If you watched the Democratic National Convention on TV, or attended it, as this reporter did, you'd have a hard time squaring what you saw with the revisionism of Republicans who raged at their convention about the Democratic "hatefest."
One of the complaints of Democratic delegates in Boston was that they were not getting enough "red meat" criticism of George W. Bush's maladministration and the Republican Congress. Speakers spent more time bragging on John Kerry than tearing down Bush. Most of the attacks on Bush were reasoned criticisms. The keynote address by Barack Obama, the US Senate nominee from Illinois, celebrated the nation's unity. Compare that with US Sen. Zell Miller's angry denunciation at the Republican convention of his former friend, John Kerry, and the Democratic Party.
Most American voters didn't watch either convention. Neilsen Media Research reported that 24.4 million viewers watched John Kerry's speech July 29 on the six commercial networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News and MSNBC -- Nielsen doesn't record ratings for PBS or C-SPAN). Republicans did a little better, as Bush's acceptance speech drew 27.6 million viewers. Broadcast executives were embarrassed that Fox News pulled more viewers than the broadcast networks for the GOP show, but the networks would still get a bigger crowd to watch a "reality" show or a sitcom than a political convention.
When it comes to framing a debate, the GOP convention speakers repeatedly showed they don't intend to "play fair." They play fast and loose with the facts, they throw dirt at a prodigious pace and they usually win their bet that the mainstream news media won't consistently hold them to account.
Republicans and their Republocrat brethren such as Zell Miller are so unused to being called on their distortions that Miller appeared confused after his "keynote address" when he was challenged by CNN's Judy Woodruff on his claims that Kerry had voted against weapons systems when Dick Cheney, as defense secretary, had opposed many of the same systems. Miller bluffed that he had "more documentation here than the Library of Congress and the New York Public Library put together on" Kerry's votes, but he couldn't comment on Cheney's positions. After condemning Kerry for saying that US troops were occupying Iraq, Miller was informed by CNN's Jeff Greenfield that Bush also has referred to US forces in Iraq as occupiers. "I don't know if the president of the United States uses those words, but I know Senator Kennedy and Senator Kerry have used them on several occasions," Miller replied.
Later, when MSNBC's Chris Matthews also challenged him on his talking points, Miller blew up. "I wish we lived in the day when you could challenge a person to a duel. Now that would be pretty good," he said before he quit the interview.
C-SPAN, an indispensible resource during the convention, aired Miller's keynote address at the 1992 Democratic convention, also in Madison Square Garden, when he criticized Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr. and praised Bill Clinton and the Democratic Party that helped to lift him from poverty and made him governor and later senator from Georgia. Miller's Senate website had the text of his March 1, 2001, introduction of Kerry at the Georgia Democratic Party's Jefferson-Jackson Dinner as "one of this nation's authentic heroes, one of this party's best-known and greatest leaders &endash; and a good friend" who "has fought against government waste and worked hard to bring some accountability to Washington." Nowadays, Zig Zag Zell has nothing but bile for the party and his colleagues, singling out Kerry and Ted Kennedy for savaging.
Miller's graceless betrayal of Kerry and his party brought to mind Sam Houston's classic put-down of Thomas Jefferson Green, who broke with Houston, then governor, to lead the Texas campaign for secession: "He has all the characteristics of a dog except for loyalty," Houston said. (Of course, the people in Texas sided with Green. History sided with Houston.)
Republicans apparently had second thoughts about Miller's harsh keynote speech, as he was nowhere to be found the following night when Bush appeared. The Democrats should run ads featuring some of the most egregious clips from Miller's speech as well as other lowlights from the GOP convention.
At least some media have started to note discrepancies in the Republican claims. The Associated Press, the New York Times and the Washington Post all ran fact-checking stories the day after Bush's speech in which they found him and his compatriots wanting in the truth-and-full-disclosure department. (For details, see "The Three Kings Find Gold," 9/3/04 at campaigndesk.org, a project of the Columbia Journalism Review.)
In one instance, the GOP mockery of Kerry's statement that he had voted against defense appropriations for the Iraq war, which he also voted for, was easily explainable: Kerry voted for an alternative bill that would have paid for the appropriation by raising taxes on the wealthy rather than through deficit spending, Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting noted. (See "If Only They Had Invented the Internet," 9/3/04 at fair.org.) Bush himself threatened to veto the Iraq spending bill if the reconstruction aid for Iraq it included was in the form of loans rather than grants; by Republican logic, that meant Bush "flip-flopped" exactly the same way that Kerry did, FAIR noted.
Bush showed his contempt for the electorate in his acceptance speech by combining promises for new spending initiatives, such as college grants, rural health centers and tax subsidies for medical expenses with proposals to make the tax credits for the rich permanent and to divert payroll taxes from the Social Security and Medicare trust funds. Bush proposed to simplify the tax code, but he has no proposal for tax simplification, other than a willingness to take a look at a federal sales tax to replace the income tax. That would be a disaster for working people as well as the middle class.
AP also noted that Bush "took some license" in telling Americans that Kerry would increase taxes. In fact, Kerry proposes to restore taxes on the richest Americans but would keep the tax cuts for everyone else and even cut taxes for some of the middle class. On education, Bush voiced an inherent contradiction with his stout support for local control of education while promising to toughen federal standards that override local decision-making.
As for Bush's claim that his actions have made the world safer, NBC noted Sept. 3 that terrorist attacks have risen dramatically worldwide since 9/11. "Of the roughly 2,929 terrorism-related deaths around the world since the attacks on New York and Washington, the NBC News analysis shows 58% of them -- 1,709 -- have occurred this year. In the past 10 days, in fact, the number of dead has risen by 142 people in places as diverse as Russia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Israel."
This year the Swift Boat Liars are only the first assault on Kerry and the Democrats. Next, an "independent" group calling itself MoveonforAmerica.org plans to air ads implying Kerry is a criminal coddler and drug pusher because of defendants he represented in court. We bet they won't mention the criminals he put in prison when he was a prosecutor. (To add to the insult, the name rips off the liberal group Moveon.org.)
Why do Republicans use these tactics? Because they work. They will continue to do so until we, the voters, convince them that we are not as dumb as they think we are. Democrats need a big turnout of working people, women, blacks, Hispanics, the poor and young people on Nov. 2. They must not be diverted or discouraged from voting or turned away on some pretext when they go to the polls, as many Republican election officials seem determined to do. -- JMC