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The Final Act of a Mad Week

She stood when he reached the Iraq portion of the speech. President Bush had waded through ovation-producing paragraphs on "frivolous lawsuits" (there being no Republican lawyers, of course ) and the "complicated mess" of a tax code "filled with special interest loopholes" (which no Republican would ever create or benefit from). Now Bush started to talk about how it was only out of necessity, and with great reluctance, that he'd ordered the invasion of Iraq. On the convention floor to his left, there were shouts and a scuffle, quickly drowned out by chants of "Four more years!" Bush paused and smirked for a moment, then plowed ahead.

He didn't see the woman in a pink slip standing in Section 220 roughly 100 yards behind him. She was directly in front of the reporters from Paris Match, Der Spiegel, the Observer, Education Week. And me. She was tall with long red hair, and the words "Code Pink" written on the front of her slip in black marker; "End the Occupation of Iraq" was scrawled on the back. For five tense minutes she stood absolutely still; Bush might have described her as possessing "resolve." Six security guards stood within arm's length, but none of them showed any sign of noticing her. She didn't speak a word. The only time she showed any reaction was when Bush intoned, "In Saddam Hussein, we saw a threat." The woman in pink shook her head slowly and sadly.

That's when they jumped her.

The first security guard knocked her off-balance, then pinned her arms to her sides. She didn't resist, but he shoved her along the press row and headlong into an aisle, where three or four more bulky men surrounded her and pushed her up the stairs and toward an exit. We lions of the press didn't move or yell to the security guards to take it easy. The Republicans in the obstructed view seats behind us booed. One of the woman's low-heeled black shoes fell off and was seized as evidence.

It's silly to try to summarize a week experienced differently by each of the tens of thousands of delegates, protestors, and just plain bystanding New Yorkers this week. But the short, nasty episode with a silent Code Pink demonstrator embodied many of the main themes of convention week: Overwhelming, pre-emptive security; a smooth Republican pageant; and an underlying sense of unease that won't go away, even when the last of the visiting Republicans is long gone.

Certainly the vast majority of the delegates had a good time. Wyoming's Greg Schaefer says he's willing to send his now-15-year-old daughter to college here. Bobby Humphryes from Pleasant Grove, Alabama will always treasure witnessing the Yankees take a historic 22-0 beating, and he vows to return to New York to see all the sites he missed this time. Karen Kelly of Chicago loved shopping tax-free at Saks, and shouting back at demonstrators.

These are the kinds of ambassadors that Mayor Bloomberg is counting on to boost tourism in the long-term. Bloomberg started talking up the future economic benefits to the city about two weeks before the convention opened, a sure sign that the immediate business benefit was going to be underwhelming.

Still, Bloomberg has to count the week as a success. He seems to have avoided appearing in public with Bush. And the police and fire departments kept midtown safe for Republicans, while their contract complaints drew precious little attention. The NYPD maintained order with flexible tactics and flexible orange plastic netting, but mostly by following the Ray Kelly Doctrine: Arrest first and ask questions later. The strategy could end up costing the city millions in wrongful-arrest lawsuits, but that's years away. At least the delegate busses got to the Garden.

George Pataki had a rougher ride. The governor threw a pretty good party at Elaine's the night before the start of the convention, but his big speech introducing Bush tonight was a dud on the floor. The governor seemed to be suffering from a sore throat, or maybe he was trying to achieve a breathily emotional tone. Regardless, the delegates found him difficult to understand, and even when they did applaud, Pataki would rush on to the next sentence, instead of pausing to let any momentum build.

Perhaps the biggest loser of the week, though, was the media, excepting Fox News (each night at the Garden, Republican hecklers would yell "Watch Fox News!" as ancient Larry King attempted to conduct interviews). All those pre-convention stories asking, "Would the Republicans exploit September 11?" look laughably naive now. From Giuliani on Monday, through tonight's maudlin appearance by the guy who wrote the Friends theme-song, and continuing with Thursday's Bush introductory video—whose style borrowed equally from Leni Reifenstal and Ken Burns—where the president becomes a glorious hero by throwing a ceremonial first pitch at the 2001 World Series, the GOP used every available minute trying to turn the city's worst tragedy into Bush's greatest triumph.

It was a heckuva show. It's a relief that it's over. What's unsettling, however, is that the Republican convention was really only an opening act in a drama with two months left to run. The woman in pink was a reminder that, for all the stagecraft and sloganeering, there are lives at stake in this big, bizarre campaign.

Published on September 2, 2004.