Lipstick on the pig

By Tim Grieve

Published August 26, 2004 11:02PM (EDT)

The RNC dubbed the Democrats' Boston convention an extreme makeover, but GOP convention planners have certainly spent some time in Mary Kay mode. Although the Bush administration has spent four years veering hard right, the convention's prime-time speakers will mostly be members of the party's oft-neglected middle.

If you don't peek behind the curtain at Madison Square Garden, you'd think the Republican Party is run by the moderate wing it routinely ignores. Arizona Sen. John McCain, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani will speak in prime time Monday night; Calif. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, first lady Laura Bush -- she's nice! -- and Secretary of Education Rod Paige -- he's black! -- will take the stage in prime time Tuesday; turncoat Democrat Sen. Zell Miller will soften up the hard-right duo of Lynne and Dick Cheney Wednesday night; and New York Gov. George Pataki will introduce the Compassionate Conservative in Chief Thursday night.

Put that group in charge of the GOP, and you'd end up with a party that represents the great middle of the country. But that group isn't in charge of the GOP, and it hasn't been for years. The real power behind the party -- the right-wing Christians for whom abortion and now gay marriage are the only issues that matter, the neocon hawks who led the country into war on Iraq and are now starting to salivate over Iran -- will largely be kept out of sight, at least during the few hours of the convention the networks will carry. Pat Buchanan taught the party a lesson in Houston in 1992: When you've got people who want to start railing darkly about a religious war let them speak when the cameras aren't running.

But that doesn't mean that the Republicans aren't dancing with the ones who brung them. So far, it looks like the party's platform will contain not just a call for a ban on gay marriage but a prohibition on any legal recognition whatsoever of any kind of same-sex union. Which party is the one making itself over so extremely? As Christopher Barron of the Log Cabin Republicans put it, "You can't craft a vicious, mean-spirited platform and then try to put lipstick on the pig by putting Rudy Giuliani and Arnold Schwarzenegger on in prime time."

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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