By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
Photo by Ted Soqui
NEW YORK— I’ve always wondered what Paris was like during the Occupation, and being in Manhattan this week may be the closest I’ll ever come to finding out. The streets are eerily depopulated, the security apparatus is inescapable — cops stand guard both outside and inside my hotel — and the locals often behave as if they belong to some imaginary, whimsical underground. When I joked about the Republican invasion to the bellboy, his obligatory surliness melted and he gave me a Gallic shrug then a sly, complicit smile. Vive la résistance!
Although protesters keep assailing the president with verve and unexpected wit — I’m especially partial to Billionaires for Bush’s mocking chant “Four more wars!” — many New Yorkers view the election with a sense of impending doom tinged with big-city snobbery: Those red-state idiots are going to win again. On Monday evening I gave a talk in SoHo, and afterward, members of the audience kept asking if I thought it was possible that Kerry might win — an astonishing defeatism, considering that polls show the race to be dead even. Talking to liberals here, you encounter the fearful perception that the Democratic campaign has floundered. On the hustings, Kerry has been unable to define what he stands for, spending weeks trapped in a 35-year-old swift boat; out in the larger world, bad news about Iraq and the U.S. economy has been overshadowed by the patriotic swell produced by Olympic gold medals, victories that are always good for the incumbent (which is why Jimmy Carter was so dumb to have pulled the U.S. out of the games when he was running against Reagan). Republican delegates arrived in New York giddy about that L.A. Times poll that showed Bush pulling ahead very slightly in key swing states, and the party now believes it is moving in for the kill. It’s not for nothing that Bush recently boasted to Time, “I’m the guy making history.”
Of course, under the guidance of that hairless Rasputin, Karl Rove, GOP conventions have turned into a media-savvy form of Potemkin Village. Back in 2000, when Dubya wanted to seem a compassionate conservative, the Philadelphia convention offered an endless parade of African-Americans. There were so many black faces onstage and so many white ones in the audience that, depending on your level of cynicism, the whole thing resembled an NBA game or a minstrel show. This year offers a slightly different form of bait and switch. Although the Republican Party is run by radical right-wingers — 85 percent of delegates think the federal government should not do more to protect the environment and worker safety — it’s busy feigning moderation. To soften his image, Bush has begun admitting to some “miscalculations” about Iraq and saying the War on Terror isn’t winnable (an uncharacteristically sensible statement that the Democrats proceeded to attack). The New York Times’ house neocon David Brooks keeps assuring readers that Republican congressmen who reject the theory of evolution are actually less benighted than one might think. And Rove’s flunkies made sure that Monday and Tuesday’s key prime-time speakers were not ideological werewolves like Tom DeLay but men’s men who might appeal to swing voters: Giuliani, John McCain and our own Gubna Schwarzenegger, who, as twinkly-eyed Pat Buchanan noted, is a real star, not just a famous politician.
For all their differences, this prime-time troika has three things in common. All have reputations for being moderate (by GOP standards, anyway). All are mistrusted, if not actively disliked, by the party faithful, who tolerate their pre-eminence on the stage as a purely tactical maneuver. And all three dream of being president — even Ahnold, who yearns for a constitutional amendment that will allow an Austrian Oak to be planted in the White House. To have any hope of fulfilling their ambitions, they know they must demonstrate their loyalty by coming out big for Bush. If they back him and he loses, so much the better. If they don’t back him and he wins, they’re toast.
McCain and Giuliani appeared on Monday (a.k.a. Terror Night), when the convention didn’t just trot out memories of 9/11 but milked them like a herd of prize Holsteins. The Arizona senator is widely admired for his freewheeling maverick style — he made a high-spirited guest host on Saturday Night Live — so it was depressing to watch him throw away his reputation for integrity by publicly praising a president he privately thinks doesn’t have any. (And to think they call John Kerry a flip-flopper.) McCain’s speech may have impressed some pundits — The Boston Herald’s Mike Barnicle said the senator’s endorsement of Bush was a certificate of quality — yet few things are sadder than a man selling his soul to the devil and getting nothing in return. Conservatives will never allow McCain to become the Republican nominee — he has, after all, pilloried the Christian right — and liberals who once admired him will dislike him for behaving just like any other political hack. Of course, by now the left should be accustomed to being let down by the likes of McCain, Bob Dole and Colin Powell, alluring figures who appear to be less partisan and more authentic than their fellow Republicans — until push comes to shove. Then they toe the party line as docilely as the dimmest first-termer from the Texas panhandle. After all, it’s the habit of obedience that made them choose the GOP in the first place.