Arnold was good, but the first lady helps George W. Bush in ways both great and small.
8:30 AM, Sep 1, 2004 • By CHRISTOPHER CALDWELL
THE TALK OF THE GARDEN last night was Arnold Schwarzenegger's exuberant tribute to the American freedom that first drew him to fame and fortune in California. Every other pundit compared his oratory to Ronald Reagan's. Many Republicans criticized the organizers for failing to end the evening on that rousing note, rather than with Laura Bush's subdued chat. They're wrong. Mrs. Bush's was an elegant effort and her steady contribution to the campaign will be more decisive over the long haul.
Mrs. Bush is proving, in her quiet fashion, a tremendous asset to her husband's campaign. CNN last week reported that 63 percent of Americans have a good opinion of her, versus 20 who don't. A Los Angeles Times poll carried out in recent days was even more impressive, showing a 72-percent approval rating. It also compared her numbers to those of her counterpart, Teresa Heinz Kerry. Seventeen percent said Mrs. Bush's actions made them more likely to vote for her husband, versus 3 percent who said less likely. The numbers are reversed for Mrs. Kerry: 12 percent say she makes them more likely to vote for Senator Kerry, versus 17 percent who say less likely. By a margin of 56 to 26, Mrs. Bush better fits the public's idea of what they want in her role.
How come? Mrs. Bush has been helped throughout the campaign by the nonchalant and apolitical-sounding way she replies to questions--whether, for instance, she thought the anti-Kerry ads posted by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth were unfair. ("Not really," she said.) For those who backed the vets, this was agreement. For those who opposed them, it was an opinion to which she is entitled. It wasn't entering the fray. Unlike recent presidential wives and aspirants to the job, she has shown no desire to prove herself a "Policy Player in her Own Right," on the Hillary Clinton model.
And this was Mrs. Bush's main source of appeal on Tuesday night. She was capable of speaking directly in a way that is bracing (even shocking) at a political convention. "I am enjoying this campaign" is not spin. Neither is "I want to try to answer the question that I believe many people would ask me if we sat down for a cup of coffee or ran into each other at the store."