. Kaiser: Hmmm. Maybe not. But maybe.

Seriously, one lesson I have learned in four decades of reporting is that the guys we elect president ALWAYS turn out to be different in office than I expected them to be. Bush the Younger is a dramatic example of that. I expected him actually to try to be a uniter rather than a divider. I expected him to deal with Congress the way he dealt with the Democratic-controlled legislature in Texas. And look wha t happened.

So I won't make any predictions today about the policy choices the next president will make!


Anonymous: Did Cheney mention the deficit or the new figures showing a rise in the number of Americans living in poverty over the last 3 years?

Robert G. Kaiser: Sure he did, right after he finished explaining why he and Bush opposed creation of the Department of Homeland Security and the 9/11 Commission.


Navy Yard, Washington, D.C.: If we had elected Gore in 2000 would we be better off -- NO! If Kerry is elected in 2004 will we be better off -- NO! Kerry is running away from his record in the Senate, has promised to spend the tax increase on the rich at least 5 times over, voted wrong on Gulf war I, can't make up his mind about Iraq now, and sold out his religious beliefs for Democratic party support. I just wish I was in a battleground state.

Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks for posting.


Washington, D.C.: I was glad to read Bob Kaiser's quotes from anti-Bush marchers who said the "mainstream media" doesn't care about their message. The Post's coverage today reflects that view. Why only two photos in the paper of a huge march in one of the world's most important cities?

Lucian Perkins: That is disappointing. One problem and I'm guessing the reason is that Monday is always a small paper with little space to devote to photos. I've come up against this many times in the past. But regardless, the march deserved much more space.


Robert G. Kaiser: We'll be back tomorrow. Thanks to all for taking part.


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