One GOP, multiple channels
NEW YORK — By tuning into Tuesday night's convention coverage, I found out that I actually could roam all over the TV dial without leaving Madison Square Garden. That's because the program mixed and matched all my favorite television genres and channels.
Elizabeth Dole, for example, with her talk about values and her testimonials to her faith, sounded as much like one of the hosts of the Sunday morning religious programs as she did a senator from North Carolina. You almost expected her to pass the hat among the delegates to raise money for a worthy cause. Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader, gave a talk on Bush's healthcare achievements that sounded eerily like a late night pitchman's spiel for some remarkable appliance; he let the crowd know that the brand new medical health card would slice, dice, and do everything but take your prescription drugs for you.
If you weren't a fan of late nights or Sunday mornings, and preferred, say, The WB, then George P. Bush was right up your alley, reminding you that the Republican party can summon young, telegenic supporters just as easily as the Democrats can speed-dial Ben Affleck. In a two-for-one deal, he also satisfied Telemundo watchers, concluding his speech in Spanish.
For those watchers who prefer Black Entertainment Television, Michael Steele and Rod Paige were brought out to show that the Republican Party is a big enough tent to include African-Americans, though, perhaps, not quite big enough to continue including Colin Powell, who is nowhere to be seen.
Jenna and Barbara Bush were a little reminiscent of MTV shows like "The Real World": compelling viewing, sure, but slightly awkward and uncomfortable, and making you wish that they would just go back to the kind of thing they do best (respectively, partying, er, studying, and music videos).
Their mother was a bit more Lifetime network; you know, one of those movies where the woman who's silent for so long finally gets her voice - and then pretty much voices the standard clichés of television writers. And I don't need to tell you that all of the speakers' constant attacks on John Kerry and the stouthearted defense of George W. Bush evoked the fair and balanced coverage of Fox News.
But there was one speaker who took up the rest of the dial - the pay channels, the networks, everything. At 10 p.m., Arnold Schwarzenegger took the stage, and proceeded to remind audiences of almost every entertainment genre under the sun. There were the opening self-deprecating jokes, the staples of talk show hosts, both daytime and late night, to say nothing of Comedy Central. There were the action movie references: the "terminating terrorists," the anti-Soviet history, the John Wayne movies which influenced a young Arnold to fall in love with America.
Self-reflexively, there was even political coverage: Schwarzenegger's claim that his moment of conversion to Republicanism took place during a Richard Nixon speech in the 1968 campaign seems somewhat convenient, but artistically so.
By making references not only to numerous immigrant constituencies, multiple swing states, and a dozen historical references, but also shoutouts to soldiers, teachers, police officers, firefighters, he managed to put everything in his speech but the kitchen sink.
And I was distracted for a minute or two, so he might have mentioned that, too. In the middle of the speech, he suggested that the Republican party was a place where people could agree to disagree. Though such an argument seems to hold only if the Republicans in question aren't members of the United States Congress, which has been in incredible lockstep, it was pretty hard to disagree with Arnold, since he included pretty much everything.
You had to wonder, as a matter of fact, whether by including everything, the convention really was saying much of anything at all; whether watching all the channels on television at the same time is really just looking at static; whether Arnold and the other speakers were using all-inclusivity to mask their agenda, or their lack of one.
But I'm still optimistic. We've got til Thursday.