Over the first three nights of the convention, Republican speakers
carefully crafted a tripartite frame for Presidnt George W. Bush's Thursday
• Night 1: The Global War on Terror defines our lives and our
• Night 2: With enough discipline, all Americans can pull themselves
up by their bootstraps and become prosperous. Those "girlie men"
who don't prosper have only themselves to blame.
• Night 3: Kerry is weak, unpatriotic, antimilitary, against
national security, without resolve, soft-hearted, confused, and totally
unfit to be commander-in-chief.
After Wednesday night's bare-knuckled
assaults by Zell Miller and Dick Cheney, the president's speech
Thursday was comparatively kinder and gentler.
The president first responded to Democratic charges that he has lost
over a million jobs, done nothing about the 45 million people without
health care, hurt education by refusing to fund the No Child Left Behind
program, and badly injured Medicare by not allowing it to compete on
drug costs with private HMOs. He began by simply saying the opposite,
listing "accomplishments": tax cuts that were working to produce
jobs, the passage of No Child Left Behind, the passage of Medicare "reform."
He then presented his "opportunity society" program, based
on strict-father conservative values. Just as good children must learn
discipline both to be moral and to be prosperous, so good citizens —
the ones with discipline — can become prosperous by pursuing their
self-interest if the opportunity is there. For conservatives, this means
getting government out of the way — providing "pathways,"
Freedom was the thread linking his domestic policies to his foreign
policy. In domestic matters, it means freedom from the United States
George Bush: I am running
with a compassionate conservative philosophy: that government should
people improve their lives, not try to run
In all these proposals, we seek to provide not just a government
program, but a path — a path to greater opportunity, more freedom,
and more control over your own life.
We must strengthen Social Security by allowing younger workers to save
some of their taxes in a personal account nest egg you can call your
own, and government can never take away.
Conservatives have long sought to destroy Social
Security and Medicare, for two reasons: First, from their moral perspective,
all social programs remove the need for discipline and create dependency.
Since discipline is seen as the basis of all morality, all such programs
are immoral. Second, there is a business motive. Businesses can make
more money if they can get their hands on all the Medicare and Social
Security money as investments in them, not in the people whose health
and future are insured. The conservative solution is to privatize both
programs, creating "personal accounts." More freedom.
The motivation for government-run Social Security was that each generation
would pay for the next. In Medicare, as in any insurance program, the
lucky (those not injured or diseased) pay for those less lucky. In addition,
gpvernment-run Social Security offers the twin motivations of economy
of scale and of protection — from stock market declines, bad judgment
in investments, and from an individual's squandering. But in conservatism,
those who are not sufficiently disciplined deserve what happens to them.
If you're undisciplined enough not to establish a personal savings account,
or not shrewd enough to invest it wisely, then you deserve to lose your
health and retirement money and starve in your old age.
After all, conservatism posits a natural moral hierarchy of winners
and losers. Conservatism gives you motivation (a pathway) to win. If
you lose, your loss is a motivation to win in the future. If you're
not disciplined enough to take advantage of the opportunities, too bad
for you. You just won't make it in the opportunity society. And you
don't deserve to.
This frame hides the 25 percent of our work force who are stuck in
low-paying jobs, jobs that 25 percent of U.S. citizens will always have
to do and that may never pay much more. Not having spare money to invest,
they can't take advantage of the tax credits to set up these accounts.
Well, the losers will always be with us.
The "opportunity society" rhetoric is crafted to sound like
it will remedy the same ills that the Democrats are talking about. But
it is virtually the opposite in real content. Take "dependence
on foreign oil." The Democrats point out that the U.S. uses about
60 percent of the world's oil, but has only 3 percent of world reserves.
Kerry's argument for going to a massive alternative fuel program is
that, given these numbers, "you cannot drill your way to oil independence." The
Bush program is to drill everywhere. More freedom.
George Bush: To create more jobs in America, America must be the best
place in the world to do business. To create jobs, my plan will encourage
investment and expansion by restraining federal spending, reducing regulation,
and making tax relief permanent.
This ideologically based conservative program
seems to ignore the long-term benefits to business of government investment
of tax money — as in the highway system, the Internet, the development
of semiconductors, medical and scientific advancement and scientist training
through government grants, and tax-funded institutions that support business,
such as the Federal Reserve, the Treasury and Commerce Departments, and
the court system, which is used 90 percent for corporate law. Or maybe
it doesn't ignore them, but just wants ordinary taxpayers to pay for
George Bush: As I have traveled our country, I have met too many good
doctors, especially OB-GYNS, who are being forced out of practice because
of the high cost of lawsuits. To make health care more affordable and
accessible, we must pass medical liability reform now.
In fact, legal settlements account for a relatively
small amount of the increased cost of medical malpractice insurance.
Such lawsuits are in fact the last resort that the public has against
unscrupulous or negligent corporations that produce products and services
that harm the public. Without them, corporate accountability would fade
away, and unscrupulous corporations would become free to poison the public
and destroy the environment for profit. More freedom.
That was 40 percent of the speech. The rest was on the War on Terror,
though he never once used the phrase. The frame inspiring terror had
been well established on previous nights, leaving Bush to talk about
George Bush: The story of America is the story of expanding
liberty: an ever-widening circle, constantly growing to reach
more. Our Nation's founding commitment is still our deepest
commitment: In our world, and here at home, we will extend
the frontiers of freedom.
Significantly, he did not once use the phrase "war on terror," but
did use the word "liberty" 11 times and "free" or "freedom" 23
times. Here are a few instances of them:
George Bush: And we are working to advance
liberty in the broader Middle East, because freedom will
bring a future of hope, and the peace we
all want. And we will prevail.
in the Middle East will be hopeful societies, which no
longer feed resentments and breed violence
for export. Free
governments in the Middle East will fight terrorists
instead of harboring them, and that helps us keep the peace.
are fighting freedom with all their cunning and cruelty because
freedom is their greatest fear
and they should be afraid,
because freedom is on the march.
The claim was that both Iraqi and Afghan societies
had become free — or inevitably would soon. This, of course, has
been seriously questioned. The further claim is that we have made great
progress toward making the world terror-free.
George Bush: Our strategy is succeeding. Four years ago, Afghanistan
was the home base of al Qaeda, Pakistan was a transit point for terrorist
groups, Saudi Arabia was fertile ground for terrorist fundraising, Libya
was secretly pursuing nuclear weapons, Iraq was a gathering threat,
and al Qaeda was largely unchallenged as it planned attacks. Today,
the government of a free Afghanistan is fighting terror, Pakistan is
capturing terrorist leaders, Saudi Arabia is making raids and arrests,
Libya is dismantling its weapons programs, the army of a free Iraq is
fighting for freedom, and more than three-quarters of al Qaeda's key
members and associates have been detained or killed. We have led, many
have joined, and America and the world are safer.
This ignores the news during the convention of terrorist strikes in
Russia, Israel, Sudan, and elsewhere. It also ignores the news that
the Taliban and al Qaeda are gradually regaining their hold in Afghanistan,
and that "insurgents" now control a significant portion of
Sunni Iraq. But saying makes it so.
How does the president know that victory is inevitable? Because God
is on our side.
…I believe that America is called to lead
the cause of freedom in a new century. I believe that millions in
the Middle East plead in
silence for their liberty. I believe that given
the chance, they will embrace the most honorable form of government
ever devised by man. I
believe all these things because freedom is not
America's gift to the world, it is the Almighty God's gift to every
man and woman in this
And why is God on our side? Because we possess
the primary conservative virtues: inner strength, discipline and the
conservative compassion to promote opportunity for other disciplined
people; in other words, George Bush's heart of gold and "spine of
tempered steel," as Zell Miller put it.
George Bush: …in
those military families, I have seen the character of a great
nation: decent, and idealistic,
The world saw that spirit three miles from
here, when the people of this city faced peril together, and lifted
a flag over the ruins, and
defied the enemy with their courage. My fellow
Americans, for as long as our country stands, people will look
to the resurrection of New York
City and they will say: Here buildings fell, and here a nation
And all of this has confirmed one belief beyond doubt: Having
come this far, our tested and confident Nation can achieve
This young century will be liberty's century. By promoting liberty
abroad, we will build a safer world. By encouraging liberty at home,
we will build a more hopeful America. Like generations before us, we
have a calling from beyond the stars to stand for freedom.
The code words from conservative Christianity
are easy to decipher: 9/11 was God's test of our mettle. Did we have
enough inner strength? The response in New York (led by Mayor Giuliani)
and the courage of our military shows that so far, we have. Our nation
is like every good person, every disciplined individual: it too can pull
itself up by its bootstraps, "can achieve anything." The "resurrection"
of New York City signals the Resurrection of America in this election.
God is calling to us "from beyond the stars to stand for freedom."
To meet God's call, we must show our inner strength and resoluteness
by voting for a leader with that character — not the flip-flopper,
but George W. Bush!
George Lakoff's affiliation with the Rockridge
Institute appears for identification purposes only.