NEW YORK — After Monday's focus on Iraq and terror, the Republicans showed a softer side on the second day of their national convention, giving impassioned speeches on marriage, education and health care. First lady Laura Bush advanced those themes in the evening's closing speech; it was also the night of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's electrifying national political debut.
Most of this second day of the convention was built around the stated theme, "People of Compassion." Delegates spent part of the day volunteering at local charities around New York, and when the evening's program got under way, speaker after speaker praised the progress made by Bush on a host of domestic issues, ranging from social security to AIDS. Princella Smith, the 20-year-old winner of MTV's "Stand Up and Holla" essay competition, fit nicely into the flow with a speech in which she called for a "Generation X-ample."
The excitement, however, really began a couple of hours into the evening session when Arnold Schwarzenegger strode to the podium. The Californian was effusive in his praise of President Bush, calling him a man of "perseverance, character, and leadership," and also spoke glowingly of an America that had enabled a "once-scrawny boy from Austria" to achieve such success. "If you work hard and if you play by the rules," he said, "this country is truly open to you. You can achieve anything."
He described his arrival in the United States during the 1968 presidential campaign, and talked of the inspiration he felt upon hearing that year's victorious but ill-fated Republican nominee, Richard Nixon, speak of "free enterprise, getting government off your back, lowering taxes and strengthening the military."
There was no question that Schwarzenegger was the star of the show. Chants of "U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A." broke out spontaneously as he spoke and blue "Arnold!" signs were a hot ticket among delegates on the floor. A number of Schwarzenegger's quips, often taken from his movie-star past, were met with deafening applause in the convention hall. The biggest cheer came when Schwarzenegger intentionally provoked some of his detractors by saying, "To those critics who are so pessimistic about our economy, I say: Don't be economic girlie-men! The U.S. economy remains the envy of the world." In July, Schwarzenegger had made a similar comment and was accused by some of homophobia.
The Republican's softer side provided no haven for John Kerry, however. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist led off the continued Kerry-bashing with a "Shame on you, Mr. Kerry," when discussing stem-cell research. Maryland Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele noted that "I don't want to use the words 'commander in chief' to describe John Kerry." Education Secretary Rod Paige described Kerry as a "Johnny come lately." Schwarzenegger described the Democratic convention as sharing a name with one his prior movies: "True Lies."
Laura Bush concluded the night with a heartfelt defense of her husband and his presidency, with special attention to the war on Iraq. She described the decisions leading up to war as "agonizing" because "no American president ever wants to go to war," but necessary for long-term peace and prosperity. To fit into the day's compassionate theme, Mrs. Bush tied the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to a broader discussion of the United States' history of international humanitarian operations.
The first twins, Jenna and Barbara Bush, made a somewhat awkward appearance in which they joked about their parents' and grandparents' ignorance of pop culture, quoted from Outkast's "Hey Ya!" and gently mocked their father's own youthful indiscretions. As Jenna explained, "All those times when you're growing up and your parents embarrass you? This is payback time on live TV."
Other convention business was accomplished on Tuesday as well. Early in the evening, Pennsylvania, the swing state that Mr. Bush has visited more than two dozen times in the past three years, cast all of its 75 votes for Mr. Bush, officially putting him over the top of the 1,255 votes needed for nomination.
On Wednesday, Vice President Dick Cheney, second lady Lynne Cheney, and Democratic Senator Zell Miller will speak.