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September 01, 2004

Who's a Republican?

Armed with an arsenal of megaton one-liners, Arnold Schwarzenegger strode to the podium at Madison Square Garden tonight, taking his improbable career yet one notch higher. The Austrian bodybuilder, turned film star, turned California governor was comfortable and compelling on the national political stage. The delegates at the Republican Convention loved it. "Don't be an economic girlie-man," he chided the "pessimists" on the other side of the nation's political spectrum. The laughter and applause shook the Garden rafters.

The real strength of the speech, though, was that it addressed the question of who is a Republican. Democrats charge that a pro-choice, socially liberal actor with a Hollywood-honed smile is putting a false face on Republicanism. They would be much happier to see someone else--say a pasty-faced county clerk from Nebraska--quoting from the Bible and giving undecided, moderate voters fits of terror.

To some extent, the criticism is justified. As far as I can tell, Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn't represent the mainstream Republican point of view on "social issues" such as abortion. I've spoken to a number of delegates at random over the past few days, and I have yet to find one who's pro-choice. I'm sure they're out there, walking the hall, and maybe I'll run into one eventually. But they sure aren't in the majority. Critics on the left fear, with some justification, that moderates like Schwarzenegger won't do much to stop the social conservatives from setting the agenda in a second Bush administration.

But delegates believe Schwarzengger is one of them. "He has a reverence for life, even if he isn't pro-life per se," says Rev. Claude L. White Sr., a delegate from Shreveport, Louisiana.

Schwarzenegger stepped around the ideological chasm, and simply focused on the principles where he and the rest of the party see eye to eye: that individuals trump identify group politics, that the government works for the people, that families spend their money more wisely than govenment officials, that educators must be held accountable, that the U.S., and not the U.N. is the best guarantor of democracy, and that terrorism must be "terminated."

Schwarzenegger has shown that he can help Republicans reach out to a broader base of moderate voters. Now the next step is for him to help advance the moderate wing within his own party.

12:45 AM

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