The Sketch: To rapturous cheers, the promise is four more years of the same

You might buy tickets to Madison Square Garden to watch basketball or take in a concert with Madonna or Mick Jagger. But those of us there on Thursday night wondered if we were in for a fashion show. What was with the fancy catwalk?

Until this point in the four-day Republican convention, the speakers had performed from a traditional stage before a giant video screen and behind a wooden lectern that looked oddly ecclesiastical. But, for this, the last night, the geography of the hall had been dramatically changed. A short causeway jutted forward into the heart of the crowd ending in a circular dais, atop 10 concentric, red-topped steps.

This was supermodel scenery. Promptly on cue at 10pm, when the television networks were beginning their live coverage, the headliner appeared from the dim wings behind the video wall, turned towards the ramp and began his walk. All around the arena, 1,000 cameras flashed, sparkling like reflections from a disco ball turned inside out. There was roar so loud the building trembled.

No Cindy, Christy or Naomi for us on this night, but rather George Bush in a sober suit. A giant presidential seal decorated the surface of his round island that also resembled a wedding cake, with the Prez as the lonely figure in the icing. On television, it probably worked better. Mr Bush getting intimate with the delegates, almost at their level, not addressing them from a lofty stage. Yet, for us, he was still more than an arm's length away. Many arms. Look, listen but certainly don't touch.

Intimacy in the age of terrorism can be taken only so far. Television viewers, perhaps, could not see the bullet-proof glass barrier surrounding the dais. Even more invisible was the low wall that separated the first row of carefully chosen delegates from those behind and above them. Those 10 steps? Just there for artifice, no one was going to use them. No handshaking from George.

Although the stage was round, Mr Bush delivered his speech facing perhaps only one quarter of the Madison Square pie. This spectator saw his face only on the video screens hanging from above.

Not that the view from behind was uninteresting. The President has restless legs when he speaks, shifting weight from one leg to the other, tapping the floor with one shoe. Did he appear scared or nervous on this make-or-break evening? No. Occasionally, he reached for a tumbler of water behind the lectern and there was no shake in his hands.

But then the crowd was with him. And how. When twice protesters revealed themselves inside the hall and began blurting their disgust - one unfurling a banner - delegates instantly drowned them out chanting, "Four More Years, Four More Years". And when his speech was done, they whooped and yelled to the music and punched the falling balloons back in the air. For a few brief minutes, the careful choreography faded to reveal a genuine and spontaneous joyousness.

And what is the new style we should expect? That was the message we were meant to take away. Just four more years of exactly the same. Buttoned up and Republican.

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