Giddy Republicans — confident they will wipe the floor with Al Gore and return to the White House this fall after eight years in the wilderness — gathered here this week for a conflict-free crowning of George W. Bush and Richard B. Cheney.
While Bush was promising to be a “unique leader for a unique moment” and Cheney was somewhat abashedly delivering the only red-meat attacks of the week, Muckraker was busy prowling the floor on the lookout for two types of folks: delegates upset that Arizona Sen. John McCain was not the party nominee and delegates who cared what Theodore Roosevelt IV had to say about protecting the environment. Struck out on both counts.
During most of the non-prime-time speeches (and some of the prime-time ones as well), you could generally count on one hand the number of delegates actually paying attention to the podium. It was a social and often well-lubricated bunch, and until the big guns (Barbara Bush, Colin Powell, Cheney, etc.) mounted the stage, they seemed far more inclined to press the flesh and clog the aisles than to tune in to the warm-up acts.
That’s not to say Roosevelt, the chair of the League of Conservation Voters and the lone environmental speaker at the convention, didn’t get the occasionally warm response during his brief address Tuesday night. Some of his more innocuous lines went over well, such as: “Whiners and bellyachers may tell you otherwise. The fact is, a healthy, intact environment is one of our nation’s greatest strategic assets. It is the bedrock, the bedrock of a strong economy and a strong nation.”
The rows of silver foxes in funny hats and sweaty college Republicans clapped approvingly at that line, maybe because it included the words “strategic” and “asset,” which, respectively, sound like they have something to do with national defense and high finance, comfortable topics for the GOP.
But other lines drew a somewhat more quizzical, if not downright bewildered, reaction. For instance, when Roosevelt, true to his bloodlines (yes, Teddy the president was his great-grandfather), said, “Our party will listen to the American people and not let our country go down to the bulldozers, go down to the land skinners, go down to the shortsighted and the fearful,” there was a lot of head shaking. You could almost hear the fat-cat developers in the audience wondering, “Does this guy have something against bulldozers?” Or maybe they were trying to figure out what a “land skinner” is.
Anyway, Roosevelt disappeared quickly and few of the delegates this reporter spoke with had anything much to say about him.
We caught up with Roosevelt on Wednesday, wondering how he felt about the GOP platform adopted here on Monday. Among other things, the platform — which says the party’s approach to protecting the environment is to “trust the innate good sense and decency of the American people” — claims that “the way current laws have been implemented has often fostered costly litigation” and states that “scare tactics and scapegoating of legitimate economic interests undermine support for environmental causes.”
Unsurprisingly, Roosevelt said he didn’t feel comfortable talking about the platform. “It puts me in an awkward position,” he said. Roosevelt also would not defend either Bush or his ticket-mate, saying he would be “surprised” if anyone elected from either Texas or Wyoming had a very strong environmental record.
Okay. So Roosevelt didn’t care to talk about the platform and didn’t want to defend the ticket — then what, exactly, was he doing speaking at the convention?
“I was delighted when the Bush campaign asked me to give a speech and they gave me, in my opinion, a lot of flexibility,” Roosevelt explained. “They only gave me five minutes — I would love to have had 15 minutes, but I only had five — but in five minutes I feel I was able to make a couple of points,” including warning about the dangers of global warming (which Bush has said he is not quite sure exists) and urging the GOP to embrace the heritage of Roosevelt’s famous relative.
Roosevelt also said he wanted to stress to other delegates and politicians in attendance, particularly from Western states, that supporting strong environmental laws would ultimately be both good politics and good for business.
“It’s very clear to me that the electorate out there [in the West] recognizes that the future does not lie with traditional industries,” he said. “It does not lie with mining, it does not lie with timber, and it does not lie with agriculture. These are going to represent a declining source of jobs. They recognize that tourism, and protecting the environment, is going to be key to their economic future. The electorate, in some ways, is ahead of the politicians on this because they are beginning to understand where the future is.”
Finally, Roosevelt said another of his goals was to speak with other delegations about important environmental issues in their states. He was to talk to the Florida delegates on Thursday, for example, about off-shore oil drilling and protecting the Everglades.
Enviros in the Shadows
Beyond Roosevelt’s speech, there was little enviro action to be found in Philly. Larry Rockefeller — along with Roosevelt, a green-friendly member of the New York delegation — spent some time trolling the convention floor, peddling a document on Bush’s extremism and his environmental record in Texas.
Green Party nominee Ralph Nader slipped under the radar and made a surprise sortie into enemy territory on Wednesday, ambling around, casting his dour gaze on the proceedings, and sharing with anyone who would listen his contention that the Bush-Cheney ticket is the first corporate subsidiary running for the White House. (For more on Nader’s escapades, check out a Washington Post article by Joel Achenbach.)
A group of red-shirted Ozone Action types showed up at the Shadow Convention (where McCain was roundly booed for saying nice things about Bush) and a handful of Rainforest Action Network people joined protestors outside the convention center, but the street action focused mainly on poverty, the “prison-industrial complex,” and other topics of a non-green nature.
For its part, the Democratic National Committee spent much of the week razzing Bush and Cheney with a series of press conferences and new TV ads, as well as a pair of new websites attacking the GOP ticket on the environment and other issues. First up was www.bush-cheney.net, followed by a campy, mock-horror-movie site, www.iknowwhatyoudidintexas.com.
Caught flat-footed at first, the GOP eventually fired back with www.goreline.com, attacking the vice president on a variety of issues.
Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Program
Next week, we return to Washington for a few days to rest up from the late nights (and the swank parties) here and resume our regular Muckraking. Then it’s off to sunny Los Angeles for the Democratic crowning ceremony, where we will measure how
closely Gore is toeing the green line and search out Nader supporters and other gadflies looking to rain on the veep’s parade.