From our seats way up near the rafters in Madison Square Garden, my daughter and I had a great view of the crowd's reactions to President Bush's acceptance speech on the final night of the Republican National Convention.
It was fascinating to watch the faithful as they hung on his every word ? to learn what motivated the crowd the most, and what moved them to their feet.
Certainly, his words of victory over Saddam Hussein's reign of terror and the president's expression of his resolve to protect the innocent and export freedom around the world were the high points for this crowd. And when the president spoke of protecting innocent unborn life, the crowd went wild and gave him a standing ovation. When he talked about the importance of protecting marriage from activist judges, they cheered and jumped to their feet once again in thunderous applause.
As he promised to give working men and women the ability to keep more of their hard-earned money by making tax cuts permanent, attendees were exuberant. And when he talked about creating an ownership society where people can pay less in Social Security taxes and instead use the money to build their own nest eggs for their future, the delegates' ovation was deafening.
The president and other speakers discussed many issues during convention week, but there was a commonality at the core of most of them: Protection of the innocent, freedom for mankind and justice for all.
These were not themes discussed from the podium at the Democrat convention in Boston a few weeks ago. Although family commitments kept me from attending the Democrats' convention this year (much to my disappointment ? I had the chance to attend both conventions four years ago), it was obvious that the focus of the Democrat and Republican candidates' speeches could not have been more different, especially those dealing with the topic of war.
Kerry called for a more "sensitive" war against terrorism, while Bush promised to hunt down the terrorists wherever they hide. While Kerry trashed the war against Saddam Hussein ? yet simultaneously made a show of his four months of service in Vietnam ? Bush forcefully pledged to honor the request of those brave firefighters on 9-11 who begged him to "do whatever it takes" to make sure the horror of that day is never repeated.
What was more telling than the reaction of those gathered from around the nation in Madison Square was the reaction of the tens of thousands of New York City police who provided the front lines of security for the event. Each day, as I made my way from my hotel through the masses of demonstrators and endless traffic jams to the convention center, "New York's Finest" were helpful and encouraging. But they also displayed a level of emotion for President Bush that took me by surprise ? the cops I spoke with are profoundly grateful to this president for his resolve to obtain justice for their fallen comrades. In New York City, the memory of that bright September morning ? now forever marred by the blood of so many innocents ? is vivid and alive ... and still very painful.
When I asked one policeman of his remembrances of Sept. 11, he said he still has difficulty even thinking about it, and talking about friends he lost is nearly impossible. He quietly replied that America must win the war against terrorism at home by fighting it abroad. For the cops on the streets of New York City, it's obvious that evil should be stamped out at its roots instead of waiting for it to crush us in our hometowns.
But there were other groups amassed outside the convention hall, and the demeanor of these crowds ? the protestors ? was quite different from those of the cops or convention attendees. Their tones were of discontent, anger ? even hatred.
Of course, the radical "pro-choice" crowd is always in attendance at such events. One afternoon, my 12-year-old daughter, Kristin, and I passed a group of protestors that included a boy of about 5-years-old and his mother, both of whom were wearing T-shirts emblazoned with pro-choice messages. Kristin looked up at me in horror and said, "Gosh, I can't believe that boy's mother is making him wear a shirt that says it would have been OK for her to kill him if she wanted to."
At unexpected moments over the next several days Kristin would bring up the subject again: "How can we allow such evil, in the United States? How can mothers want to have the right to kill their own children?" These are questions I cannot answer, because I do not understand myself.
Discussion of values and freedom are abundant in the Hagelin household. Our children receive a steady diet of information on current issues, and conservative principles, and of the importance of these values over party affiliation. Our kids have also heard many a parental sermon on the importance of preserving freedom, making sacrifices when need be, and of the necessity of protecting those who have no voice.
Yet, during the week of the RNC ? with all the forces on both sides of the ideological aisle armed with their most powerful messages and with their most important values on display, my little girl clearly saw the differences between conservative and liberal ideals, and saw her own way through to what is right and just. Would be that others could see it so clearly, too.