Tuesday night at the Republican National Convention, delegates all but threw their panties on the stage when Elizabeth Dole praised George W. Bush for restoring "honor and dignity to the White House." The words are code, of course, for this: Say what you will about George W. Bush, he didn't get a blow job in the Oval Office.
But a short while after Dole spoke reverentially about the "moral compass" that guides the Republicans and their president, the delegates gave a warm welcome to a speaker whose own compass has generally pointed to a place right below his belt. The Republicans may love getting all moral on Hollywood but they also love the breast-groping and potty-talking governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Just as the Republicans have hidden their hard-right brethren this week, Schwarzenegger managed to repress the lesser angels of his own psyche Tuesday night. He didn't say -- as he did last summer -- that "when you see a blonde with great tits and a great ass, you say to yourself, 'Hey, she must be stupid or must have nothing else to offer.'" He didn't say that such a fabulous specimen of humanity sometimes "is as smart as her breasts look." He didn't explain, as he did last year, that there are "some guys who like little breasts and some guys who like big breasts," and that it would be great if breasts were inflatable so that "you could play both sides, sometimes even simultaneously." He didn't talk about the thrill of holding a woman's face in a flushing toilet, nor did he wonder, in that wistful way of his, "How many times do you get away with this?"
What Schwarzenegger did do, however, was something that no other speaker has done so far: He electrified the Madison Square Garden crowd. Part of it was Schwarzenegger's star power, G-rated though it may have been, and part of it was the speech itself. While most of the Republican speakers have rambled through slow speeches that were outlined more than they were written, Schwarzenegger took a page from the Barack Obama playbook, deftly mixing his personal narrative with his party's politics.
Schwarzenegger used his own immigrant story -- and even memories of Richard Nixon -- to set out a vision of what it means to be a Republican, and he riffed on it to set out the feel-good tenets of moderate Republicanism. While John McCain squandered his credibility with a speech in which he pretended to have no disagreements with the president, Schwarzenegger bolstered his own -- and, in turn, Bush's -- with a speech that was at times more honest. He acknowledged -- albeit obliquely -- that not everyone shares the hard-right views that predominate in the Republican Party, and he admitted that America has sometimes stumbled in world affairs.
"We may hit a few bumps but America always moves ahead," Schwarzenegger said. "That's what Americans do. We move prosperity ahead. We move freedom ahead. We move people ahead. Under President Bush, and Vice President Cheney, America's economy is moving ahead in spite of a recession they inherited and in spite of the attack on our homeland."
The delegates heaped love on Schwarzenegger and he shined it back upon them. He left them chanting "Four More Years," and -- if Schwarzenegger were a native-born American -- a lot of them would now be plotting his candidacy when those four years are up. Instead, they'll have to settle for calling this California governor "Reaganesque," and -- boorish and abusive behavior notwithstanding -- the adjective isn't entirely inapt.