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Republican Convention Diary: Wednesday

Robert G. Kaiser and Lucian Perkins
Washington Post Associate Managing Editor and Photographer
Wednesday, September 1, 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 Wednesday, Sept. 1, at Noon ET to give their thoughts on the convention, the speeches and the Bush-Cheney ticket.

_____About Your Host_____
Robert G. Kaiser is an associate editor at The Washington Post. Previously he was managing editor, second in command of The Post's newsroom, from 1991 until 1998. Earlier, he was a foreign correspondent in Vietnam and Moscow, and covered the Senate and the 1980 presidential campaign. He did a stint as editor of Outlook before becoming the assistant managing editor for National News in 1985 and later deputy managing editor. He is the author of six books including "The News About the News," which he co-authored with Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr.

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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.

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Monterey, Calif.: Mr. Kaiser,

Of the Republicans you've spoken with who were able to experience the peaceful protests march on Sunday -- what have been their reactions?

Assuming that some were as shocked by the size as the rest of the country was, how do they interpret that?

Thank you.

Robert G. Kaiser: Hello and welcome back to the Convention Diary discussion. Or welcome for the first time!

Lots of good questions today. To start with this one, there were some Bush supporters along the path of the march Sunday, and though there was some razzing from and to them, it was good natured. There are Kerry supporters standing outside delegate hotels holding up signs, and they are treated politely too, at least in my experience. Just saw some this morning.

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Washington, D.C.: As an Indian (from India) I've watched bits of the Democratic convention and have started watching snippets of the Republican convention. I am surprised by the homogenous color (shades of white) of the attendees at the the RNC compared to the Boston party which had a very wide range of people and skin colors.
Is this really the case on the RNC convention floor? Or am I just seeing sections of the delegates on TV and in your photographs?

Robert G. Kaiser: No, this is a much whiter convention than the one in Boston. I looked up the statistic: about 6.4 percent of delegates here are African-American, and about that many are something else other than white. Whites are more than 80% of the total. The GOP is diversifying, but slowly.

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Washington, D.C.: Was that not brilliant of the RNC last night? They filled almost every second of their prime time slot with speeches -- no downtime for the talking heads to get off message. Not that they would anyway. Didn't anyone see that coming? How will the networks deal with that tonight and tomorrow? Or will they just let it go, with no context?

Robert G. Kaiser: Wasn't it similar in Boston? I think so, though I confess I never watched a network there in prime time. But certainly on the most important night, for Kerry's speech, the Dems filled the time pretty completely.

The networks are hoist on their own petard, if that's how you spell it. They look so laughably foolish here -- don't get me started.

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Portland, Maine: How moderate are the delegates? Is this a convention of Olympia Snowes or Rick Santorums?

Thanks.

Robert G. Kaiser: Much more like Santorum than Snowe.

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New York, N.Y.: Pres. Bush has yet to agree to the three debates, even though the dates, times, places, and even the moderators have been set. Is this just a formality? Waiting until after the convention? Or are the Republicans seriously going to try and negotiate Bush down to just two debates or even one?

Robert G. Kaiser: Very good question. I expect that we'll get all three, but there has been no formal agreement, or informal for that matter, from the White House. But at this late date to suddenly be unavailable to debate would look pretty bad, I think.

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New Market, Md.: Your electoral college math is incorrect. If Bush wins all the states he won in 2000, plus Wisconsin and Iowa and loses Ohio, he has 274 electoral votes and still wins. You forgot to factor in the redistricting of Congress. Texas picked up seats and New York lost seats -- as a whole, Bush or "red" states gained more electoral votes than Kerry or "blue" states did.

Robert G. Kaiser: This is a response to a statement I made in a Diary entry about the importance of Ohio. I won't replay the scenario I described, not least because New Market is absolutely right. I did forget about the changes in Texas and New York, so I overstated the relative importance of Ohio. I goofed.

But Ohio is still very important in this election!

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Washington, D.C.: Mr. Kaiser,

What exactly is the deal with Zell Miller? If he hates the Democrats so much, why not just become a Republican? Or does it simply get him more attention as a Democrat who attacks Democrats, rather than as a former Democrat who attacks Democrats?

Robert G. Kaiser: Can't answer that question, but I suspect that, like nearly every politician I have known, love of attention is a factor. I hope we can give you a link here to today's story in The Post about Miller.

washingtonpost.com: Zell Miller: A Democrat Who Insists His Party Left Him (Post, Sept. 1)

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Grand Rapids, Mich.: As Bush is getting lauded as the strong war leader, is there any discussion at the convention regarding the wave of terrorist attacks spanning from Moscow, Afghanistan, Israel, and of course, Iraq while the convention takes place? Is there any apprehension that these events might have been coordinated to embarrass the administration as it makes its case that the world is safer?

Robert G. Kaiser: I've heard nothing, but you make an interesting point. In fact, the rhetoric here is a little like a steamroller. The idea that Iraq might NOT be an appropriate target for a war agaisnt terrorism is not acknowledged in any way. Indeed, the 9/11 Commission might as well never have published its findings as far as the speakers here have been concerned.

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Houston, Tex.: Mr. Kaiser,

I thought Arnold gave a wonderful speech last night that had a great message of inclusion. Though that message seems to be in pretty stark contrast to the GOP platform. Also, maybe it's just me, but his quips involving his past movies are getting kind of tired.

Robert G. Kaiser: Arnold is a great performer. I had an interesting chat with an Israeli-American shopowner here this morning who voted for Bush in 2000 and thought Arnold's speech was "a big bore." I have no idea, never do, of how people will react to such speeches, which in fact have no real political content, but string together anecdotes, jokes and symbols. But symbols are terribly important in politics, and can be very effective devices.

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Ft. Myers, Fla.: What do you make of President Bush's about face in reagrd toward winning the war on terrorism? On one day, in a rare unscripted moment, the President said that he believed the war on terrorism could never be won. Within 24 hours, he reversed his posistion entirely. Is this a hint of nuance? Or is this more indicative of the gap between what Bush believes and what Bush says?

Robert G. Kaiser: Several questions about this today. I think we saw the Bush campaign operation at its most efficient in this episode. It took Kerry days to gear up a strong response to the Swift Boat commercial, but Bush responded to his own mistake within hours. Several questioners ask, in this context, if this episode could be the basis for charges about Bush flip-flops, and I don't know the answer. I'll post one or two more and make additional comments below.

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Alexandria, Va.: The Republican convention thus far has been much less polished and choreographed than its Democratic counterpart in Boston was last month. How has this affected your ability to gather hard-hitting pictures? And are there as many funny hats at the GOP convention as there were at the Dems'?

Lucian Perkins: On the contrary, it is the other way around. Every aspect of this convention is choreographed down to the signs that appear to be handwritten, but in fact are not. As a member off the press you can't help but feel manipulated. For example, delegates are constantly reminded to cheer for the cameras, Another example is that on the large TV screen on stage they will run reports for the delegates by what appears to be a reporter with a microphone that says RNC who reports bits of "news" from the convention throughout the evening. So by the end of the evening you start to ask yourself what is real and what isn't. This is not to say that the delegates are not genuinely excited about being here--they are--or that there aren't "real" moments here--there are. But the bottom line is this is a made for TV event with every detail carefully created.

As for the most funny hats or weirdest outfits, it is definitely a tie in this department.

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Boston, Mass.: I've been watching both conventions and last night seemed, well...odd. The mentioning of Nixon (particularly as the man who turned Gov. Schwarzenegger onto the GOP), the twins' jokes/speech, and an emphasis on the Cold War rather than current problems. Clearly, the First Lady did well, but since I watched on television, maybe I missed something? What are your thoughts on last night?

Robert G. Kaiser: To repeat, my reactions to these events are useless, and meaningless, but I agreed with you. Arnold making so much of Nixon (a truly liberal president by today's Republican standards)baffled me; he is hardly a heroic icon for the country, or even for Republicans. What impression those good natured, giggling twins made on voters--well, I just have no idea. I know from their reaction that the delegates here just loved them, and Laura Bush too of course.

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Laurel, Md.: The theme of many of the Republican speeches has been to attack John Kerry on his supposed "flip-flopping." Should the Kerry campaign fight back with examples of the many Bush flip-flops (i.e. opposing the creation of the 9/11 commission, the suppporting it)?

Robert G. Kaiser: Here's another question on the flip flops. As I've written here before, any politician who has been in the public arena for more than about 45 minutes has changed his/her position on something. Bush's record is full of such changes, wheter you label them flip-flops, second thoughts, changes of heart or mind, etc. Look, for example, at the justifications he used for tax cuts; in the 2000 campaign and during his first year in office, the purpose was to give the federal budget surplus back to the people. When the surplus turned into a yawning deficit and the economy went into recession, the tax cuts were to stimulate growth. There are many other examples. I don't know if the Kerry campaign will make an issue of this or not, of course.

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Rockville, Md.: I mentioned on Monday a protest against the media today. Here's the info:

NYC March on the Media
Wednesday, September 1, 7-10 pm
Converge at 52nd Street and the west side of 6th Avenue
www.marchonthemedia.org

I'm just respectfully asking and hoping that your paper covers this protest! Considering the one-sided coverage of this Republican Convention in my humble opinion, I think it's more important than ever!

On that note, where are the Democratic rapid response team at the Convention? Have you seen any members of that team? It's amazing that not one member was available after the Arnold and Laura speeches last night on cable news/PBS. Do you know whether Democrats simply weren't invited on these shows or whether the DNC dropped the ball and didn't make these people available? I would really appreciate it if you get someone to cover that angle of the Convention as well. As I look online at SEVERAL Democrat-friendly sites, a lot of people have noticed the absence of Democratic pundits to respond to the Republican Convention speeches and wondering WHY! I think A LOT of people are interested in that answer! Thanks as always for taking my question!

Robert G. Kaiser: Here's a link to a decidedly two-sided analysis by my colleague Dan Balz that appears on the front page of today's Post.

My sense is that you want us to play the role of political opposition, which we will not do. We pretty much ignored the Republican response team in Boston because we were there to cover the Democratic convention. Here the same rule applies. Covering the rhetorical badminton both sides play, which is utterly meaningless in my opinion, is a waste of our space and ink. Yet we do a certain amount of it all the time in a quest for a sort of fairness. Personally I've long wondered if this was a mistake; I've provoked many conversations among Post editors about it; we have avoided adopting any sort of firm policy, but we don't spend a lot of ink on printing debating points back and forth that represent nothing but a form of gamesmanship--in my opinion.

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New York, N.Y.: Did you hear the twins? I thought it was a bit bizarre. How did the crowd react?

Lucian Perkins: I was surprised that the twins ended up speaking (last month Laura Bush was reporting as saying that they were too young to speak) and even more surprised by their speeches. There were moments when the delegates laughed at their jokes, but it was a the type of laughter from one who was wondering whether they should be laughing--or at least that was how I read it. The bottom line is that there were, definitely, a few awkward moments here during their speech.

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washingtonpost.com: The GOP's Challenge: Softening the Edges (Post, Sept. 1)

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Los Angeles, Calif.: As a Californian, I'm wondering what you think of the Ahnold speech.

I have some friends involved in politics out here he feel he will eventually want to run for president (after amending the Constitution, of course).

Bush isn't well liked out here, I wonder if Ahnold stumping for Bush in such a public form could hurt him in California.

Any reaction? Thanks

Robert G. Kaiser: I'm no expert on California politics, and I am quite certain the Constitution won' tbe amended to allow him to run for president, and I also know that he is anything but out of the woods in California, having found only a transparently insubstantial set of ruses to avoid fiscal disaster so far.

I have wondered how appearing to be such Bush enthusiasts might affect not only Arnold, but also Mayor Bloomberg in New York, a former Democrat who became a nominal Republican so he could run for mayor (and spend tens of millions of his own fortune on the campaign). But I have no idea what the answer might be.

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Portland, Maine: RE: Bush declaring the war on terror unwinnable

That was one of the few things he's said that encouraged me about his character and ability to govern. The war on terror IS unwinnable. At best it can be contained. Any leader who believes terrorism can be eradicated entirely shows an appalling lack of insight into human nature. Pessimistic? Perhaps, but there is over 5000 years of evidence to parse through.

Robert G. Kaiser: thanks for posting.

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Bethlehem, Pa.: I am an undecided voter, and was waiting to hear during this convention what the RNC will do to improve the economy, health care, jobs, rising cost of education etc, but nothing is forthcoming. When will George Bush and his cohorts tell us what are really important to us?

Robert G. Kaiser: Good question. We've been told for weeks now that this will all come on thursday night, in Bush's acceptance speech. Analytically, I think you could argue that the convention managers must have concluded already that whatever the President's speechwriters come up with for Thursday will be less important to the election than the themes they are repeating again and again already: strong leadership, a time of danger, a president to keep us safe, a president who governs on principle not polls, etc.

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Washington, D.C.: What are the chances that Bush flip-flops will become a campaign story line and be repeated in story after story after story?

WaPo 8/28/2004 Page A4 'Then, Bush [in Florida attacking Kerry 'flip-flops]added: "When I say something, I mean it."

A Worried Bush Revisits Florida (Post, Aug. 28)

Washington Post Online 8/31/2004 Bush: 'We Will Win' the War on Terror President Reverses Statements Made in 'Today' Show Interview?

Robert G. Kaiser: Another on the flipflop theme. Meredith Bragg, who edits these conversations (brilliantly) for us on washingtonpost.com, has given you a link to a relevant Post story.

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Arnold!;: I thought Arnold's speech was inane and am amazed at the positive coverage it is getting.

Some of the highlights:

Nixon was a Republican so I am too.

Before I was an action hero I was scared of the Soviets.

Critics of Bush's failed economic policies are "girlie men."

This is pretty sad stuff.

Lucian Perkins: I was standing with the California and Washington delegations and it was exactly these quotes and other that revved them up.

Robert G. Kaiser: How do you spell Rorzhak Test? Not like that, I fear. But your reaction reminds me of one. How people react to something like Arnold's speech becomes a way to understand who they are, what they think, etc. We've learned something about you from this brief exchange, and Lucian has told us something about California and Washington Repubs.

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Cortlandt Manor, N.Y.: McCain is from Arizona and Arnold looks to be one of the more popular people on the West Coast. Maybe I missed it, but did Kerry have any prominent Western US politicians slotted for primetime speaking at his convention? I mean, both conventions are being held on the East coast this year, but at least the Republicans made an effort to include people from the other side. Do you see how this could potentially be a liability for Kerry and a benefit for Bush? Do you think it matters at all?

Robert G. Kaiser: I understand that the Bush campaign and California Republicans both agree that Kerry will win California this year with ease. So I guess it doesn't matter at all, at least for this election.

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Phoenix, Ariz.: Is there any grumbling at all from the delegates about the possibility of nominating a more moderate candidate, like McCain or Giuliani?

Lucian Perkins: I didn't get a sense at all from the floor that this is even an issue. VP Dick Cheney was roundly cheered when he walked in the last few nights.

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Arlington, Va.: Was Bush really at some late night softball game in Pennsylvania during his live feed to the RNC -- after his daughters introduced him? It just seemed rather fake.

Robert G. Kaiser: Didn't that look weird? With people playing softball in the background as though nothing at all unusual was going on in the foreground? Tallk about a choreographed event...

But yes, the President was really at a softball game in Pennsylvania. And it struck me that his brief introduction of his wife was Bush at his best and most likeable. But that's just me talking.

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Cheverly, Md.: What's with the blatant Christian Cross embeded in two tone wood to the right hand side of the Pulpit, I mean lecturn on the stage. Is a not a clear message that there is a vast disrecpancy between his view, his party's views, their global view and his presumed responsibility as an unbiased leader of a secular nation.

Lucian Perkins: Sharp eyes.

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Boston, Mass.: Who is crafting the message points for the Bush twins, and exactly what demographic are they going after? As a 25-year-old voter, I was much more impressed by the Kerry/Edwards children and think that the Bush campaign should
take a lesson from them.

As an aside, thanks so much for holding these chats. I've followed them for both the DNC and RNC and think they are an excellent way to allow people to become part of the political process.

Robert G. Kaiser: You're welcome. And thanks for the nice words.

The White House speechwriters I'm sure had a hand in the Bush twins' remarks, but I don't have any hard information for you.

It struck me watching last night that Mrs. Bush and her daughters are representatives of one strain of American womanhood, one admired by millions of Americans, while Theresa Heinz Kerry and the Kerry daughters represent another quite different strain that is ALSO admired by millions. We are reminded periodically that although American women have been "liberated" in many respects, as a society we still have no consensus at all about what appropriate female roles should be. The country's reactions to Hillary Clinton are further evidence of this lack of consensus, I think.

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Seattle, Wash.: I heard some of the talking heads describing Arnold's speech as "historic". I suppose it is historic in that the term "economic girlie men" has never been used at a major party convention before! But what else was "historic"? He's not even the first actor to become governor of California!

Robert G. Kaiser: He was the first Austrian-born former weighlifting champion to speak at a national convention for either party, I guarantee it.

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New York, N.Y.: "Much more like Santorum than Snowe."

While that may be true of the delegates and the platform, aren't the speakers the other way around?

Robert G. Kaiser: Absolutely.

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Washington, D.C.: I am a democrat who attended the Convention in Boston. I am again struck by the media's lack of balance in reporting. Reporters seem so entralled by the Repubs once again giving them a pass or soft reporting what is going on. They appear to be mezmerized by the mood of the compassionate convention -- In Boston they never let up on the candidate or his wife constantly looking for the "bad" news to report -- when Kerry gave his speech, for the most part, the story was not that Kerry's speech was a good speech, but that he was finally capable of delivering a good speech. If Mrs Kerry speaks her mind, it becomes the story for days on end. When the President makes a gaff, and flips-flops the next day after his staff spins the story with reporters, it just seems to go away. We get criticized for holding a convention that is scripted and on message; the Repubs get cudos for being courteous to "silent" protestors outside their hotels.
When is the press/media going to see the light that this is the most dangerous administration, certainly in my lifetime, and I'm no youngster,that has the potential of destroying our civil liberities, has ruined our reputation around the world for decades to come, incites more terrorists by promoting a policy of unilatteral, preemptive strike, destroys our economy, all under the banner of compassionate conservatism -- And all I hear is how nice Mrs. Bush is. What's going on? Where is the tough reporting?

Robert G. Kaiser: Again, I don't see The Post's coverage described in your comment, but of course these are all subjective opinions. I refer you to Dan Balz's piece on the front page today.

We have been writing for days, or weeks, about the GOP plan to manipulate the message at this convention, have we not? You learned in The Post about the exclusion from the podium this week of nearly all representatives of the dominant, conservative element in the Congressional Republican Party. We have reported at length about the GOP's attempt to revive "compassionate conservatism."

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Los Angeles, Calif.: Were either of you gentlemen on the floor last night when a Code Pink protester was hauled out of the Garden while shouting at VP Cheney? I'd love to know what the crowd, and Mr. Cheney's, reactions were.
Thanks.

Lucian Perkins: I was on the floor, but in another part when it happened. Several photographers who were there, said that the security swooped down and whisked her so fast that almost no one noticed it. And it happened so quickly that they weren't able to record the incident. But, maybe someone else managed to capture it.

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Frederick, Md.: How can you say Arnold's speech had "no real political content"? I expect Alan Greenspan to use the phrase "economic girly-men" in his next Humphrey-Hawkins testimony!

Robert G. Kaiser: When he does, I'll buy you lunch. And dinner.

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Boston, Mass.: I found Michael Steele's reference to Reagan as a civil rights hero pretty out there. Heck, almost all his references to Repubs' roles in civil rights were rather ridiculous. A lot of the Dixiecrats who he used to represent the Democratic party and who voted against the Civil Rights Act later went on to JOIN the Republican party. Does this misrepresentation of history really work on anyone? I don't think even the most hardcore conservatives share his position (as a matter of fact, I believe Newt Gingrich made the opposit point once).

Robert G. Kaiser: Yes, Gingrich has acknowledged the GOP past in the way you suggest. And no, I don't think many people for whom civil rights, particularly African American rights, have been persuaded by Steele or anyone else that the Republican Party is a natural home for them. The statistics on how black Americans vote are eloquent on this point.

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Providence, R.I.: Why is consistency of opinions/voting over decades so important? I'd be disappointed if I didn't change over time. I find this trend to be a central flaw in the system of politics. On the one hand, these people are not allowed to change as people/individuals, yet at the same time, personal behavior is held to the light in order to emphasize flaws in the politician. While both parties seem to strive towards inclusively of groups, the system of language that is politics seems to be extremely exclusive, closing itself off to the rules of interaction and speech of the rest of us. The bush daughter's speech seemed to me to be an attempt to counter this (their emphasis on how they are not political, yet they have a place) yet it only underscored this fact with their utter stupidity and obviously alien behavior

Robert G. Kaiser: thanks for posting.

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Arlington, Va.: When does Tom Delay speak, or former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, or Orrin Hatch or Trent Lott? My point is that the GOP has placed the moderate/likeable pols out front (Arnold, McCain, Guiliani) and placed the lightening rods in a closet. What do you think?

Lucian Perkins: I keep looking but I haven't seen any of these fellows on the floor. But I will keep looking. I'm sure they are here somewhere

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Cuttyhunk Island, Mass.: Karl Rove seems to be the Machiavellian mastermind of the Bush Adminsitration. How does he compare to Lee Atwater? Wasn't Rove a protoge of Atwater?

Robert G. Kaiser: I think you may be giving Rove a little more credit that he has earned. I doubt he could write the equivalent of The Prince, or that it would remain in print, and relevant, for centuries.

But he is important. He and Atwater did have connections, partly through College Republicans. But I don't think it would be correct to call him a protege.

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Charleston, S.C.: You make a good point about the two types of woman. I never understood they the Kerry-type women (for lack of a better word) aren't very popular or liked when there is a poll. Generally speaking, the stay-at-homers get the most credit for "doing the right thing." and "being 'good' wives."

Robert G. Kaiser: I don't think you are right. Independent, strong women are liked by many, but also disliked by many. Not sure what poll you are referring to, but look at Hillary's popularity, book sales, etc. She is controversial, of course, but she has a lot of female admirers.

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New York, N.Y.: What kind of camera does Lucian use?
Is he related to Marlin Perkins from Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom?
Is that a real mustache?

- "Bill" from New York City

Lucian Perkins: Probably 90% of the cameras used by journalist now are digital. As for the other questions--Funny, very funny.

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Dupont Cirlce, Washington DC: I was curious about the Republican platform. It was easy to find the Democrats on line, at about 42 pages, quite readable. Yet to find the Republican you have to go through many layers, then it is about 92 pages long. The first half is all foreign policy, the second is about corporatizing America. Buried in there are two constitutional amendments -- to ban gay marriage and abortion. I thought the President took an oath to protect and defend the constitution, not to change it.

Robert G. Kaiser: Well, you're using us to make a point, aren't you? And that's perfectly OK--it's one of the reasons we do this. The platform approved at Republican Conventions has been irrelevant to the campaign since 1980 at least. It is always much more conservative than any candidate has been willing to campaign on. This year's is probably no exception.

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Michigan: After watching the Laura Bush speech last night, I have concluded that I just don't get her wide- range appeal. She's just the kind of demure, unremarkable Stepford wife that makes a 20- to 30-something such as myself cringe. I get Lynne Cheney. I get Barbara Bush. I get Nancy Reagan. Each of the former is an interesting and smart woman in her own right. It seems Laura Bush only speaks when the BCO4 blesses it.

Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks for contributing to this discussion of women and their roles.

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Los Angeles, Calif. -- Code Pink Protestor: Lucian,
Someone did capture the protestor as she was being hauled out, I heard some of the audio of the incident on the radio this am, she was shouting (paraphrasing here), "Mr. Cheney, no more killing in Iraq" and, "Mr. Cheney, how much money did you make on the war today?" -- she apparently was carried out of the Garden, head first, down a flight of stairs to I don't know where.

Lucian Perkins: Thanks for the advisory. With security so tight, it is amazing that Code Pink or any other protest organization slipped someone in.

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Robert G. Kaiser: Out of time. Thanks to all. Remember, if you have additional comments, questions, suggestions, wheatever, send them to us at conventiondiary@washingtonpost.com. Back at noon tomorrow. And check out our Diary (there's a link at the top of this discussion) if you have time.

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