Aperture magazine at the Republican National Convention, Night 2
Fred Thompson, September 2, 2008. Republican National Convention. Xcel Center, St. Paul, Minnesota. Photo by Jon Winet
David Levi Strauss, Aperture magazine contributing editor, noted writer, and current Chair of MFA Art Criticism and Writing Department, School of Visual Arts, shares his unique perspective via daily dispatches from the 2008 Democratic and Republican National Conventions.
The Other Side & Their Friends in the Media
When the Bush/Cheney regime seized power eight years ago, I would not have predicted that they would prove to be so adept at the deployment and control of images to shape public opinion. In fact, they turned out to be better at it than any previous American administration.
Watching the first (delayed) night of the Republican National Convention on TV tonight, I was struck by how different the image rhetoric in St. Paul is from what I saw first-hand in Denver last week. The images projected behind speakers tonight were more subtle and yet more iconic than anything I saw in Denver. Joe Lieberman stood before a clear blue sky broken only by a flag waving from a single pole. The film narrated by Gary Sinise was less mawkish and more moving than any of the Democrats’ films. Only George W. Bush’s visual broadcast from the Oval Office was substandard, and that may very well have been by design. For McCain to win, he must distance himself from the Bush/Cheney image.
The verbal rhetoric of each party is less distinguished and less distinguishable. Like John Kerry, Fred Thompson gave a great speech, much better than anything he did on his own behalf as a candidate. Did he have access to better speechwriters tonight, or does he just perform better in a supporting role? “John McCain knows about hope. [When he was a POW] that was all he knew.” “This is the kind of character that civilizations from the beginning of our history have sought in their leaders.” “Character you can believe in.” “Not because of a teleprompter’s speech designed to appeal to America’s critics abroad.” “The Democrats present a history-making nominee for President; history-making in that he’s the most liberal, most inexperienced nominee ever to run for President.”
The overall message was clearer in St. Paul because it was less complicated. Fred Thompson painted a compelling portrait of the candidate and threw out partisan red meat, and then Joe Lieberman appealed to disaffected conservative Democrats and Independents by saying partisanship isn’t enough. It is strange to see both campaigns running against their respective parties. Both McCain and Obama realize that they cannot win with only traditional party loyalties, that they must extend their reach. And they’re both reaching toward the same undecided voters, from opposite ends of the spectrum.
Filed on Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2008, after the second night of the Republican Convention in St. Paul.