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Bush: It's About Me and My Crusade

It's official: the 2004 campaign is a referendum on whether the United States should wage a crusade to bring liberty to the repressed of the world--particularly in the Middle East--in order to heed the call of God and to protect the United States from terrorists who target America because they despise freedom. Or, at least, that is how George W. Bush would like the contest to be framed.

In his acceptance speech, Bush pushed the message of the week--it's the war, stupid--to lofty heights. Like the speakers of previous nights, he fully embraced the war in Iraq. But while John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, Zell Miller, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Laura Bush depicted the war as an action necessary for safeguarding America, Bush also placed it within the context of an even grander mission. "America," he proclaimed from that altar-like podium, "is called to lead the cause of freedom in the new century....Freedom is not America's gift to the world. It is the Almighty God's gift." (Minutes earlier, New York Governor George Pataki described Bush as the Supreme Being's gift to the United States: "He is one of those men God and fate somehow lead to the fore in times of challenge.")

This rhetoric was nothing new for Bush. He has made these points previously. But at the end of a week in which the war was presented as the Number One reason to vote for Bush, he chose to highlight the messianic side of his military action in Iraq. It was this part of the speech that soared. During the first 35 minutes, Bush ticked off a laundry list of domestic initiatives, as Bill Clinton liked to do. But Bush did so without the enthusiasm that Clinton displayed when discussing such subjects. It was as if this was the obligatory portion of the evening; Bush had to talk about something other than the war to prove he has a second-term agenda. It was an act of self-inoculation, an attempt to preempt Democratic criticism that he doesn't care about the close-to-home stuff. He tossed out a few new (but modest proposals) and the old standbys: health savings accounts, partial privatization of Social Security, tax reform, and tort reform. Especially tort reform--which the GOPers regard as a blow against John Edwards. The delegates roared when Bush pushed this button--much more loudly than when he promised more money for Pell grants or low-income health clinics. As for the details of his domestic agenda, Bush told the crowd to check his website.

He took a couple of spirited swings at John Kerry, deriding his challenger for having voted against the antigay Defense of Marriage Act, for having declared that Hollywood is the "heart and soul of America, and for opposing the $87 billion in funding for the Iraq war. And Bush briefly dished out the red meat to the social conservatives: a few words of support for "the unborn child," a poke at activist judges, a vow to oppose gay marriage. But his passion was reserved for the war on Iraq and the larger undertaking.

The war, in Bush's view, shows that he is willing to do whatever it takes to protect America, that he is a decisive leader whose determination to defeat the nation's enemies cannot be questioned. "You know where I stand," he said--implying you might not now where that other guy stands. And what's more, the war demonstrates that he has a vision beyond kicking terrorist butt. "This young century," he declared, "will be liberty's century. By promoting liberty abroad we will build a safer world....We have a calling from beyond the stars." Idealism (democracy in the Middle East), safety (whipping al Qaeda) and faith (God is calling) all rolled into one neat package. That's not a bad sales pitch. And for a politician who occasionally blows his big speeches, he delivered this half of his acceptance address with strength and conviction.

This was not a transformational speech for Bush. "In general," Senator Orrin Hatch told me, "it's what we've heard before, but he did it well." After Bush described the global campaign he wants to lead in his second term, he then did his down-home, self-deprecating thing: "People sometimes have to correct my English. I knew I had a problem when Arnold Schwarzenegger started doing it." The message: I'm a regular fella whom you have no reason to fear. And while the speech was loaded with the standard misrepresentations--e.g., his choice was to go to war or take Saddam Hussein, a madman, at his word--it did present plenty of clarity. Yes, we certainly do know where he stands when it comes to mounting a crusade.

The obvious question: will the Protector-as-Missionary bit sell? Will voters hear the term "liberty century" and be moved? Or will they ask, is that the name of a new car? It's one thing to turn a lemon (a messy war now considered a mistake by a majority of Americans) into lemonade. But can Bush turn that lemon into blessed wine?

My hunch is that Bush's acceptance speech, no matter what was said, will not make much difference--given that he neither drooled nor pulled a Zell Miller. He came across in a familiar fashion. And after three-and-a-half long years, do voters need more information about Bush to render a decision? If there are any undecided voters--and perhaps they don't really exist--were these citizens paying attention to this speech (or the convention)? And if they were watching, do they want a crusader in the driver's seat? You tell me.

Handicapping this election is a mug's game. On Thursday, The Washington Post reported that political observers and strategists have concluded that the "political terrain has shifted dramatically" in Bush's favor and that "specific proposals are unnecessary." One Bush adviser told the newspaper, "The strategists are saying, 'Everything is breaking our way. It looks like it's almost over.'" But on the same day, The Wall Street Journal noted that a Bush strategist "confided" that "I don't think anything has changed since March. I don't think this election will see a break out." Go figure.

It's impossible to assess how the GOP convention and Bush's speech will play in the long run--meaning over the next two months. Intervening events--the debates, developments in Iraq, swings in the economy--will, well, intervene. But it is easy to discern the Bush gameplan. At this convention, Bush did not pussyfoot about. His message was nuance-free: la guerre est moi. In this regard, he is taking full and complete responsibility and asking to be judged accordingly. And God only knows how that's going to turn out.

--The Journeys Bar, the Essex House, 2:42 am, with assistance--or companionship--from Douglas Brinkley, Michael Isikoff, Greta van Susteren, Mark Hosenball, Tammy Haddad, Dianne Robinson, Brian Doherty, Rosemarie Terenzio, and Ann Klenk. But these people have nothing to do with the views expressed above.

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Read about my adventures in partying with conservatives by clicking here. And see my report on the problem shared by gay GOPers and fundamentalist Republicans. Or check out my review of McCain's speech. And don't forget my piece on Arnold's and Laura's big speeches. And there's the column on how the Bush mob enlisted Zell Miller for a hit job on Kerry.

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When you're done reading this article,visit David Corn's WEBLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read back entries on the Swift vets and other matters.

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DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! An UPDATED and EXPANDED EDITION is NOW AVAILABLE in PAPERBACK. The Washington Post says, "This is a fierce polemic, but it is based on an immense amount of research....[I]t does present a serious case for the president's partisans to answer....Readers can hardly avoid drawing...troubling conclusions from Corn's painstaking indictment." The Los Angeles Times says, "David Corn's The Lies of George W. Bush is as hard-hitting an attack as has been leveled against the current president. He compares what Bush said with the known facts of a given situation and ends up making a persuasive case." The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations....Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." And GEORGE W. BUSH SAYS, "I'd like to tell you I've read [ The Lies of George W. Bush], but that'd be a lie."

For more information and a sample, go to www.davidcorn.com.

GOP to UN: Drop Dead

NEW YORK -- John Kerry has taken his hits at this year's Republican National Convention. But the Democratic presidential nominee came off easy compared with the United Nations.

Not since the convention that nominated Barry Goldwater in 1964 has a gathering of the Republican faithful featured so much UN bashing from so many prominent players in the party. What once was the extremist line of John Birch Society cadres and their allies -- "Get US out of the UN," read the society's billboards in the 1960s -- has become a popular position within the Republican party.

The anti-UN sentiment was stoked by Vice President Dick Cheney in his unilateralism then, unilateralism now, unilateralism forever address to the convention on Wednesday night.

Among the vice president's many sneering references to Kerry's internationalism was the declaration that, "History has shown that a strong purposeful America is vital to preserving freedom and keeping us safe, yet time and again Senator Kerry has made the wrong call on national security. Senator Kerry began his political career by saying he would like to see our troops deployed 'only at the directive of the United Nations.'"

In contrast, Cheney thundered, "George W. Bush will never seek a permission slip to defend the American people."

That turned out to be one of the biggest applause lines for a speech that formed the centerpiece of the convention's foreign-policy message.

It was not, however, the biggest anti-UN applause line.

That came from California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"If you believe this country, not the United Nations, is the best hope for democracy, then you are a Republican," the actor who once played Conan the Barbarian told the convention.

The dig at the UN was greeted with thunderous and sustained applause from the delegates gathered in Madison Square Garden, which is located just across the island of Manhattan from the international agency's headquarters.

Schwarzenegger's remarks were not so warmly greeted by the Bush administration's new ambassador to the UN.

Former US Sen. John Danforth, a Missouri Republican, has been trying to patch up relations between the United States and the UN. Those relations soured last year, after the the UN Security Council declined to approve Bush's plans for invading Iraq. But Bush has been trying to ease tensions since the UN helped the US to install Iraq's interim government – and, notably, he avoided engaging in explicit UN bashing in his acceptance speech on Thursday night.

Just as notably, however, was the president's avoidance of any defense of the United Nations.

That task was left to Ambassador Danforth. To his credit, Danforth left little doubt of his view that the UN-bashing at the Republican convention is going to make the job of patching up relations between the US and the UN more difficult.

Responding to a question about Schwarzenegger's criticism of the UN, and the convention's enthusiastic response to it, Danforth explained that, "I can only say that when President Bush asked me to do this job, he said that the United Nations is very important, and that this was a very important job."

The ambassador said that "working through the UN and working with other countries and working on a multilateral basis is clearly the strategy that we have in our country and it is very important."

Though he is a senior Republican political figure, who in 2000 was seriously considered as a contender for the party's vice presidential nomination, Danforth was not asked to address the convention.

Zig Zag Zell Wigs Out

Former Congressman Ben Jones had it right when he said last month, "I think that the devil has got into Zell Miller, and he needs an exorcist." Zell "Zig Zag" Miller's vicious keynote speech Wednesday night was so over the top and below the belt that it left even some of the coolest members of the so-called liberal punditocracy stunned.

"I've never heard such a speech...so wildly inaccurate, filled with wild distortions by the basketful...just over the top angry," Time magazine's Joe Klein told CNN's Aaron Brown. The usually cool and crisp CNN analyst Bill Schneider seemed visibly shaken, even somewhat disheveled, as he described Miller's speech "as angrier that Buchanan's in '92." Chris Matthews seemed shocked after Miller exploded on his show and threatened him in an out-of-control screed. Jeff Greenfield almost pulsed with rage after listening to Miller's scurrilous and slanderous attacks on Kerry's character and credentials.

In a post-speech interview, Greenfield (and Judy Woodruff) pushed Miller to defend his serial distortions about Kerry's Senate votes on defense appropriations. But there was no time to ascertain the truth--as is almost always the case on cable TV. At the close of his show, Aaron Brown asked Klein--in his signature, 'aw shucks manner--"We all want our politics at a higher plane. Was the line crossed tonight? " Klein shook his head, looked disgusted, and admitted he didn't know how this latest round of Bush's scummy politics of personal destruction by proxy would play in the country (and in those all important swing states.)

Here's a modest proposal. How about giving over ten minutes on all cable shows, beginning tonight, to a "just the facts" segment. No shouting heads, no blustering anchors. Just bring on a representative from one of the non-partisan "truth squad" election monitoring groups like the Annenberg Public Policy Center's FactCheck.Org to ascertain the truth of the speeches and charges of the day. We have 60 days left until the election. Why not try to lift our politics out of the gutter which Bush's character assassins have thrown us into?

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Cut Bush's Time in Half

At a Labor Day Rally yesterday--rescheduled by New York's unions to take advantage of all the Republicans in their city--the President of New York City's Central Labor Council Brian McLaughlin got it right when, referring to the Bush Administration's gutting of overtime protection, he said: "If George Bush can cut our time-and-a-half, then we should cut his time in half."

The Bush Mob Orders Up a Hit

"I can't believe they're doing it again, and getting away with it."

So said a Republican strategist not keen on George W. Bush, referring to the attack being waged against John Kerry. "The Bush gang did it to John McCain four years ago. They're doing it now to Kerry. They're like the mob."

Moments earlier, as delegates filed into Madison Square Garden for Night Three of the GOP convention, I encountered several Republicans who had worked on the McCain campaign in 2000 during the South Carolina primary. It was there that pro-Bush forces mounted the foulest political battle of recent years. McCain had cleaned Bush's clock in the New Hampshire primary. The South Carolina primary was do-or-die for Bush. So desperate Bush-backers did whatever it took. They spread vile rumors about McCain and his family. A Bush supporter who headed a marginal veterans group accused McCain of selling-out and abandoning veterans. "I tell people that if you weren't there you cannot believe what they did," one of the McCainiacs told me. Another said, "Never, never have I seen such a thing." A third exclaimed, "They were like the mob." See a pattern?

The McCain folks' remarks were timely, for on this evening the Bush campaign further exploited the ongoing attacks on Kerry's Vietnam record; and it did so like the mob. The campaign sent for a hit man from outside the family: Senator Zell Miller, a supposed Democrat from Georgia. Miller, who has been a functional Republican for years, picked up where the so-called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth left off. He did not repeat the discredited charges of the Swift Vets about Kerry's service in Vietnam, but Miller--ignoring McCain's Monday night call for civility and respect--further developed the Kerry-is-a-traitor theme that the Swift Vets have been promoting. The Swift Vets have claimed that when Kerry returned from Vietnam and led the charge against the war, he betrayed his fellow GIs. Speaking with the zeal of a convert--Miller is the political equivalent of a Jew for Jesus--the faux Democrat maintained that Kerry and his fellow Democrats are destroying the country for partisan gain. In a loud and angry voice, he said:

"While young Americans are dying in the sands of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan, our nation is being torn apart and made weaker because of the Democrat's manic obsession to bring down our commander-in-chief."

Reviving the role of the Southern demagogue, Miller put forward acartoonish depiction of Kerry and the leaders of the Democratic Party (yes, he still calls himself a Democrat for some bizarre reason:" In their warped way of thinking America is the problem, not the solution. They don't believe there is any real danger in the world except that which America brings upon itself through our clumsy and misguided foreign policy."

Kerry does not believe there is a threat from al Qaeda? Kerry does not believe "real danger" exists in the world? This was nonsense. But the GOP delegates clapped--as did the Bush family members (including Poppa Bush and Momma Bush) in the VIP box. Miller assailed Kerry for voting against various military systems: "This is the man who wants to be the commander-in-chief of our US Armed Forces? US forces armed with what? Spitballs?" He accused Kerry of not caring about the security needs of the United States: "Senator Kerry has made it clear that he would use military force only if approved by the United Nations. Kerry would let Paris decide when America needs defending."

This was an ugly performance, the Swift Vets gone nuclear. "For more than twenty years," Miller nearly shouted, "on every one of the great issues of freedom and security, John Kerry has been more wrong, more weak and more wobbly than any other national figure. As a war protester, Kerry blamed our military." That wasn't true either. During the famous testimony Kerry delivered to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee--which has been mischaracterized by the Swift Vets--Kerry blamed the Johnson and Nixon administrations for screwing up the war and placing American GIs in an impossible situation. But truth didn't matter. Miller was carpet-bombing Kerry. Only three years ago, Miller had called Kerry "one of this nation's authentic heroes" and a "great" leader of the Democratic Party. Now he slammed Kerry as an "indecisive" man of "faint-hearted self-indulgence."

Vice President Dick Cheney spoke after Miller and was more subdued than usual. After all, the attack-dog speech had already been given. Often the vice presidential candidate is assigned the task of beating up the opponent. And Cheney has done so loyally and with enthusiasm--to the extent that he has risked becoming seen as Bush's hatchet man. But Miller's chest-thumping and mean-spirited address made Cheney look tame and reasonable. Cheney took only a few swipes at Kerry. He noted that Kerry "speaks often of his service in Vietnam, and we honor him for it." (Not really: many delegates earlier in the week were wearing purple band-aids to mock Kerry's Purple Heart medals--until bad press prompted the Bush campaign to put an end to this political theater.) But Cheney mischaracterized statements made by Kerry to suggest that the Democratic presidential nominee cannot be counted on to protect the United States: "He talks about leading a 'more sensitive war on terror,' as though al Qaeda will be impressed with our softer side. He declared at the Democratic Convention that he will forcefully defend America--after we have been attacked."

This was mild stuff compared to Miller's charge that Kerry only cared about his own political gain and not the security of the nation. Miller's libel of Kerry was swiftly denounced by John McCain, who pronounced Kerry fit to serve. (Earlier in the day, McCain met with editors of The New York Times and told them that when he was a Vietnam POW his captors never used Kerry's congressional testimony to taunt or pressure him. This undermined yet another claim of the Swift Vets.) On Hardball, Chris Matthews pummeled Miller for suggesting Kerry was unpatriotic, and the interview exploded, with Miller threatening to duke it out with Matthews.

But Bush and his strategists had succeeded in the night's mission: blast Kerry as unfit to command. And they did so without Cheney having to take on the role of bad cop. Did Miller's over-the-top rant have any impact? Will it affect undecided voters? Whip up the base? It's unclear what--if anything--at the convention will make a difference. There are few swing voters, perhaps almost none. And Miller hardly came across as a persuasive voice of reason. (If the Democrats over the past twenty years have been bent on destroying the America he loves so much, why did he remain in the party all that time? On a related point, does Democratic Party chair Terry McAuliffe have the power to excommunicate a party member?)

With this convention, the Bush campaign has signaled it is prepared to make the presidential election a referendum on the war in Iraq. The first two nights it brought out the party's most appealing figures--McCain, Rudy Giuliani, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Laura Bush--to argue that Bush's actions in Iraq demonstrate he is a decisive leader who can and will do what is necessary to protect this nation. On the third night, the Bushies turned to a Democratic turncoat to make the case that Kerry is a threat to the United States. It was a brutal act of political warfare. No doubt, more is on the way.

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Read about my adventures in partying with conservatives by clicking here. And see my report on the problem shared by gay GOPers and fundamentalist Republicans. Or check out my review of McCain's speech. And don't forget my piece on Arnold's and Laura's big speeches.*********

When you're done reading this article,visit David Corn's WEBLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read back entries on the Swift vets and other matters.

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DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! An UPDATED and EXPANDED EDITION is NOW AVAILABLE in PAPERBACK. The Washington Post says, "This is a fierce polemic, but it is based on an immense amount of research....[I]t does present a serious case for the president's partisans to answer....Readers can hardly avoid drawing...troubling conclusions from Corn's painstaking indictment." The Los Angeles Times says, "David Corn's The Lies of George W. Bush is as hard-hitting an attack as has been leveled against the current president. He compares what Bush said with the known facts of a given situation and ends up making a persuasive case." The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations....Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." And GEORGE W. BUSH SAYS, "I'd like to tell you I've read [ The Lies of George W. Bush], but that'd be a lie."

For more information and a sample, go to www.davidcorn.com.

Bringing the Protests to the Republicans

NEW YORK – During a week of protests against President Bush and the Republican National Convention that he will address tonight, demonstrations have taken many different forms – from singing Johnny Cash songs to waving pink slips to a mass flashing of bikini underwear featuring anti-Bush slogans.

But only one demonstration has actually taken place so far on the floor of Madison Square Garden, where Republicans – including White House Chief-of-Staff Andy Card – were confronted Wednesday with the reality that they are not exactly welcome in this overwhelmingly Democratic city.

The Republicans did not take well to the challenge.

Roughly a dozen AIDS activists infiltrated a mid-day gathering of Young Republicans on the floor of the Garden. The activists sat quietly amid the Wisconsin and Nevada delegations as the Youth Convention got underway.

Then, moments after First Daughters Jenna and Barbara Bush introduced Card to a hundreds of Young Republicans, the activists peeled off their street clothes to reveal t-shirts that read "Bush Lies" and they held aloft signs that read, "Bush: Stop Aids. Drop Global Debt Now."

They jumped on their chairs and began blowing whistles and chanting "Bush kills" and "Bush lies."

Instantly, the activists were surrounded by jeering Young Republicans, some of whom pushed and shoved the demonstrators while others tried to drown out the message of the AIDS activists by chanting the convention's ubiquitous "Four more years" slogan. The Republicans held signs up to prevent television cameras from capturing images of the signs held aloft by the demonstrations.

It was a raucous scene. Card attempted to go ahead with his speech but was forced to stop briefly because of the noise. The demonstrators were quickly dragged from the hall by Secret Service agents and police officers, and police later said there was at least one arrest.

The point of the demonstration, according to Sharonann Lynch of ACT UP, was to demand that the Bush Administration support cancellation of the global debt owed by poor countries to donor countries and international banks.

"Right now, sub-Saharan African nations are pouring $15 billion a year into repaying debt to wealthy nations," explained Lynch. "That money could and should be used to provide treatment to the millions of people on the continent living with HIV/AIDS. The Bush Administration must move to save the lives of people in the world's poorest countries by supporting 100 percent debt cancellation now."

Specifically, the activists want the United States to join other industrialized nations in supporting debt forgiveness for the planet's poorest nations, so that those nations can direct more resources to fighting AIDs.

ACT-UP activists also want the U.S. to meet its commitments to the Global Fund for fighting AIDS. "While the Fund requested a contribution of $1.2 billion," explained ACT-UP's Lynch, "the Bush White House only asked Congress for $200 million."

Our Grief Is Not a Cry for War

The first few days of the RNC have brought fake compassion from inside Madison Square Garden, more than 1,500 arrests in the street, and protest activity everywhere. With the convention wrapping up tomorrow night, United for Peace and Justice--the antiwar coalition which brought us last Sunday's massive march--is asking New Yorkers and others who have come from around the country to protest the Bush Administration's policies to create a closing RNC protest event at Union Square Park tomorrow night as Bushaccepts his nomination.

UFPJ's call: "We encourage people to come to Union Square after 8:00 PM on Thursday, September 2, with candles or flashlights, flowers, photos and other offerings to create a living memorial to those who have died or will die as a result of the Bush Administration's policies. As we create the memorial, we will gather in small groups with family and friends or people we have not yet met to share our stories and speak our truth."

Click here for more info.

Zig Zag Zell

Zell Miller has hypocrite stamped all over his forehead. It's hard to imagine anyone more Janus-faced than the Democratic Senator from Georgia. In 1992, Miller nominated Bill Clinton at the Democratic convention. At a 2001 Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner in Georgia, Miller described John Kerry as "a good friend,""one of this nation's authentic heroes," and "one of this party's…greatest leaders."

But Miller's a cheap date. Earlier this year, the aptly dubbed "Zig Zag Zell" published A National Party No More, a book blandishing blurbs from Sean Hannity, Robert Novak and Newt Gingrich, which characterizes the Democratic Party as a fringe organization. Employing one-liners in place of logic, Miller wrote, "If this is a national party, sushi is our national dish. If this is a national party, surfing has become our national pastime." The Washington Monthlycalled it "a rather dreadful [book]"; a "toxic combination of corny folkisms" and "over-the-top jeremiads against fellow Democrats."

Miller's ideology is simplistic, and hubristic. He recently argued in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the struggle for the modern Democratic Party has been won by "Hollywood sleazemaker" Michael Moore and other assorted "Bush-bashers." Miller complained that America Coming Together was hiring ex-felons to help with its get-out-the-vote campaign, and that Democrats were joining forces with criminals everywhere. In Miller's opinion, radicals dominate party ranks, and moderates have zero influence. (He apparently doesn't know that in his own backyard, Inez Tenenbaum--the Democratic candidate for South Carolina's Senate seat-- is touting family values and supports the amendment banning gay marriage.)

When Miller delivers the keynote at the Republican convention Wednesday, he will bash his "good friend" Kerry and highlight his organization, Democrats for Bush. "Before it's all over, I think you're going to see a very impressive group of Democrats from around the nation supporting the Bush-Cheney team," Miller declared at a kick-off press conference in March. It's in large part a sham organization. According to the group's web site, the only other truly prominent Democrat in the group is former New York Mayor Ed Koch. The "Democrats for Bush" Steering Committee includes the not exactly household names Paul Berube (a pastor in New Hampshire), and Robert Allen Blankenship, (a retired sheriff in Arkansas.)

While the press lavishes attention on Miller, a more important story is being ignored; the Republicans who are deserting Bush in droves. US servicemen and women, senior diplomats, libertarians and social moderates are attacking Bush's foreign and domestic agendas.

*Numerous Republicans who served in high diplomatic and military positions under Reagan and Bush's father, for example, have formed Diplomats and Military Commanders for Change. As William Harrop, Ambassador to Israel under Bush's father, put it: I really am essentially a Republican. I voted for George Bush's father and I voted for George Bush. But what we got was not the George Bush we voted for." In the official statement, the group argues that the Bush Administration has weakened our security, and that it is time for a change."

* Nebraska Republican Congressman Doug Bereuter. Vice chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, this Midwestern conservative just two weeks ago told constituents that Bush's invasion of Iraq was "a mistake." (Click here to read John Nichols' online article about Bereuter's letter.)

*Conservative commentators like Pat Buchanan have argued that, "if prudence is the mark of a conservative, Mr. Bush has ceased to be a conservative."

*Bush's lying about Iraq, argues Ron Reagan, in this month's Esquire, has alienated Reagan Republicans along with many moderates who served under Bush's father. (Bush is still waiting for the Log Cabin Republicans to endorse his campaign and the GOP's anti-gay rights, anti-abortion agenda.)

*The Republican animosity towards Bush is also powerfully expressed in MoveOn.org's Real People ads highlighting ordinary Republicans who are voting for Kerry. (Click here to see the series.)

Like theDemocrats for Bush organization he leads, Miller is more a sideshow than a force to be reckoned with. (Or as Ben Jones, a former Georgia congressman, challenging Miller to a debate, summed it up: " I think that the devil has got into Zell Miller, and he needs a exorcist." He has convinced few important Democrats, if any, to join his quixotic crusade. Miller will be feted at this week's convention, but the GOP will be pinning their hopes on an empty vessel.

Arnold and Laura: It's the War, Stupid

The official theme of Night Two of GOPalooza was "People of Compassion." But the real message of the evening was, Safety First. The key moments of the evening were designed to depict George W. Bush as the decisive leader who by launching the war in Iraq has protected, well, you and, of course, your loved ones. The convention has demonstrated that the no retreat/no surrender Bush campaign actually wants this election to be about Big Daddy's war.

In the early part of the program, speakers did praise Bush's policies on education, health care and home ownership. But the talk did little to jazz the crowd. When Senator Majority Leader Bill Frist hailed Bush for advocating health savings accounts and for passing a (rather limited) Medicare prescription drug benefit, the delegates politely applauded. In the Bush family box, George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush chatted with friends, barely paying attention to Frist. But then Frist blasted trial attorneys. Barbara Bush immediately jumped to her feet and began applauding enthusiastically. Her husband joined in. So did Commerce Secretary Don Evans and C. Boyden Gray, a corporate lawyer and longtime Bush family friend. Health savings account--no big deal. Beating up on trial attorneys--that rang their bells.

But the big bang of the night came when California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger certified Bush a genuine action hero. In a crisply-written and well-delivered speech chockfull of good lines, Schwarzenegger retold his own coming-to-America tale to celebrate the American dream. He portrayed the United States as the force for freedom and liberty in the world. But his uber-goal was to present Bush as the best darn protector-in-chief in the world:

"The president didn't go into Iraq because the polls told him it was popular. As a matter of fact, the polls said just the opposite. But leadership isn't about polls. It's about making decisions you think are right and then standing behind those decisions. That's why America is safer with George W. Bush."

By the time of the invasion, Americans were supportive of a war in Iraq to deal with the supposed WMD threat. But that didn't stop the delegates from cheering wildly for Schwarzenegger. They ate up his bright, shining rhetoric about America:

"We're the America that fights not for imperialism but for human rights and democracy....When that lone, young Chinese man stood in front of those tanks in Tiananmen Square, America's hopes stood with him. And when Nelson Mandela smiled in an election victory after all those years in prison, America celebrated, too."

This was Hallmarkian history. Schwarzenegger neglected to mention that not too long after the Tiananmen Square massacre Bush the Elder moved to improve ties with the butchers of Beijing and that Ronald Reagan--hero to Schwarzenegger and every other Republican in the room--supported the racist regime that had imprisoned Mandela (and that a congressman named Dick Cheney had opposed imposing sanctions against the apartheid government of South Africa). But why ruin a good story with reality? Schwarzenegger comes from a Hollywood obsessed with happy endings. He'll probably make a version of Moby Dick someday in which he plays Ahab and actually catches and kills (single-handedly) that damn white whale.

Schwarzenegger put his scriptwriters at the service of Constable Bush. We must "terminate terrorism," he declared. He recalled how an American GI who had lost a leg in Iraq had told him he planned to return to Iraq, vowing "Arnold...I'll be back." And, Schwarzenegger noted, "America is back"--back from recession, back from the 9/11 attacks--because of one man: George W. Bush.

Schwarzenegger had little to say about compassion. His was a war speech. He breezed by his sharp differences with the party on social issues. Still, there's an obvious, but irresistible, point to make: the Republican Party that opposes abortion rights and gay rights--with no wiggle room in its platform--goes gaga over a fellow who believes it's perfectly fine if women destroy their babies and people engage in immoral and perverse sexual relations. (Don't write to complain; I'm using their terms for effect.) On the convention floor, I asked several delegates whether they could reconcile the apparent contradiction between assailing abortion as an abomination and embracing a man who supports abortion rights. Susan Stephens, a grandmother from Alabama, told me that while she considers abortion mass murder, she still can cheer for Schwarzenegger. "I know it sounds like I'm a sell-out," she remarked. "I'd like to talk to Arnold. I believe I can change his mind." And when Alan Keyes, a fundamentalist and fervent abortion foe now running for Senate in Illinois, walked by, I asked if he thought it was appropriate for the GOP to spotlight a Republican who says it is okay to engage in what Keyes has called one of the greatest evils of all time. Keyes was uncharacteristically restrained: "It's not the sort of thing I would do. But the task of making sure George W. Bush gets elected belongs to them. We have to hope and pray it works."

Tactics over principles? I never thought I would hear Keyes endorse such relativist means. But if Schwarzenegger could transfer some of his silver-screen swagger to Bush, then even Keyes was not going to complain.

When Laura Bush addressed the delegates, she too skipped over the compassion stuff. She noted that she could talk about education, about health care, about home ownership, "about the fact that my husband is the first president to provide federal funding for stem cell research," but such matters were not foremost on her mind (or the minds of the campaign strategists). "I want to talk about the issue," she said, "that I believe is most important for my own daughters, for all of our families, and for our future: George's work to protect our country and defeat terror so that all children can grow up in a more peaceful world." (In her brief reference to stem cells, Laura Bush disingenuously described her husband's policy, for she failed to say that he imposed limits on stem cell research that, according to most biotech experts, prevent the development of an effective research program.)

"My husband didn't want to go to war," Laura Bush maintained, "but he knew the safety and security of America and the world depended upon it."

And that is the essence of the Bush campaign's sales pitch. Safety is job one. Everything else? Sure, we can debate the No Child Left Behind Act, tax cuts, and health care. But what trumps it all is Bush's willingness to do whatever must be done to protect the United States. Even though polls show a majority of Americans now believe the war in Iraq was a mistake, Bush is not backing off. His campaign refuses to treat the war as a problem. Instead, it presents the war in Iraq as Exhibit A for the case that Bush has the cojones to defend America. This may well make strategic sense. After all, if you have a messy war (sold to the public with falsehoods and fibs) on your hands, you may as well make as much of it as possible. And how do you turn a liability into an asset? Just say it is, over and over. It helps if you have a movie-star hero leading the chorus. In the first two days of the convention, the Bush campaign has clearly revealed its credo: It's the war, stupid.

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Read about my adventures in partying with conservatives by clicking here. And see my report on the problem shared by gay GOPers and fundamentalist Republicans. Or check out my review of McCain's speech.*********

When you're done reading this article,visit David Corn's WEBLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read back entries on the Swift vets and other matters.

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The Man in Black Bloc

NEW YORK -- It was a lot like a Johnny Cash song.

On one side of the street, wearing their suits and gowns, were the rich and powerful celebrating the renominations of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

On the other side of the street, dressed in black, were the not-so-rich and not-so-powerful folks who didn't see much to celebrate in the news from this week's Republican National Convention.

There was a partisan divide, to be sure, outside the Sotheby's auction house Tuesday. But the real divide was over the legacy of Cash, the legendary country singer who died last year at the age of 71.

The American Gas Association and the Nissan Motor Co. had arranged a swank party to honor Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander and his state's delegation to the Republican convention. And, since the event was being held at Sotheby's, which will be auctioning Cash memorabilia in mid-September, it was decided to make the event a "tribute" to the singer.

To a lot of Cash fans, however, that sounded like claiming that the Man in Black was a Republican.

And those were fighting words for folks who recall that it was Cash who sang: "I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down/ Livin' in the hopeless hungry side of town/I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime/But is there because he's a victim of his times."

The notion that the man who wrote those words would be used to promote the reelection of a Republican president did not sit well with Erin Siegel, a 22-year-old art student from Brooklyn, who urged Cash fans to gather across from Sotheby's Tuesday afternoon. "A lot of his political songs really represented issues the Republicans don't really seem to care about very much," she explained.

"I find this really offensive, for his name or his memory to be used like this," Siegel added.

Cash's daughter, singer Rosanne Cash, seemed to agree. She issued a statement declaring that the family wanted everyone to know that the event should "NOT be seen as a show of support for the Republican agenda."

Siegel and Rosanne Cash were not alone. Urged on by the www.defendjohnnycash.org website--with a manifesto declaring, "Johnny Cash spoke for the poor and under-represented. This administration speaks for the rich," and "The RNC has no right to tarnish the memory of Johnny Cash. We will rise up to defend an American hero"--hundreds of Cash fans showed up to protest outside Sotheby's.

They wore black and they carried guitars, a sea of New York cowboys and cowgirls singing, "I Walk the Line" and "Ring of Fire" and, of course, "Man In Black."

The Republican delegates attending the Sotheby's event were unimpressed. They hustled quickly into the auction house, some of them scowling at the critics--especially when the crowd in black started chanting "graverobbers" and "Bush out of NYC. Cash hated prisons and so do we."

As it happened, protest outside Sotheby's did not grow the prison population much. While hundreds of activists were arrested Tuesday as part of direct action protests against the Republicans, the men and women in black tended more toward loud recitations of Cash's anti-Vietnam war lines from "Man in Black," as well as the singer's observation that "things need changin' everywhere you go."

So which side of the street would Cash have chosen?

New Yorker Sander Hicks, a book publisher who wore his black with pride, had no doubt.

"Johnny Cash knew which side he was on," said Hicks, a fierce Bush critic. "So do we."