New York City
Dick Cheney sits just a few rows in front of me in Madison Square Garden. Thousands of Republicans pump there fists, yelling "woo, woo, woo" as Rudy Giuliani disgraces the memories of our dead neighbors in his partisan rant on 9/11 -- a skilled rant filled with the lies we've come to expect -- but it was almost a comfort to have any residual positive feelings I retained for Rudy from his unifying role on 9/11 dissolve as he laundered that goodwill into partisan bile.
Having marched with the hundreds of thousands of protesters on the Sunday before the Republican National Convention, it was almost surreal to be sitting in the stands at the convention, courtesy of a press pass for The Progressive Populist. But heck, it couldn't be stranger than for Michael Moore, whom John McCain referred to as a "disingenuous filmmaker," leading the crowd to drown him out in roars as they pointed at Moore sitting in the press gallery. Moore smiled and tipped his hat to the crowd, soon leaving for the TV interviews that would have to follow.
Bushian Lies: The lies of that first night, like those to follow, were that skilled Bushian variety. Any individual sentence is merely exaggerated or bent just a little, but paragraphs are constructed to convey ideas that are complete lies. The classic is of course the one arguing that we needed to respond to 9/11. We had to defeat al Qaeda, so we had to go to Afghanistan. And of course we had to fight terror by Saddam Hussein, making a link that has been repeatedly proven to be a lie. Or better yet, we had Rudy's comment that Saddam Hussein was himself a weapon of mass destruction, a way to repeat a lie by metaphor and refuse to apologize for the lie.
Or we had the man from the Justice Department who defended the PATRIOT Act. He attacked critics for saying that the PATRIOT Act allowed searches of peoples' homes without informing them of the search. He said that was untrue, since judges had to issue warrants. That nonsequitor, seeming to refute the charge, of course did nothing of the sort, since the truth remains that the PATRIOT Act requires only that judges be informed of a search, not the person whose home is searched.
The height of these lies were of course Zell Miller's neo-McCarthyite rant on Wednesday night of the convention. Miller complained about the "politicization" of foreign policy and even evoked the time of Franklin Roosevelt as a model, but ignored that Roosevelt went out of his way to include leaders of the opposition party in the leadership of the wars he fought. And Roosevelt shelved his domestic policy initiatives in order to build bipartisanship. Bush has rammed partisan policies on both foreign policy and domestic policy down the opposition throats -- from stripping union rights from Homeland Security government workers to tax cuts for the wealthy -- and Zell and Bush then complain that the Dems haven't played nice.
Weakness of Bush Policies: It's a testament to how weak their arguments are that the GOPers won't make an honest case. Why not just say they are willing to trade off some civil liberties for greater security? It's a reasonable, intellectually defensible position, but one they know they would lose. So they lie.
Or they can't just say it was good to remove Hussein because he was a dictator, a very reasonable position, since they know many will say, "Couldn't that goal have been accomplished with less destruction of Iraq or casualties by our troops?"
So we had the spectacle of lies at the RNC.
The negative attacks on Kerry, from the "Swift Boat" propagandists to the distortions of Kerry's position on Iraq, are all part of the package. Us so-called "Bush haters" don't have to attack Bush as a person, because we can name policy after policy we disagree with. But the Bush people know that Kerry's real position on the war -- it was necessary to put pressure on Hussein, but Bush screwed up the execution with his rush to war and failure to build broad alliances -- is the position most Americans agree with. So they have to lie about Kerry's position and make him out to have changed his mind.
The Bush campaign can't discuss domestic issues in depth, since they know on health care and taxes and jobs, Kerry's positions are more in tune with the country. They can't discuss the environment, since they know Kerry's positions are more popular. They can't mention civil rights given Bush's laxness in enforcement and promotion of antigay policies.
So that leaves lies and the politicization of the 9/11 dead.
Responding to the lies: Not that those lies don't work, as the post-convention "bounce" showed, and the Bush people know how to promote them with skill and efficiency. But they are also vulnerable to any real discussion of the issues, where one-on-one human contact with voters can refocus the campaign on the real issues facing the campaign.
Which means that in the final weeks of the election, everyone needs to assist in that voter contact and mobilization. Even if you're in a "safe" state for either candidate, groups like America Coming Together are organizing efforts in those states to phone voters in the swing states.
Human contact with voters in the end is the best method to clear out the media haze of Bush's lies.
Nathan Newman is a lawyer and longtime union and community activist. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or see www.nathannewman.org.