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Republican National Convention
GOP Convention:
Americans Listen In

Small focus groups around the nation are meeting this week to listen to the speeches at the Republican National Convention and offer their responses to NPR. The groups are comprised of students and seniors, small business owners and union workers.

Senior Citizens | College Students | PTA | Rotary/Small Business

Senior Citizens
At the Carol Woods Retirement Community in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, some of America's elders are keeping a close eye on the action in Philadelphia:

focus group
Focus group members at Carol Woods Retirement Community
 
Rev. James Cansler, Democrat: "The transformation of the convention into principally a marketing and entertainment event, as the first night did, demeans the presidency and trivializes the political process. This process, fundamentally, it about choosing a person who, in the office of President of the United States, will, if elected, be the most powerful man in the world. It demands and deserves a more serious process than I saw tonight."

Rev. Bob Seymour, Democrat: "As Colin Powell spoke about the possible use of vouchers to improve education, he asked 'what are we afraid of?' I am afraid that this is an assault against the public school system and that many inner city -city children will be left behind and that public education will receive diminishing financial support."

Grant Dahlstrom: "It is disappointing to find that the party platform still retains extreme stand against any reason for an abotion today knowing what we now do about meicalo complication to pregnancy as well as the adverse effects of parents forded to raise unwanted children."

Alberta Dolan, Republican: "What will be done to improve salaries for teachers in those states with salaries below the national average?

MaryTurner Lane, Democrat: "Social security's initial purpose was as insurance to protect parents and children when one parent died. The proposed Republican Social Security plans do not cover insurance needs - especially for young parents and young childrfen. If Republicans put the Social Security emphasis on stock investment retirement deals they will cut out the SECURITY focus of this important benefit."

College Students
On a night when a principal convention theme was education, the campus of the University of Colorado in Boulder was as good a place as any to gauge reaction. And the students who made up the NPR focus group were forthcoming:

Jacob Toney" "This is a small snippet of my views on the third day of the Republican Convention. Mud will never fly, no matter how hard it is slung. Dick Cheney was slinging pretty hard last night though. His speech was rousing, and he has wonderful political ability. Yet if the Republican party wants the new face only a plastic surgeon could give, he needs to stop slinging and let the Dems play the dirty game with their commercials. The GOP has made it clear that they want to show themselves off as the party who can stand up to the heat. The best way is not to tell the female swing vote that they were wrong to elect the Clinton-Gore administration (a horrible mistake) not once, but twice. The GOP should show their new face and let people compare them to the stale administration we have had for the last 8 years. Let the people decide "Why make it 12?."

Tiffany Johnson, 20, Democrat: "The Republican National Convention tonight showed a little more of the "true colors" of the party. Tonight was a lot more talk of defense and reminiscing about the Republican presidents of the past. Bob Dole spoke of the decline of enrollment in the armed forces, and some even suspected a lack of respect for our country as the reason our youth choose not to enlist. However, I believe the youth of America are cautious of war and all that it means, we have learned from those who fought for our freedom, that they also died and left family behind...and that at times it left us, as a nation, baffled. The new generation of "fighters" would rather solve America's problems with our minds rather than our fists and create peace with communication rather than bloodshed."

"Overall, the first night of the GOP Convention left a bad taste in my mouth. As the very few minorities and thousands of white males looked on as they paraded minorities on the stage I felt as though they were insulting my intelligence. Their focus on education was fairly middle of the road, up until Colin Powell’s closing speech where he wavered between Hillary Clinton’s ‘It Takes A Village’ theory and school vouchers as being the savior of public education. I was left wondering whether Republican politicians would ever address the issues concerning my generation."

Jennifer Martinez-Moore, 20, Independent: "With the exception of Gen. Powell’s speech, day one of the R.N.C. seemed an endless parade of ‘token minority’ speakers spouting New Republican catch phrases of ‘compassionate conservatism’, interspersed with entertainment of an amusement park nature. As a college student, it was discouraging that nothing was said about higher education, despite the fact education in general was tonight’s topic. In addition, Colin Powell’s dynamic presence overpowered a stiff George W. Bush. I, as a Latina, was both impressed and surprised with his pro-Affirmative Action stance."

Elizabeth Schamu, 21, Democrat: "As the second night of the RNC came to a close a more familiar image of the Republican party appeared. The topic of "better" defense was on the tip of every speakers tongue. Seeing as there is no real threat on the United States I see no reason why we need more in the area of defense. From a liberal perspective I believe this is a waste of tax payers valuable money. After last night the Republican party is starting to show it's true colors."

"After the majority of the night was spent on the issue of Education, the first night of the RNC was off and running. While attempting to focus on the lighter side of the Republican image speakers spoke of the plusses of school vouchers. As a product of a public magnet school in San Diego, California, I do not agree that vouchers are the only way to foster greater education. I know first hand how beneficial public schools can be when the community, city and state work together to make a good school a reality. If vouchers were a reality when my magnet school began it would have never succeeded in becoming a driving force in the lives of so many students."

Dylan Wiersma-Green, 21: "Ah… if only Colin Powell was running as the Republican candidate. He appeals to both sides of the political spectrum. His push for affirmative action was unexpected and refreshing. I loved the baffled faces of GOP leaders during this part of Powell’s speech. His challenge to the Drug War intrigued me, but his falling back on the ineffective "Just Say No" campaign provided little answers. The rest of the RNC Monday was fluff. Laura Bush failed to say anything important except how wonderful her husband was. The promising pop culture tie-in of "Win Ben Stein’s Money," collapsed into a feeble promotion of George W. Every attempt to appeal to the youth was dismal and poorly executed."

Pete DeCamillis, 20, Democrat: "I was concerned with the lack of attention paid to higher education funding. With the focus of tonight on education it was disappointing to see that higher education was essentially passed over in favor of K-12 education. It may not be surprising when one looks at the voter turnout among college students as those opposed to the parents of K-12 students."

Anthony Goodman, 20, Democrat: "The GOP Convention is unfortunately a representation of the poor state of modern American politics, all show and no substance. The carefully scripted convention is nothing more than a rallying of the troops. Decisions are left to the elites and delegates have little power, i.e. the anti-abortion plank in the platform. Laura Bush reminded me of a 1950’s wife that stands behind her man. "The only exciting part of the convention occurred at the end of the evening’s lineup with Gen. Colin Powell and his surprisingly moderate message. The GOP has become increasingly moderate in it portrayal to the public. In only four short years the Republican Platform went from advocating for the abolishing the Department of Education to highlighting it the first night of the convention. The evening was uneventful, superficial, and did not reach out to youth voters in the least."

PTA
In Monson, Massachusetts, first grade teacher Carol Woodbury, 44, invited a group of Parent Teacher Association members into her home to listen to the speeches.

Carol Woodbury: "Overall the group felt there was too much enertainment and rhetoric and not enough substance. The group agreed that education should be a high priority for our nation, but the speeches did not adequately address some of the reasons for current problems in education.

"The speakers talked about needing to build strong homes and values; to have parents read and be strong role models for their kids; and to become actively involved in their children's education - goals we heartily agree with. There was little discussion, however, of ways to assist parents in improving their skills in these areas other than a vague reference to parent education made by Mrs. Bush.

"We can all agree with the ideology of laws and policies that support strong families; children reading by grade three; an excellent education for every child; community responsibility for all children; improved teacher education; and high standards, but the speakers seemed to suggest that parent choice and a voucher system would be the primary means of achieving these goals.

"Some members of the group strongly agreed with this. They felt that there was marked disparity in the resources available to one vs. another private school making it hard for some to compete.

"Other members felt that if you looked at only the schools shown by the RNC, you might accept that charter and private schools are the best schools (or that the Republican Party had a lot to do with their success.) These members felt that this is not the case. They felt that there are many fine public schools, and that the ones which are under performing need more than just performance tests and accountability to improve. They need resources similar to those seen in some of the RNC video. Depleting resources through a voucher system is an easy, but not necessarily the right solution if our goal is to improve education for all."

Rotary/Small Business
In Portland, Oregon, a group of Rotary members and small business owners gathered.

On retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf:
Mark Kemball, Independent:"It is interesting to me how the George W. Bush/Cheney ticket is being compared to the successful George Bush/Cheney partnership of the Gulf War. It is an interesting tactic to deflect criticism of the Old Boy network this ticket is attracting."

Chip Richardson, Republican: "We have seen how countries have run down their military capacity when they think they did not need it and lived to regret it."

On former Sen. Robert Dole's speech:
Chip Richardson, Republican: "Dole's comments are still relevant today."

Jim Hansen: "I liked the comment that he hoped young people will fight their battles in research labs rather than on battlefields."

Mary Ann Lockwood, Republican: "Until the public is asked to realize that you have to have a well-paid military - it does not have to be huge - then the military will never get the pay it desereves."

Mark Kemball, Independent: "The eradication of polio worldwide is a Rotary - and more importantly, private sector project - not a governmental achievement."

On the remarks of Bush national security adviser Condaleeza Rice:
Jim Hansen: "Very positive. When ever you hear personal stories, you have a good speaker. She made more sense than the whole raft they have paraded up there tonight."

Mary Ann Lockwood, Republican: "I thought she delivered a very important message."

On Arizona Sen. John McCain's speech:
Chip Richardson, Republican, and Pat Johnson, Democrat: '"Too often we put the people's business aside while we posture, poll and spin,' is a real zinger."

Mary Ann Lockwood: "McCain is going further than I thought he would in his support of Bush. He gave much more concession to Bush than I thought."

Mark Kemball, Independent also reported for the Rotary group after Monday night's speeches: "Monday night was clearly a scene-setting night. Nothing in the early part of the evening screamed "Republican" to us, and the focus on education and children was interesting to our group. It will be interesting to see how the next few nights play out: whether the focus of the presentations will continue to be directed at the undecided voter - which is our perception at this early stage - or if the message will turn to those in the hall who have come to hear a strongly-Republican platform.

On education:
"We found cross-party support for the education messages presented, particularly those involving combined, similar messages from parents and schools working in concert. In times of low unemployment, it is important to small business owners that the small number of potential employees available in the workforce are not defined as those with the least education."

On immigration:
"(Speaker) Elaine Chao's comments regarding GWB's approach to the immigration issue seemed to be a very direct appeal to viewers and immigrant famileis in the TV audience and appeared to lack resonance in the convention hall."

On the address by Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert:
"The real politicking started here. This part spoke directly to the hall audience and seemed to focus on this administration, not the next. We're still trying to find a consistent theme to this evening - we're at a buffet of hors d'oeuvres at this point. No entrees."

On Laura Bush, wife of the presumptive nominee:
"(She) made a very favorable impression, representing the candidate well. Possibly the first occasion we heard where comparisons were made between Democrat and Republican, when she mentioned Bush's ability to bring respect to the office of President. We felt she projected an integrity, and the relative lack of media coverage she has received compared to the current First Lady and to Mrs. Gore may well play in her favor. Her development as a potential First Lady will be an interesting issue. We sense a change and broadening in this role since the days of Barbara Bush."

And on Retired Gen. Colin Powell, the night's final speaker:
"Stating the obvious: a strong, social message. Our outlook is on business, but our group tonight contained three professionals involved in Oregon Higher Education. While not arguing with the the need for improved K through 12 education, the lack of any message outlining the crucial role of Higher Education in training professionals for what is a rapidly-changing business environment was a notable omission for us."

Labor
Steel worker Russell Hern and his wife Phyllis are coordinating a group in Bensenville, Illinois, composed mostly of union members. Russ Hern had these thoughts after Tuesday night:

"We are all for a good education for everyone, with accountability. Family values, you are responsible for your actions. Pride in America, what better country to live in. We are for trade but would it to be on a equal playing field. Our military should have good pay, respect and we are not 911 for the world. All these we are for and believe in. It will come down to who can we believe, who can we trust and who will deliver."

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Check out our special online coverage of the convention, including Scott Simon's convention notebook.

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