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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.

********

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.

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."

The Rubble

As speaker after speaker Monday night invoked the iconic image of President Bush standing amidst the rubble of Ground Zero in the days after 9/11, I had a different image--of the rubble we all stand atop today.Yes, in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks, Americans experienced a quickening of the national spirit.

As The Nation wrote about those days, "The extraordinary heroism of the firefighters, police and others in coping with death and destruction rebuked the mood of 'infectious greed' generated by this era of market dominance. Civil servants and soldiers, even government itself, were accorded new respect in the face of real danger and collective greed. These developments contained a hopeful thread of reconstructing our frayed democracy."

But three years later, our frayed democracy is under siege and we live amidst the rubble created not by terrorists but by an Administration that has pursued a faith-based, messianic and militarist foreign policy. It is rubble created by a White House that has violated the most essential trust in a democracy, killing close to a thousand Americans in a reckless and unnecessary war based on manipulated intelligence and the persistent exploitation of fear.

It is rubble in which lies about the links between the war on terror and the war on Iraq--masterfully exploited by Bush's surrogate character witnesses (or, more accurately, attack dogs) John McCain and Rudy Giuliani on Monday night--have grown roots. And it is rubble strewn with the lives of the millions of Americans who have lost jobs, who lack health insurance and who live in poverty.

And now we live under the rubble and garbage of a campaign of character assassination fomented and financed by Bush surrogates. For those GOP speakers this week who remind us of those days of unity and shared sacrifice amidst the rubble of 9/11, remind them of the rubble created by a President who has ruled through division and fear.

McCain v. Moore

NEW YORK -- When US Senator John McCain took a shot at film maker Michael Moore in his speech to the Republican National Convention Monday night, he had no reason to know that the man who made the controversial documentary "Fahrenheit 9-11" was just a few hundred feet away from him.

But Moore was in Madison Square Garden with McCain and thousands of Republicans who, it would be fair to say, do not rank "Fahrenheit 9-11" high on their list of favorite films.

That was made obvious by the response of the delegates to McCain's unprecedented targeting of Moore in his prime-time address to the convention.

In a speech that was at once a spirited defense of the war with Iraq and a reminder that he is still available for consideration as a 2008 presidential nominee, McCain earned his biggest applause when he rejected any and all criticism of the Bush administration's decision to launch a preemptive war against the Middle Eastern country.

"Our choice wasn't between a benign status quo and the bloodshed of war. It was between war and a graver threat. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Not our political opponents," the Arizona Republican said, as the crowd began to roar its approval. "And certainly not, certainly not, a disingenuous film maker who would have us believe that Saddam's Iraq was an oasis of peace, when in fact it was a place of indescribable cruelty, torture chambers, mass graves and prisons that destroyed the lives of the small children inside their walls."

Moore, who was seated in the press gallery of Madison Square Garden, pumped his fists in the air and tipped his hat to the McCain and the hooting delegates. As the crowd chanted "Four More Years," Moore used his hand to form an "L" sign to suggest that President Bush would lose in November.

Moore also held up two fingers, recalling a constant theme of the filmmaker this week: That George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have only two more months to go before they are voted out of office.

Everyone in the hall, including McCain and Moore, realized that a rare moment in American politics was playing out. It's not often, outside the context of a debate, that such charges and countercharges fly in close proximity. Nor is it all that often that a film achieves the level of public awareness that leads a prominent politician to attack its maker in a primetime convention speech. And it is certainly not common for the filmmaker to be in a position to respond in real time.

But Moore was there, and he did respond.

The Academy Award-winning documentary maker pointed out that "Fahrenheit 9-11" did not argue that Iraq was an oasis of peace. Instead, Moore noted, his film suggested that the Bush Administration stretched the truth when it argued that regime change had to be forced upon Iraq in order to avert the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction that have yet to be found.

Still, Moore was not complaining too loudly.

"To bring up the film in the speech tonight, it's not good for the Republican Party," he explained. "It's just going to make more people say: 'I'd better go see this movie.' And when people see it, they don't feel much like voting Republican."

Moore's documentary, which challenges the Bush Administration's pre-war claims about those weapons of mass destruction and about supposed links between Iraq and the al-Queda network terrorists who attacked the country on Sept. 11, 2001, was a hit. But Moore knows there are still plenty of Americans who haven't seen it.

While what he got from McCain was not exactly a plug, the film maker predicted many of those who had not bought a ticket might do so now. And that, he said, could turn McCain's jab into a problem for President Bush's reelection prospects in a closely contested November vote.

"A Republican pollster told me that, when they do surveys, 80 percent of the people going into the theaters are Kerry voters. But 100 percent of the people coming out are Kerry voters -- or at least they are open to voting for Kerry," Moore said. "The pollster told me that they couldn't find anyone who sees the film and then says they are definitely voting for Bush."

So what was the man who made a film designed to undo a Republican president doing at the Republican National Convention?

Moore's attended the convention on an assignment from USA Today, which has asked him to write a column about the gathering that will renominate two of favorite targets, President Bush and Vice President Cheney. While he had all the press credentials that were required for entry into the hall, Moore was held up for the better part of an hour by Madison Square Garden security and New York City police officers.

Moore was finally allowed to enter and took his place to the right of the podium at a table with other writers for USA Today. Photographers actually turned their cameras from the podium to snap shots of Moore and legions of reporters crowded around him. But, by the time McCain's primetime speech came, Moore was listening intently and taking notes.

That did not mean, however, that he was an impartial reporter.

His observations about the convention were every bit as barbed as the themes he hit in "Fahrenheit 9-11." Noting that most of the primetime speakers at the convention were "gay rights advocates and abortion rights advocates" who are at odds with the party's platform and the positions taken by the Bush administration, such as former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who spoke last night, and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who will speak tonight. "There's no way the Republicans can win if they are really themselves," argued Moore.

A number of Republicans were themselves when they saw Moore had crashed their party.

"I got no use for the man at all -- he's the scum of the earth," said Jimmy Gilbert, an alternate delegate from Lenoir, North Carolina, who followed Moore through the hallways of Madison Square Garden with a "Vive Bush" sign.

Diane Francis, a Texas Republican decked out in full jean shirt and cowboy hat regalia, grumbled about Moore's movie and said, "I hope he's got security. He could get killed in here."

But Moore insisted that he did not feel threatened. "I saw (conservative commentator) Sean Hannity on the floor at the Democratic convention. He was treated well. I'm sure they'll treat me well here. You don't think the Republicans are more mean-spirited than the Democrats, do you?" asked Moore, barely concealing a grin.

Besides, he said, "This is a celebration."

Referring to the coming election, Moore said, "I'm here to celebrate the fact that the Republicans only have a couple of months left. I'm here to celebrate the end of the Republican era. They've had four years. It's been rough, but it's almost over."

The McCain Fizzle

The world is your playground/And you want to win.

So sang the frontman for a little-known and unimpressive rock band named Dexter Freebish at the opening night of the GOP convention. Was he sending a subtle message? Nah, he looked much too happy providing a generic backbeat for delegates who moments earlier had cheered a film tribute to Gerald Ford (it was a short film). And conventions are not the place for subtle messages.

Ask John McCain. In 2000, he was the victim of one of the dirtiest assaults in modern politics. Bush-backers circulated vile rumors about the man, and the Bush campaign refused to condemn this hit job. George W. Bush campaigned with the leader of a marginal veterans outfit who falsely accused McCain of betraying veterans, and the Bush administration would later reward this scoundrel with a job. Yet McCain played the loyal soldier at the 2000 convention, where he delivered a weird and robotic speech in which he endorsed Bush and did little to promote the reform-minded message of his own campaign.

Four years later, McCain, the former Navy pilot and POW, again agreed to fly wing for the fellow who skipped out of his Air National Guard service. For weeks, McCain has been stumping with Bush (even while he has defended Kerry's Vietnam record), and some have asked, why is he cheek-to-jowl with Bush? Not too long ago McCain seemed to entertain--if only for a moment--the notion of running as John Kerry's second. And how could he not bear a grudge against Bush for 2000? When I asked a Republican strategist close to McCain why McCain finally took a seat on the Bush Express, he replied. "He's a Republican." Does he want to be veep, should Dick Cheney take a powder? "He's a Republican," I was told. Is he positioning himself for a run in 2008, when he will be 72 years old? "He's a Republican." Does he want to be Secretary of Defense after Bush throws Donald Rumsfeld overboard? "He's a Republican."

Hey, maybe the reason is that he's a Republican. Washington is a binary culture. You either are a D or a R. And if you're an R you are expected to answer the call when it comes. So there was McCain, the first prominent speaker of the 2004 Republican convention, and this much-ballyhooed gig ended a flop.

McCain may be BMOC in Washington. But he hardly received a hero's welcome from the less-than-capacity crowd at Madison Square Garden. (Reminder to McCain fans, myself included: McCain was rejected by his party in 2000.) When McCain took the stage, the big-screen television showed Cheney clapping rather unenthusiastically. And McCain's speech did little to rouse the delegates.

Keeping with the skip-the-nuances M.O. of most conventions, McCain delivered a set of obvious nostrums, as he supported Bush's prosecution of the so-called war on terrorism and defended the war in Iraq: right makes might, love is stronger than hate. His rhetoric hardly soared: "But we must fight. We must." McCain issued a heartfelt call for reviving the national unity that appeared to exist in the days after the September 11 attacks: "We were not Democrats or Republican, liberal or conservative. We were not two countries. We're Americans." He noted that Democrats, like Republicans, are committed to winning the war against terrorism. "I don't doubt their sincerity." He praised Bush, though his actual endorsement had an odd ring:

"While this war has many components, we can't make victory on the battlefield harder to achieve so that our diplomacy is easier to conduct. That is not just an expression of our strength. It's a measure of our wisdom. That's why I commend to my country the reelection of President Bush, and the steady, experienced, public-spirited man who serves as our vice president, Dick Cheney."

I commend the reelection? Were we in the House of Lords? This was not a kick-ass call for Americans to swing behind the commander-in-chief. The crowd did respond with shouts of "four more years." But the delegates were not entranced by McCain's can't-we-get-along plea. What popped their cork, though, was a swipe McCain took at filmmaker Michael Moore (who was in the hall, as an accredited columnist for USA Today). Defending the war in Iraq, McCain said,

"Our choice wasn't between a benign status quo and the bloodshed of war. It was between war and graver threat. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Not our critics abroad. Not our political opponents. And certainly not a disingenuous filmmaker who--"

Now the delegates went wild. It was the first signs of life in the audience. When the jeers died down, McCain continued:

"--who would have us believe Saddam's Iraq was an oasis of peace when in fact it was a place of indescribable cruelty, torture chambers, mass graves, and prisons that destroyed the lives of the small children held inside their walls."

McCain, a war hero, fretting over Michael Moore? He was only elevating Moore's status. It was red meat, but McCain looked smaller for hurling it to the delegates. He then returned to his pitch for unity:

"We have nothing to fear from each other. We are arguing over the means to better secure our freedom, and promote the general welfare. But it should remain an argument among friends who share an unshaken belief in our great cause, and in the goodness of each other. We are Americans first, Americans last, Americans always....We're Americans, and we'll never surrender."

McCain then left the stage in what seemed record-time. He had failed to sway the crowd, for soon after the delegates were roaring with delight when Rudy Giuliani spoke and sarcastically derided John Kerry for being a flip-flopper. This was an all-out attack on Kerry's sincerity. Giuliani, like McCain, voiced a yearning for the good ol' post-9/11 days when Americans came together, when Chicago cops traveled to New York to help out, when a fan at a Red Sox-Yankees game held up a sign that proclaimed, "Boston Loves New York," when Republicans stood hand in hand with Democrats. But Giuliani gleefully bashed Kerry as a man without principles. That's not the way to foment unity. (How Republicans can assail Kerry for being a knee-jerk liberal and, at the same time, accuse him of being nothing but a finger-in-the-wind, ever-shifting pol remains an impressive acrobatic feat.)

Guess who went over better with the Repubs? Though Giuliani speech was much too long--delegates started streaming out before it was done--the GOPers cheered him on much more than McCain. It appears the Republicans enjoy calls for unity when the are coupled with in-your-face attacks. (Which probably could be said of Democratic partisans as well.) McCain was upstaged by Guiliani. His speech--skipped by the broadcast networks--barely registered. Yet the Bush campaign has gotten what it wanted: McCain's submission. He has become a prop of the Bush campaign. Given McCain's genuine streak of independence--on campaign reform, on global warming, on tax cuts--that is a sad development. But that's the price this good soldier pays for being a Republican.

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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.

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When you're done reading this article, check out 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."

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