NEW YORK — The theme of the third night of the Republican National Convention was "Land of Opportunity." But that theme only seemed to invite the evening's speakers — which included Vice President Dick Cheney, Democratic Senator Zell Miller and Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney — to make use of any and every opportunity to tear into Democratic nominee John Kerry.
As with Arnold Schwarzenegger the night before, an unconventional convention speaker stole the show. Miller, a Democratic (although barely) senator from Georgia, spoke in tones evoking a fire-and-brimstone preacher as he explained his transformation from being the keynote speaker at the 1992 Democratic convention to filling the same role for the Republicans in 2004.
"Now, while young Americans are dying in the sands of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan," Miller explained, "our nation is being torn apart and made weaker because of the Democrats' manic obsession to bring down our commander-in-chief. What has happened to the party I've spent my life working in? I can remember when Democrats believed that it was the duty of America to fight for freedom over tyranny ... but not today. Motivated more by partisan politics than by national security, today's Democratic leaders see America as an occupier, not a liberator."
Miller, who never smiled during the 17-minute tongue-lashing, then blasted Kerry's position on the war in Iraq. "Senator Kerry has made it clear that he would use military force only if approved by the United Nations. Kerry would let Paris decide when America needs defending. I want Bush to decide. John Kerry, who says he doesn't like outsourcing, wants to outsource our national security. That's the most dangerous outsourcing of all. This politician wants to be leader of the free world. Free, for how long?"
While the Kerry campaign is likely to dispute the veracity of this claim, the crowd ate it up.
Vice President Cheney began where Miller left off. After a short detour discussing the theme of the day, Cheney returned to the main topic, John Kerry.
Cheney repeatedly attacked Kerry's stance on the war on terror, "Even in this post-9-11 period, Senator Kerry doesn't appear to understand how the world has changed. He talks about leading a more sensitive war on terror... as though al Qaeda will be impressed with our softer side." Domestic issues also got a mention: "[Kerry's] back-and-forth reflects a habit of indecision and sends a message of confusion. And it's all part of a pattern. He has, in the last several years, been for the No Child Left Behind Act and against it. He has spoken in favor of the North American Free Trade Agreement and against it. He is for the Patriot Act and against it. Senator Kerry says he sees two Americas. It makes the whole thing mutual: America sees two John Kerrys."
At this point, the crowd got into the act, repeatedly interrupting Cheney with the arm-waving chant, "Flip-flop! Flip-flop!"
In an otherwise unyielding night, Cheney briefly lightened the mood with a reference to his vice-presidential opponent, John Edwards. "People tell me that Senator Edwards got picked for his good looks, his sex appeal and his great hair. I say to them: How do you think I got the job?"
Senator Edwards issued a statement Wednesday evening that said, "There was a lot of hate coming from that podium tonight. What John Kerry and I offer to the American people is hope."
Strikingly, while most of Cheney's family joined him on the stage following his speech, his younger daughter Mary, a lesbian, did not — a situation that speaks to the party's efforts to appeal to its conservative base, particularly via its strenuous opposition to gay marriage, without alienating moderates. Mary's sexual orientation has become somewhat of an issue in the past week after the Republican U.S. Senate candidate from Illinois, Alan Keyes, called Mary Cheney, and all homosexuals, "selfish hedonists" during a radio talk show. The Cheneys have been supportive of Mary in the past, going so far as to make public their opposition to the proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, and Mary and her partner have been seen this week in the convention hall, but not on the stage with her father (see "Vice President Dick Cheney Says He Opposes Same-Sex Marriage Ban").
The evening program also contained a short tribute to Ronald Reagan and a speech by his eldest son, Michael. Reagan's younger son, Ron, spoke in favor of stem-cell research at last month's Democratic convention.
President Bush also made a brief appearance. A live shot of him eating pizza with New York firefighters was shown in the convention hall. Thursday night, Bush will formally accept the nomination.