. . . Thursday September 2, 2004

About(face) Last Night

I am a remote control carrying member of the television generation. I experience life and reality through that little glowing box (all right, in my house, it really isn’t all that little). So I am often more wowed than others by a really well produced television show.

For a second I even felt myself being impressed by the discipline and production value on display from Madison Square Garden this week. I found myself believing that the only issue confronting our country is terrorism and that just about every international issue can be squeezed into that category. I was sort of believing that Kerry was really a flip flopper and I almost forgot that their man with the spine of steel actually flip flopped (and rather quickly) on such pressing terrorism-related issues as the formation of a department of homeland security and the backing of a 9-11 commission (not to mention the morning he woke up and flipped out of bed with a hangover and then flopped into a new religion and a new personality). Amid the pageantry and Arnold’s references to his movies and his own Horatio Alger story and Rudy’s down-home talk, I was nearly able to ignore almost every position the Republicans have backed during the past four years; the cultural divide, the dirty tricks, the sluggish economy, the missing weapons of mass destruction, the lack of progress in the Middle East, the growth of terrorist acts around the world (up to and including the past week), and I was even able to repress the knowledge that all of this attack-dog, tough-guy, bowlegged, schoolyard bully chestpumping and fingerpointing was actually coming from a bunch of silver-spooned, smooth-palmed, real life not-so pretty boy pansies. In fact, I was so impressed by the perfect delivery and message discipline of every speech, it hardly ever dawned on me that the two faces the world most associates with the war on terror were nowhere to be seen.

But then came last night. And under the weight of cheapshots, falsehoods, rumors and childish lies, it all collapsed like a house of cards. Dick Cheney’s speech (aside from the delivery) was decent enough. But instead of listing of a series of the administrations’ achievements, he resorted to tired, old lines that distorted Kerry’s words and record. I was shocked that he actually repeated the petty sensitivity one-liner (note: gravitas and smirks don’t mix that well):

“In this post-9/11 period, Senator Kerry doesn’t appear to understand how the world has changed. He talks about leading a more sensitive war on terror, as though Al Qaida will be impressed with our softer side.”

Forget about the fact that Cheney is distorting a quote and that President Bush used the very same word in a very similar context. Let’s just keep in mind that so far, John Kerry has given us no hint that he even has a softer side. That was much more evident in the Cheney household in the 60s when Mr. Macho was home changing diapers and taking orders from the Mrs. These guys really have no shame. Why do they insist on using distortions and insane personal attacks when they could easily run on their own record on these matters? Why? Because they like it dirty. That’s why Dick Cheney couldn’t help but smile as he gave an address that was almost entirely about terrorism.

At one point during the other major speech of the night, Zell Miller proclaimed: “My family is more important than my Party.” If only Dick Cheney’s family were more important than even the extremists in his Party – we might have seen his whole family up on the stage following the speech.

And Zell? I felt like I was watching an anti-drug infomercial warning of the dangers associated with the mixing of high doses of Viagra and Cialis. At this point, Zell Miller accusing someone of being a flip flopper is like Paris Hilton accusing someone of using her sexuality to get ahead. By the midpoint of his speech, I became convinced that Zell Miller was actually still a Democrat and was in Madison Square Garden as part of a plot hatched by his own Party. His speech was that offensive. Colin Powell is sitting at home and the GOP gives this screwball the keynote? Even those who were laughing the hardest were laughing at, not with, Zell.

In one of his endlessly false rips on Kerry, Miller explained: “Campaign talk tells people who you want them to think you are. How you vote tells people who you really are deep inside.”

Only Zell Miller could criticize the authenticity of campaign talk in the middle of campaign speech. Unfortunately for him (and those who chose to feature him), campaign talk is often viewed as a pretty important indicator of who a politician is. Although after last night I could see why he would want to argue otherwise.

Now I really understand the big tent speeches from the first two nights when Rudy and Arnold sought to convince listeners that they could be Republicans without agreeing with the major principles held dear by those at the top of the Party’s hierarchy. The need to focus their speeches on that topic became all too clear. They must have read preview versions of Wednesday nights addresses.

Concentration is important!