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A Tale of Two GOPs

From the hard right to the mushy right--within minutes you can experience both in New York, as each extreme fights for a piece of a tent that's not so big. While religious right fanatics confronted anti-Bush demonstrators on the city's avenues, GOPers pushing for gay rights sipped cocktails at a lovely reception off Bryant Park. In language, in look, in priorities, the two bands had little in common. But both are disappointed by Bush. And Bush probably has each in his pocket.

As hundreds of thousands of progressives marched past an empty Madison Square Garden on Sunday, a hundred or so counter-protesters screamed at them: "Kerry loves communists, Kerry loves terrorists." And they held up signs decrying abortion. Leading this brigade was Randall Terry, the longtime abortion foe famous for having led the so-called Operation Rescue years ago (and for being tossed out of his church for infidelity). An unabashed Christian fundamentalist who used to advocate stoning as punishment for unruly children, Terry once tried to deliver a fetus in a jar to Bill Clinton. He ran for Congress in upstate New York in the mid-1990s as a Republican and lost. In recent years, he has devoted much time to battling gay marriage and gay rights. Not long ago, his adopted son came out of the closet and denounced Terry. (Terry's adopted daughter also blasted him publicly.)

As Terry's troops tussled with the marchers, Terry spared me a few minutes. He noted that Bush has been "disappointing" for doing little to criminalize abortion. "If he gets to appoint a Supreme Court justice, he better not make his dad's mistake. His dad gave us [Justice David] Souter." Souter, of course, has supported abortion rights. Why do you think it is, I asked Terry, that people who tend to oppose abortion rights support the war in Iraq? '"There's an ethical connection," he replied. "Either you believe in fixed principles of justice or you are swayed by the emotional arguments of the moment. Truth and justice are eternal. Saddam Hussein needed to be killed." But wasn't Bush's talk about weapons of mass destruction the "emotional argument of the moment?" No, said Terry: "I think they had WMDs and just moved them." And, he added, "if we pull out of Iraq, the terrorists will be running the country in six months." He had a final point to make: "All you need to know is that Islam has never once converted a country peacefully." (I missed the part where Saddam Hussein's regime was an Islamic government.) "Jesus died to start Christianity," Terry continued. "Mohammed killed to start Islam."

As Terry returned his attention to the ongoing shoutfest between his comrades and the demonstrators, I asked about his family troubles. "It's still painful, and it has gotten worse," he said and offered no details. And why was his group not brandishing graphic pictures of aborted fetuses? Where was the fetus in the jar? "Oh," he answered, "this is not a day for that, and I've mellowed a bit."

While Terry was yelling at the protesters, ten blocks away in a toney restaurant off Bryant Park, the Log Cabin Republicans (that is, the gay and lesbian Republicans) were listening to Senator Arlen Specter declare that supporting gay rights--whether or not it wins a candidate any votes--is the right thing to do. In an April primary election, Specter, who was endorsed by the Log Cabinites, had beaten back a conservative GOP challenger who had tried to cash in on Republican anger over Specter's support for gay rights and abortion rights. "There's a lot of muscle...behind the gay and lesbian community," Specter told the assembled. He noted that several years ago he had been the only Republican senator to support hate crimes legislation but that recently seventeen GOP senators voted for such a bill. The crowd of several hundred well-dressed people--mostly men--applauded. Some were wearing buttons proclaiming, "Inclusion Wins!" Many in the room backed abortion rights.

The audience cheered louder when William Weld, the former governor of Massachusetts, took credit for the advent of gay marriage in the Bay State. Judges he had appointed had supported the court decision that led to gay weddings. Weld then explained his opposition to the proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage: "I've been invited to oppose it on states' rights. I prefer to oppose it on substantive grounds." The Loggers shouted out their approval, and Weld went on: "The recognition of gay marriage...is the conservative point of view....I'm surprised this is not a more broadly held position....You're not going to repeal biology in the US Senate or the House, no matter what you do." He added, "I'm glad the Log Cabin has decided to stay in the Republican Party. The Republic Party is grounded in the notion of liberty."

Neither Specter or Weld discussed what the Log Cabin gang should do about Bush. The president's embrace of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage has presented queer Republicans with a challenge. How do you support a fellow who would deny your most basic aspirations? On this warmest of hot-button issues, Bush has sided with the Terryish fundamentalist wing over the cosmopolitans of the Log Cabin. But the Republicans in this restaurant want to be part of the GOP action. "I'm very upset with the president," Scott Schmidt, the communications director of the California Log Cabins told me. "How he approached the gay marriage amendment was very divisive. It was not in the spirit of how he campaigned in 2000. It was very offensive to the gay community." Well, Bush in 2000 did welcome the support of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson in 2000, and used the religious right to squash Senator John McCain's presidential effort. But history aside, it did seem that Schmidt was being generous to Bush by complaining about how Bush has supported the gay marriage amendment rather than Bush's support for the anti-gay measure.

More importantly, Schmidt, like others in the room, was quick to point out that neither John Kerry nor John Edwards have endorsed gay marriage. This is the lifeline for gay Republicans. Since there's no difference between the parties on this contentious issue, they argue, why shouldn't we stick with the party that represents our views on tax cuts, the war in Iraq and other matters? "As far as gays and marriage are concerned, you're screwed either way," said Carla Halbrook, a national board member of the group and a self-professed heterosexual. "The country is not ready for gay marriage. So I'm going to vote for a president that keeps me safe."

The Log Cabin reception was something of a denial zone. It is true that Kerry and Edwards--and Hillary Clinton and other leading Democrats--run screaming from gay marriage as political and policy matters. But it is also clear that the Democrats do not abuse the issue in demagogic fashion and are not explicitly fueling and exploiting the obsessions of gay-bashers to win elections. The folks in this fancy restaurant are smart enough to recognize such a difference. They choose not to acknowledge it.

There has been some speculation that the Log Cabin Republicans might withhold their endorsement of Bush. That would likely not be much of a blow to the Bush campaign. But the mood at the reception seemed to be one of resigned acceptance. The gay marriage amendment "has generated a lot of passion within the group," Bill Browson, the chairman of the board of the Log Cabin Republicans, said. "We have people at both ends of the spectrum," he said, "and [Bush's support of the amendment] is a deal-killer for many." Yet there was no discernible outrage in the room, and the safe bet appeared to be that these GOPers would hang on dearly to the no-difference-between-the-two excuse, swallow hard, and go with Bush. "We see there's no distinction on the gay marriage issue," Schmidt explained. "So I have to get over that....If we abandon the party, it will never come around on gay rights. " [UPDATE: The day after the Log Cabin reception, the group unveiled a television ad that criticized the GOP's support of the gay marriage amendment--but only implicitly. It asks, "Will we [the Republican Party] unite on the things that matter most ,like winning the war on terror? Or will we divide the American family with the politics of intolerance and fear that lead to hate?" The ad, it should be noted, was a question, not a declaration.]

Oh to put the Randall Terry squad and the Loggers in the same room. Each group feels let down by Bush (though Terry has less to complain about than Schmidt). Both claim they are going to triumph eventually. "There is no question in my mind we're going to win," Terry said, "because at the end of the day even you know it's a human life that's being killed." Before the Log Cabin group, Specter said, "In the long sweep of history, those who favor gay rights are on the right side." But each wing cannot be right in its prediction. Yet that does not matter at the moment. The fundamentalist can hope (and pray) for an end to abortion rights and gay rights. The liberal Republicans can patiently await a social reformation. In the meantime, the GOP's tent holds for yet another election cycle, and Bush benefits.

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Read about my adventures in partying with conservatives by clicking here.

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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."

For more information and a sample, go to the official website: www.bushlies.com. And check out Corn's blog on the site.

Less Than La Guardia; Less Than Lindsay

Forty years ago, when Republicans suffered their worst presidential election defeat of the post-World War II era, roughly 800,000 New Yorkers voted for the party's nominee, Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater.

Four years ago, when Republicans secured the White House in one of the closest presidential elections in the nation's history, roughly 300,000 New Yorkers voted for the party's nominee, Texas Governor George W. Bush.

Like most urban areas, New York City has become dramatically more Democratic in recent decades. Yet, unlike Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta, Boston and so many other American cities, New York still elects Republicans to serve as mayor. Of the last six mayors of New York City, three have been elected as Republicans: John Lindsay, Rudy Giuliani and the current occupant of City Hall, Mike Bloomberg. And it should be remembered that the man many believe to have been the city's greatest mayor, Fiorello La Guardia, was also affiliated with the Grand Old Party.

To be sure, New York Republicans are a different breed from, say, Texas Republicans. They get elected by arguing that they will manage the city more competently, not that they will turn it into Houston on the Hudson. New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, a wealthy publisher who was a generous contributor to Democratic campaigns before he bought the Republican nomination and was elected mayor in 2001, backs abortion rights, gay rights and new taxes. And he has grudgingly welcomed anti-Bush protesters to the city.

But Bloomberg, like Giuliani before him, is a tepid version of the New York Republicans of old. Perhaps by the Republican standards of today, he can still be called a "liberal." But he is no fighting liberal, as has been evident in the weeks leading up to the second Bush coronation.

Instead of challenging conservative orthodoxies -- on everything from the right to dissent to the right to choose -- Bloomberg has placated the Bush administration and its rightwing allies in the leadership of what was once a Grand Old Party.

Don't expect any fireworks today, when Bloomberg delivers a perfunctory welcome to the Republican National Convention delegates who are gathering in the city for the first time in the party's 150-year history.

At the most scripted convention in the history of American politics, Bloomberg will, like every other speaker this week, color within the lines drawn by the Bush-Cheney '04 reelection campaign -- which has effectively remade the party in its image. In so doing, Bloomberg will abandon the historic responsibility of New York Republicans, which was to pull a kicking and screaming Republican Party as far to the left as politically possible.

One of the great tragedies of the contemporary Republican Party is that what is left of its liberal wing is so wimped out as to be completely inconsequential.

Once upon a time, Republican mayors of New York would have picked up on the themes of the anti-war and anti-corporate protests that are filling this city's streets this week.

Had La Guardia been asked to welcome a Republican National Convention to New York City, he would never have agreed to read from the script distributed by the Tories who have taken charge of the party. He would have torn the script up and told the party to defend the interests of the poor against the rich, of labor unions against business interests, of consumers against corporations.

Lindsay would have lectured the delegates from Idaho and Iowa about the importance of funding urban programs. The passionate defender of civil liberties -- who Nat Hentoff said "wielded the Bill of Rights against its enemies" -- would not have hesitated to condemn the Patriot Act. And, in a time of illicit and ill-advised warmaking, he would have suggested that solutions to problems at home could be found by redirecting U.S. policies abroad.

That's exactly what Lindsay did in 1968, when he told the Republican Party's platform committee that, "The course we have been following in Vietnam, I submit, has not been one of a great nation." Lindsay told fellow Republicans that staying the course in Vietnam would prevent the United States from becoming a great nation. "For the truth, I'm afraid, is that we cannot achieve either the cities or the society we would like as long as we continue the war in Vietnam," the mayor explained. "We cannot spend more than $24 billion a year in Vietnam and still rebuild our cities. We cannot speak of non-violence at home when we are displacing, maiming, and killing thousands of Asians for the professed purpose of protecting the peace in a land half way across the world."

Four decades later, the Republican Party could stand to hear the mayor of New York deliver a similar message -- with only the name Iraq replacing that of Vietnam. Unfortunately, while New York has a Republican mayor, it does not have a La Guardia or a Lindsay.

Partying With the GOP

The Saturday night before every political convention there is usually a party for the thousands of journalists that will be covering the shebang to come. The familiar faces of TV news mix with the worker-bees--producers, bookers, engineers, camerapeople, makeup artists, interns--and together they guzzle tons of free food and an ocean of booze. A good time was had by all--right, left, and unaffiliated--and the event afforded me a fine start to one of my missions in New York this week: hang out with conservatives and have a good time.

The Boston media bash for the Democratic convention featured an indoors carousel and Little Richard banging on the piano. The fete in New York City featured....shopping. It was held inside the Time Warner Center in Columbus Circle, which is essentially a mall: J. Crew, Hugo Boss, Williams-Sonoma, Borders, Bose, the Art of Shaving, and so much more. On the sidewalk, where the smokers gathered and moaned about Mayor Michael Bloomberg, I spotted the National Review's Kate O'Beirne. As we started chatting, New York Times reporter David Carr asked us to compare this extravaganza--Bloomberg flipping potato pancakes! clowns on stilts in neon suits! Don King citing Reconstructionist theology in praising George W. Bush--to the Boston party. I replied, "Leave it to the Republicans to turn a party into a shopping spree." On the way in to the Time Warner Center, every one of the thousands of revelers was handed a book of discount coupons they could use in the stores when they weren't gorging upon sushi, sashimi, pizza or the mayor's pancakes. Right away, O'Beirne replied that this was part of George W. Bush's economic plan. "See people are using their tax cuts. Aren't you happy about that, David?" It was just like being on Capital Gang. Yes, I answered, I'm glad I received my tax cut, even though local taxes have had to go up and the costs of Bush's tax cuts will be forced upon future middle-class taxpayers who will be saddled with a deficit exacerbated by Bush's givebacks to the wealthy. "Whoa," said a bystander. "These guys can make even a party political."

At this point, a champagne glass tipped over and shattered. Carr departed and disappeared into the party. "Guess we didn't give good quotes," O'Beirne remarked. Then she spotted a pal and said, "Barbara, come over here. David was just making a cheap joke about your old boss." O'Beirne was referring to my comment about the large statues in the lobby of the Time Warner Center: a very round man and a very round woman, naked and anatomically correct. (At least the woman was; I did not check out her partner.) Pointing to the statues, I had said, "I wonder what John Ashcroft would say." The newcomer to our conversation was Barbara Comstock, who had been the spokesperson for the attorney general. (She now is working for Blank Rome Government Relations, a lobbying and communications firm.)

"There are lots of cheap jokes one could make about Ashcroft," I said. "I suppose I could just show the video of him singing his song, 'Where Eagles Soar,' but Michael Moore beat me to the punch on that one."

"You know," Comstock replied, in a matronly tone. "I used to be a liberal. I came to Washington from Massachusetts to be an intern for Teddy Kennedy." What went wrong? I asked. "I had children. That makes you into a Republican."

"Really?" I replied. "Last election, a majority of Americans voted for either Al Gore or Ralph Nader instead of George Bush. More than 50 million, I believe. I bet that some of them had kids."

"Do you have kids?" she asked. Two, I said and whipped out my cell phone, which has a lovely photo of my five-year-old girl on the opening screen. I passed it around. "Five years old," I told the assembled, "and my younger daughter is three-and-a-half years old."

"Oh, just wait until she's thirteen," Comstock responded. "Then you'll be a Republican."

"Why?" I asked. "Let's say she makes a stupid mistake when she's thirteen. Will I want her not to be able to choose to have an abortion? Will I want her to have to pay off the $4.6 trillion in debt that Bush is bequeathing her? Will I want her to be the citizen of our country despised around the world? Will I want her to fear the approaching consequences of global warming?"

"Oh," she replied, "you are a lost cause." But, she added, she liked anyone with small, cute kids. So I passed that test.

Thank you, I replied and said good-bye. I headed toward the front doors of the Time Warner Center. But I encountered conservative pundit John Fund of The Wall Street Journal. In a convivial mood, he told me he has a book coming out next week. About what? I asked. "About how we have the shoddiest, worst voting systems in the entire industrialized world," he said.

"You mean," I replied, "America is not Number One? We're not the best? Other countries do something better than we do? We really are not Number One when it comes to democracy?" Fund smiled to humor me and said, "Are you trying out material for The Hotline comedy show?" (In Boston, I performed briefly--thankfully--at a standup comedy show organized by The Hotline, a political tipsheet. I was panned by The Wall Street Journal. Other reviews were more encouraging.) What's the name of the book? I asked Fund. "Stealing Elections," he said.

"You've come over to our side?" I exclaimed. "It's about 2000? John, how great, you're expanding the horizons of the Journal." I knew damn well that his concern was not what happened in Florida. For years, he has written about voting problems from the perspective of a conservative worried that folks who favor Democrats are gaining far-too-easy or illegitimate access to the voting booth. I was pulling his chain, and Fund politely went along with the joke. He even said he would invite me to the book party next month.

By now the hour was getting late, Fund excused himself and headed toward the subway. I tried to get back into the party. I had yet to sample the sushi, which had drawn fave reviews. But--damn--the doors were blocked by the nattily dressed private security guards. Closing time. The party was ending. I headed back to my hotel--the wildly fashionable Hudson (more on this later, perhaps). And I resolved: at the next party, make sure to eat before jousting with the conservatives.

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When you're done reading this article, check out David Corn's WEBLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read the latest on howthe Swift Vets' attack on John Kerry continues to sink and how Pat Buchanan wants to take over Christopher Hitchens' column.

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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 the official website: www.bushlies.com. And check out Corn's blog on the site.

It's Only Just Begun

It's now official that there are far too many anti-RNC events in New York this week for any one calendar, guide, website or publication to keep up with. But you can generally stay abreast of the panoply of protests, demonstrations, panels, film screenings, readings, concerts and other, more unconventional expressions of a robust civil society with these online compilations:

The People's Guide

RNC Not Welcome

The Imagine Festival

CounterConvention.org

MediaChannel

The Village Voice also published a good guide, available online, to the week. Check New York IndyMedia for up-to-the-minute reports on protests, demonstrations and actions from the activist perspective. On the airwaves WBAI will be broadcasting live coverage of Sunday's United for Peace march (assemble at 10:00 between 15th and 22nd Streets, from 5th to 9th Avenues) and will devote more airtime to the protests this week than any other New York media outlet. RadioNation's Marc Cooper will also be posting audio interviews, speeches and interviews from both inside and outside the convention hall on The Nation's website all week.

No Dissent Allowed

The principle that people of good faith might disagree on issues such as abortion, family planning and gay and lesbian rights lost by a 4-1 margin when members of the Republican party's platform committee debated the notion this week. According to most media, that was the "news" from the Grand Old Party's platform deliberations -- just as the failure of moderate Republicans to move the party toward the center on social issues has been the "news" of every Republican National Convention since 1976.

Christopher Barron, an activist with the Log Cabin Republicans, the party's largest gay and lesbian rights group, was correct when he complained that the platform -- with its militant anti-abortion rights plank and its endorsement of a Constitutional amendment designed to ban same-sex marriages -- makes a joke of the efforts of convention planners to present a moderate face by featuring convention speakers who happen to be pro-choice and sympathetic to gay rights. "You can't craft a vicious, mean-spirited platform and then put lipstick on the pig by putting Rudy Giuliani and Arnold Schwarzenegger on in prime time," explained Barron.

In truth, there was never any chance that Republican moderates would soften the party's official stances on hot-button issues such as abortion rights and gay rights. There was never even a chance that the platform committee, which met in New York on Tuesday and Wednesday, would endorse a "unity plank" acknowledging that issues involving reproductive freedom and the rights of gays and lesbians can be "complex" and that "Republicans of good faith may not agree with all the planks in this platform."

Yet most of the news stories regarding the platform committee's sessions focused entirely on the empty "debate" on social issues that saw Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, who moved to reject the "unity plank," declare that with a straight face that, "We are the party of the open door."

Unfortunately, the real story of the platform process was not the latest failure of groups such as the Log Cabin Republicans and Republicans for Choice to get any respect from the party to which they have maintained a touching, if not particularly rational, loyalty through brush off after brush off. The real story was the revelation that the 150-year-old Republican Party has ceased to exist as an independent entity.

It is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign, much as the Brown & Root military-contracting firm is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Halliburton. Like everything else about the 2004 convention of this once-great party, the platform carries a great big Bush-Cheney imprint and no evidence whatsoever that grassroots Republicans had any say at all in the process of shaping their party's agenda.

No one expected the Republican Party to pick a fight with its maximum leaders. Platform deliberations for both parties long ago ceased to be the ideological battles that they were in the 1960s and 1970s. That was evident in this year's Democratic platform writing process, which was far too deferent to the demands of John Kerry's presidential campaign.

But the Democrat deliberations, as controlled as they were, looked like a free-for-all compared with the micromanaged Republican sessions.

Veteran platform committee members and observers were stunned by the extent that, more than ever before in the history of the Republican Party, this platform is the reflection not of the ideas and values of people who were supposed to draft the manifesto but of the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign. The 90-page document opens up with a 41-page apologia for Bush's handling of the war on terror; while the rest of the document mirrors the Bush line -- or lack of line -- on every issue from tax cuts to stem-cell research.

To be sure, the GOP manifesto is a conservative document. But it is Bush conservatism that defines it, not the thinking of grassroots Republicans. Thus, on the divisive issue of immigration reform, the platform language reflects the administration's "have-it-both-ways" line by offering only a murky promise that the country's new immigration rules will be "legal, safe, orderly and humane."

"It's Clinton-like doublespeak in a Republican platform," grumbled Congressman Tom Tancredo, a Colorado Republican who is the party's most visceral critic of the administration's attempts to develop of "guest worker" program for immigrants.

Tancredo may be wrong on this and other issues, but he is right about the doublespeak.

"This platform is less a forward-looking declaration of party principle than a backward-looking review of President Bush's four years, more so than with past incumbent presidents," noted conservative columnist Robert Novak, who has been attending Republican platform hearings for decades. "(The) Bush White House completely abandoned the old platform process."

To a dramatically greater extent than the reelection campaigns of Richard Nixon or even Ronald Reagan, the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign placed its imprint on the manifesto that will be approved by delegates at next week's convention. Nixon and Reagan both accepted a measure of genuine debate and dissent within the Republican Party -- indeed, the 1984 platform deviated substantially from the language Reagan aides had sought on tax policy. But those days are gone.

The platform process illustrated the eerie extent to which the Republican Party has become nothing more than an arm of the president's reelection campaign. Instead of letting the roughly 100 members of the platform committee craft a document and then debate it -- as both parties have traditionally done -- a draft document was handed to platform committee members at 7 p.m. on the night before they were expected to approve it. Novak said the drafting process was so secretive and controlled that it came to "resemble the Manhattan Project of developing the atomic bomb."

"The process," Novak observed, "fits the Bush white House's authoritarian aura that has tempered enthusiasm within the party on the eve of the national convention."

Diebold Wines and Dines Officials

At a time when there is much controversy over electronic voting and some election experts are raising concerns about the integrity of such voting, should the leading manufacturers of electronic voting machines be wining and dining state and local officials responsible for conducting elections? Well, they are.

This week, scores of elections officials from across the country have gathered in Washington for a conference sponsored by the Election Center. A Houston-based nonprofit, the Election Center is an organization for government employees responsible for voter registration and elections administration--such as voter registrars, elections supervisors, city clerks, state election directors, and secretaries of state. According to the group's website, its purpose "is to promote, preserve, and improve democracy." The Election Center keeps its members up-to-date on regulations and court decisions. It performs research for registration and elections officials. It offers classes in professional practices.

The center's description of its activities does not note that it also allows the manufacturers of voting equipment to hobnob with state and local elections officials. At this week's national conference, election officials have been able to attend panels on the Help America Vote Act, ethical dilemmas, recounts, voting for the blind and disabled, and elections litigation. (At one panel, according to an audience member, Representative Bob Ney, a Republican, was applauded when he dismissed demands for auditable paper trails for electronic voting, noting that a rigged electronic machine could also be fixed to produce a misleading paper trail. ) But in the hallways of the Grand Hyatt Hotel, voting machine manufacturers--including the companies that have drawn the most criticism--have been plying their wares. And to impress the local officials at the conference, three leading manufacturers of voting machines have been paying to make sure the attendees--the government employees who decide what voting machines are purchased--have a swell time.

According to the center's program for the conference, the conference's welcoming reception on August 26 was underwritten by Diebold Election Systems. The next day, a scheduled "Dinner Cruise on the Potomac and Monuments by Night Tour" was cosponsored by Sequoia Voting Systems. And Election Systems and Software (ES&S) agreed to pick up the tab for the final day's "Graduation Luncheon and Awards Ceremony."

Each of these firms have had brushes with controversy. Sequoia had their machines rejected in the 1990s by New York City due to concerns about fraud. Earlier this year, Diebold machines malfunctioned in California and disenfranchised thousands of voters. Election officials there accused Diebold officials of lying and misconduct, and Secretary of State Kevin Shelley banned Diebold machines from four counties. Earlier, Diebold CEO Walden O'Dell, a fundraiser for George W. Bush, said in a letter that he was "committed to helping Ohio deliver is electoral votes" to Bush. After that letter was revealed, he prohibited Diebold executives and employees from making political contributions. But since 1991, Diebold has handed GOPers $346,366 and Democrats $2700, as Ronnie Dugger recently noted in The Nation, a ratio of 127-1. ES&S is owned by prominent conservatives in Nebraska.

More importantly, computer and systems experts have questioned the security of electronic voting, and they have criticized these companies for refusing to supply information regarding their systems. As Dugger reported, David Dill, a professor of computer science at Stanford and a critic of computerized voting, recently asked, "Why am I always being asked to prove these systems aren't secure? The burden of proof ought to be on the vendor. You ask about the hardware. 'Secret.' The software? 'Secret.' What's the cryptography? 'Can't tell you because that'll compromise the secrecy of the machines.'...Federal testing procedures? 'Secret'! Results of the tests? 'Secret'! Basically we are required to have blind faith."

Electronic voting is a contentious issue. A recent poll showed that almost half--44 percent--said they believe computerized voting systems are unreliable. Three-fourths said the systems ought to leave a paper trail that can be audited.

Between 48 million and 61 million Americans will use computerized voting machines this November, according to various estimates. And that has many experts and citizens worried. (The they're-going-to-steal-the-vote-with-rigged-machines conspiracy theory seems to be spreading through anti-Bush circles.) The nation's elections officials are instrumental in making sure the election system works--that there is no fraud, that votes are counted. It is their task to insure that vote-counting machines operate properly and are secure. On its website, the Election Center declares, "Freedom is an inherent human right, but it is also fragile and can be lost through neglect or abuse....Therefore, it is our unique role as elections officials to serves as the gatekeepers of Democracy."

As gatekeepers, they should not be accepting libations, nourishment, and entertainment from the companies they must negotiate with, evaluate, and oversee. The Election Center's board of directors includes the executive secretary-director of North Carolina's board of elections, the secretary of state of Colorado, and the Pennington County (South Dakota) auditor, and the outfit notes, "It is our sacred honor to protect and promote a public trust and confidence by our conduct of accurate and fair elections. As the public's guardians of freedom within a democratic society, we are responsible for the integrity of the process." To maintain that integrity and to promote public confidence, they should not accept gifts from the controversial manufacturers of controversial voting machines. That seems a no-brainer.

I called the Election Center to speak with a representative but did not hear back from the group. (The conference is under way.) But by accepting support from Diebold, Sequoia, and ES&S, these elections officials do little to encourage confidence in their judgment and impartiality. A cynic would not be unjustified to ask, if they cannot be trusted to make this call, how can they be trusted to count the votes?

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When you're done reading this article, check out David Corn's WEBLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read the latest on howthe Swift Vets' attack on John Kerry continues to sink, how Bush's top lawyer spins the Swift Vets' attacks, and how Pat Buchanan wants to take over Christopher Hitchens' column.

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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 the official website: www.bushlies.com. And check out Corn's blog on the site.

Oil and the Bush 'Fear Factor'

Last week, the price of oil futures reached $49.40 a barrel--the highest in 21 years of trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Oil prices are already up 50 percent this year, and some experts--notably energy consultant Daniel Yergin--believe there's a good chance that oil could reach a steady level of $50 a barrel in the next two months.

The surge in prices has several causes, including political instability in Venezuela and Russia, turmoil in Nigeria, global market speculation and increased Chinese demand. But, in the short term, it is the "fear factor"--the insecurity and instability created by the Bush Administration's Middle East policies, notably the invasion of Iraq--that has raised costs between $8 and $15 a barrel.

It is increasingly clear that the high cost of the war can be seen not just in the number of deaths, and the ballooning federal budget deficits but also in the record oil and gas prices. In a speech in Smithville, Missouri earlier this month, John Kerry squarely blamed the Bush team's wars and failed policies for oil prices hitting new highs.

If prices stay at these levels for three to six months, some economists believe the risk of recession grows dramatically. (And at $50 a barrel, oil would be about 70 percent above the average price of $29 a barrel that has prevailed since 2000.) In that case, the oil shock of 2004 may well affect the outcome of both the US election and the global economic recovery.

While it's hard to find a silver lining--what with a slowing economy, lost jobs and hard hit consumers--the situation may act as a brake on a possible US (or Israeli) preemptive strike against Iran. Such an "October Surprise" would be designed to display Bush's toughness in dealing with prospective nuclear threats, while diverting attention from the debacle in Iraq. But most nonproliferation and energy experts argue that a strike would be counterproductive, further destabilizing the region. And though chaos may be what Ariel Sharon wants, as well as the diehard neocons (what with Iraq such a disaster), cooler heads in the Administration worry about a strike increasing oil prices to $60 a barrel--perhaps the one thing that could ensure Bush's defeat in November.

High oil prices also act as a wake-up call--reminding us that oil is a finite resource and that we are fast approaching the point of peak production, after which global output will fall. It is a moment to launch what Kerry and leading progressive and environmental groups are calling for an "http://www.apolloalliance.org/ Apollo Project" to invest in energy independence. http://www.thenation.com doc.mhtml?i=20040830&s=hertsgaard">This call is good politics and good policy. In a recent poll, 86 percent of Americans placed a priority on reducing dependence on Middle East oil, with 63 percent believing that investment in a combination of renewable power, efficient technology and conservation is the answer to improving security.

But change will not come while there's another "fear factor" on our increasingly polluted horizon--a president who sits idly by while oil shock threatens our future. "If oil prices were Olympic events, George Bush would win medals," Senator Chuck Schumer said last week. He's fiddling while Rome is burning." Bush has compiled the worst environmental record in modern times, while allowing our laws, regulations and policies to be crafted and corrupted by oil and gas lobbyists, polluters and indicted CEOs.

Let's rid ourselves of the Bush "fear factor"--and then fight hard to craft a sane energy policy. It's one of the most urgent challenges facing this country and the world.

Not So Swift

Two news stories, of vastly differing consequence, have over the past week raised the question of how issues of war and peace will play in this year's presidential contest:

1.) The summer-long controversy over claims and commercials produced by the so-called "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" group continued, as a now widely-discredited circle of embittered Vietnam veterans used money from associates of President Bush and White House political czar Karl Rove to try and develop doubts about aspects of John Kerry's military service 35 years ago.

2.) US Rep. Doug Bereuter, R-Nebraska, the vice chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence and one of the senior Republican members of the House International Relations Committee, announced after a thorough review of the information available to him that he had come to the conclusion that the US invasion and occupation of Iraq was unjustified. "I've reached the conclusion, retrospectively, now that the inadequate intelligence and faulty conclusions are being revealed, that all things being considered, it was a mistake to launch that military action," explained Bereuter, who added that, "knowing what I know about the reliance on tenuous or insufficiently corroborted intelligence used to conclude that Saddam maintained a substantial WMD (Wepaons of mass destruction) arsenal, I believe that launching the pre-emptive military action was not justified."

Guess which story the news media focused on with such intensity that both Kerry and Bush were forced to address it publicly.

Here's a hint: It's not the story about the war that is currently going on.

It's no secret that most of the American media no longer covers contemporary politics in a serious manner. But it is still remarkable that major media in this country is so addicted to spin that its practitioners are incapable of recognizing real news when it develops.

Make no mistake: Bereuter's statement is real news. In fact, it is the sort of news that ought to dominate today's national discourse in the same way that similar pronouncements by prominent members of former President Lyndon Johnson's Democratic party came to dominate the 1960s discourse about what was then a burgeoning conflict in Southeast Asia.

When a ranking member of the president's own party, who has direct and detailed knowledge of the issues involved, says the commander-in-chief led the country into an unjustified war, that's a big deal.

And that is exactly what Doug Bereuter did.

In a letter to constituents who had contacted him regarding the war, the 13-term congressman condemned the Bush Administration for launching the war "without a broad and engaged international coalition." Bereuter explained that the Administration made "fundamental and predictable" missteps. Because of those missteps, he wrote, "we are immersed in a dangerous, costly mess."

"The cost in casualties is already large and growing," the Congressman observed, "and the immediate and long-term financial costs are incredible."

Bereuter, whose reputation as an expert on foreign affairs is such that he will upon his retirement from Congress at the end of this month become the president of the Asia Foundation, suggested that the costs of this war extend far beyond Iraq. Because of the Administration's actions, the Congressman said, "our country's reputation around the world has never been lower and our alliances are weakened."

If his blunt statements about the current crisis were not enough, Bereuter raised the prospect that the Bush-Cheney Administration might have misused intelligence in order to draw the country into the war. "Left unresolved for now is whether intelligence was intentionally misconstrued to justify military action," noted the veteran representative from Nebraska.

As indictments of an administration's military adventurism by senior members of Congress go, that's a very serious statement. As indictments of an Administration by senior members of Congress who happen to be members of the president's own party -- and who are speaking not in a historical context but in a time of war -- go, Bereuter's four-page letter contained all the political and policy drama that the public discourse could possibly demand.

Yet Bereuter's statement, released quietly and with no Washington spin machine ginning it up, was barely heard in the echo chamber of Campaign 2004.

Even after Nebraska newspapers spread the word of Bereuter's comments regarding the current war and the current president, talk radio programs continued to devote hour after hour to discussions of what happened on what river in 1969, cable television programs continued to feature endless debates about whether Kerry's swift boat turned left or right on the way to Cambodia, the anchors and hosts of network news programs breathlessly reported Bob Dole's grumbling about how Kerry needed to apologize for not taking more hits in Southeast Asia, and reporters for the major newspapers that are supposed to maintain some sense of perspective pressed Bush and Kerry to address every new twist on a swift-boat journey that is starting to seem almost as endless as the Vietnam War itself.

What of the questions that Bereuter's statement raised about the current war and the current Administration? Are they being explored on talk-radio shows? On cable television? On network news programs? On the front pages of daily newspapers in New York and Washington and Chicago and Los Angeles?

Outside of continuing coverage by a few local newspapers in Nebraska -- especially the Lincoln Journal Star -- the story of Doug Bereuter's heresy flamed out after the first day.

Perhaps, 35 years from now, during some future presidential campaign, the major media of the United States will catch up to the story of the Iraq War. The way things are going, it may be an ongoing conflict.

Johnny Cash was NOT a Republican

The songs of Johnny Cash--"the Man in Black"--were beacons of light for those who were unjustly locked up, kicked down, and knocked around. He sang from his heart for the poor, the imprisoned, and the oppressed.

And, as John Nichols wrote in his Nation weblog after Cash's death last year, "Though he was not known as an expressly political artist, Cash waded into the controversies of his times with a passion. Like the US troops in Vietnam who idolized him, he questioned the wisdom of that war. And in the mid-1960s, at the height of his success, he released an album that challenged his country's treatment of Native Americans."

But it was his songs which really marked him as a man of the people. He took sides in his songs, and he preferred the side of those imprisoned by the law--and by poverty and hard luck.

Yet, this Tuesday the GOP and the American Gas Association, a network of 154 utility multinationals, are shamelessly trying to appropriate the singer-songwriter's legacy by hosting an exclusive "celebration" of Cash for the Republican delegation from Tennessee inside the elite corridors of Sotheby's auction house.

In response, an ad-hoc group of activists have created a website to honor Cash's memory (www.defendjohnnycash.org) and to express what is safe to say would be Cash's outrage over the Bush Administration's malign neglect of the poor in this country. Do you think Cash would be supporting the President's economic policies? How about the Iraq war? If you think the answer is "no," then come join other Johnny Cash defenders at 4:00pm (dressed in black if you'd like) on Tuesday, August 31st, at Sotheby's at 1334 York Avenue in Manhattan.

As the call to action reads: "Bring your black clothing, pompadour, guitars (real or cardboard), hair grease, singing voice, megaphones, jail-stripes, skeleton costumes, signs, art, posters, CD players, boom-boxes, musical instruments, Johnny posters and records, and, of course, your favorite political Cash lyrics as big as you can print 'em!"

Click here for more info, click here for a bio of Cash's life and click here to read some of the song lyrics that made Cash a legend.

And check out a Tennessee group that is doing work in Cash's tradition: Music Row Democrats, formed in December 2003 by a group of Nashville music industry leaders who were "fed up with feeling as if they had to apologize for being Democrats, particularly when they knew that Republican policies were negatively affecting the lives of the working class people who make up much of the audience for their music."

We'll continue to highlight some of the hundreds of anti-RNC protests, panels, presentations and parties as the RNC draws closer, so watch this space for details and let us know about any activities you think we should be featuring by clicking here.