Ronald Reagan, of course, couldn't be there - prevented by Alzheimer's disease from attending even his own 85th birthday party last February. Mrs Reagan gave no details of his condition other than to speak of the "terrible pain and loneliness" of "this very long goodbye" caused by the illness which destroys memory. But, in the institutional memory of the Republican party he will never die. There will be no goodbye.
First, the 2,000 delegates sat in adoring silence and savoured a short video that preceded Mrs Reagan's appearance. Two giant screens behind the podium recalled the triumphs of the Reagan years, from the surge in the economy to the terminal decline of Communism. Skilfully it grafted on to that sun-dappled mythical America of the 1980s, the more chastened Republicanism of the mid-1990s. Henry Kissinger and Lee Iacocca were hauled from the party's Valhalla to sing his praises - but there too was Jack Kemp, present at the creation of Reaganomics, and now Bob Dole's vice- presidential nominee.
No matter that Kemp has his differences with Dole - a taciturn antithesis of Reagan who is driven by doubts not certainty, and who couldn't act if his life depended on it - nor that Reagan's legacy of massive deficits and growing disparity between rich and poor has had its detractors, even in Republican ranks. Far more important, Kemp is Reaganism's modern embodiment: supply-sider, tax-cutter, and first last and foremost, an incurable optimist.
Then came Nancy, and even the armour-plated political proswere unashamedly wiping their eyes. To utter silence, she recalled how "just four years ago, Ronnie stood before you and spoke at what he said might be his last Republican convention". Her voice broke and her face brimmed with tears: "Sadly his words were too prophetic." But even now, his spirit was very strong, as was "his never failing belief in the strength and goodness of America".
Like the former actress she is, Mrs Reagan knows when another's words are better than her own, and she quoted from his 1992 valedictory address in Houston: "Whatever else history may say about me when I'm gone, I hope it will record that I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears, to your confidence, rather than your doubts." He did. And because he made them feel better about themselves, they loved him. Last night proved they still do.
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