Two AU College Republicans who are in New York City for the Republican National Convention this week were encouraged by the upbeat atmosphere there, despite the appearance of anti-Republican protesters at one of their events.
College Republicans President Mike Inganamort and Vice President Alan Griffith attended the Republican Youth Convention in New York early Wednesday, where speakers included Education Secretary Rod Paige, Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie and President Bush’s twin daughters, Jenna and Barbara Bush. Griffith said a group of protesters whistled during one of the speeches.
“I’m all about free speech, but free speech is all about the free exchange of ideas, and [it isn’t right] to interrupt someone when they’re trying to get their ideas out,” Griffith said.
Organizers have estimated that about 500,000 people are in New York this week to protest Bush and Republican policies on Iraq, the economy and other issues. In unofficial estimates, police have put their numbers at less than 200,000. Griffith said he has seen a large number of them, and most of them are peaceful.
However, he said the convention overall has a positive message supporting President Bush’s reelection campaign.
While the Democratic National Convention in July focused more on Democratic candidate Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) is different from Bush, Democrats said little about what they stand for, Griffith said. As for the Republicans, he said, “I think they’re putting out a more positive message that people can grasp on to.”
Inganamort said Wednesday afternoon that he was looking forward to that night’s speeches by Vice President Dick Cheney and Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.).
“I’m really intrigued to see what Zell Miller has to say because he’s a Democrat supporting President Bush,” Inganamort said.
In his speech Wednesday night, Miller said Kerry was too soft on terrorism to be President and praised Bush’s firmness.
“Right now the world just cannot afford an indecisive America,” Miller said. “Our president has the courage to stand up, and this Democrat is proud to stand with him.”
AU College Democrats President Greg Wasserstrom criticized the slate of prominent liberal Republicans as speakers, such as former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
“The party they are presenting at this convention is far different from the one that would retain power is a second Bush term,” Wasserstrom said. “Watching this convention is like eating something that is full of sugar and carbs. It tastes pretty good going down, but has no substance and is probably bad for you.”
However, Inganamort said the speaker lineup “shows that the Republican Party is a big tent club ... I think the party is reaching out to conservatives and moderates alike.”
Giuliani and McCain were not chosen because they are more moderate, but because “they’re all very likable people, very telegenic people who can draw in voters, and that’s the point of a convention,” Inganamort said. “It’s not so much a policy forum as a long political commercial for President Bush.”
Griffith said Republicans are united by their support of Bush’s fight against terrorism since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Wasserstrom said he was not interested in any particular speaker.
“I’m going to be watching all the major speeches, but I think that it’s more important to read the news to understand what these people have done to our country and to the world,” he said. “It becomes pretty clear then these people don’t believe most of the things they are saying at the convention.”
Griffith and Inganamort predicted that the convention will help Bush’s campaign, as well as groups like the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth that are raising questions about Kerry’s Vietnam War record.
“[Democrats] basically set their convention around Kerry’s Vietnam experience and now it’s coming back to haunt them,” Griffith said.
Inganamort cited speculation that Democrats want Kerry to reorganize his campaign, publicized by sources such as CNN. “That shows that something’s not working right,” he said.
Wasserstrom had a different prediction.
“Bush will get a boost in the polls from this, no doubt, because he will own the news cycle for the next few days, but I think that when it comes down to it, the American people are going to make it pretty clear that they don’t like to be treated with the amount of disdain this president has demonstrated he has for us,” he said, citing such developments as the war in Iraq and the economic recession.
Students were not the only AU presence at the convention. Bernie Schulz, CR advisor and special assistant to Vice President of Campus Life Gail Hanson, is an alternate delegate from Virginia, and the School of Communication and School of Public Affairs held an alumni reception in New York City Tuesday night.
Jenine Rabin, director of development for SPA, said before the event that organizers predicted about 70 attendees to pay $40 for a ticket. The reception is connected to the “A New AU” fund-raising campaign, she said.
The schools had a similar reception at the Democratic convention in Boston.
The reception featured a panel on this year’s political campaigns. The panelists included SPA professor James Thurber and two AU alumni, CNN correspondent Claire Leka and Glenn Bolger, a partner with the research firm Public Opinion Strategies.
“We’re making sure that our alums know that we stay connected to the most important events,” Rabin said. “Besides the election, this is probably the culmination of the political process.”