By William Fisher
The Republican convention gets my vote as the most expensive and deceptive bait-and-switch Un-Reality TV show of the year.
Before the TV networks turned on the switch, we heard from the "right wing" of the party, which adopted a platform embodying its "core principals": anti-abortion, anti-stem cell research, no gun control, prayer in schools, and so forth.
Then, in TV primetime, we had three superstars who obviously got confused and showed up at the wrong venue: Messrs. Giuliani (former mayor of New York City), Schwartzenegger (governor of California), and Pataki (governor of New York). All pro-life, all pro-stem cell, some even in favor of gun control. Imagine that!
Then, we had an even softer face of the party in the person of the president's wife, Laura, telling us how compassionate her husband really is.
Then we had the week's most vitriolic voice: Senator Zell Miller, a disaffected Democrat from the deep south, whose outrageous rhetoric made the next speaker, Vice President Dick Cheney, sound positively like a Sunday school teacher.
And, finally, came the president, who gave us a look at where America has been and where it's going.
A few examples:
"Soon every senior will be able to get prescription drug coverage, and nothing will hold us back. (We cut taxes and acted, so) our economy is growing again and creating jobs."
Fact: US economic growth has been worse than anemic, and the president would have to create 900,000 jobs a month between now and the election to avoid the worst record since Herbert Hoover just before the Great Depression of 1929. Last quarter, some 135,000 net new jobs were created. And most of these paid less than the ones workers lost. Much of the Bush tax cut benefited those who need them least.
"The story of America is the story of expanding liberty: an ever-widening circle."
Fact: America today is not "the story of expanding liberty". It is a story of diminished civil liberties and too-frequently botched prosecutions.
"To create jobs my plan will encourage investment and expansion by restraining federal spending, reducing regulation and making the tax relief permanent."
Fact: President Bush, far from restraining spending, has run up a budget deficit of historic highs, which American children and grandchildren will be paying for generations to come.
"To create jobs, we will make our country less dependent on foreign sources of energy (we will) help workers take advantage of the expanding economy to find better and higher-paying jobs.”
Fact: If my memory is correct, lessening our dependence on foreign sources of energy was part of the president's acceptance speech four years ago. Since when, what has been done is absolutely nothing. And that's with the Republicans in charge of the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives.
"(We) must allow small firms to join together to purchase (health) insurance at the discounts available to big companies... we will make sure that health decisions are made by doctors and patients, not by bureaucrats in Washington, DC."
Fact: The president's prescription drug "discount plan" is a gross act of public deception. Discounts will be minuscule. And the president would allow small business to "join together to purchase (health) insurance at the discounts available to big companies”, even though Bush's so-called health care initiative specifically bars the federal government from using its enormous purchasing power to negotiate with the drug companies for lower prices. Under the president's health care plan, decisions are not being made by doctors and patients; they are being made by drug manufacturers and insurance companies. Big money contributors all.
(And on education): "We are transforming our schools by raising standards and focusing on results."
Fact: The president — joined by liberal Senator Ted Kennedy — launched his "No Child Left Behind" education program to improve the quality of education — and then failed to fully fund it. The knowledge gained by American children remains near the bottom compared with test scores in virtually all advanced economies. A large proportion of US kids can't show you Mexico or Canada on a map!
But the president left his choicest remarks for the war on terror. He wrapped himself in Sept. 11 and declared: "We have fought the terrorists across the earth. We have tripled funding for homeland security and trained half a million first responders. We are transforming our military and reforming and strengthening our intelligence services. We are staying on the offensive, striking terrorists abroad so we do not have to face them here at home. And we are working to advance liberty in the broader Middle East because freedom will bring a future of hope and the peace we all want. Because we acted to defend our country, the murderous regimes of Saddam Hussein and the Taleban are history, more than 50 million people have been liberated and democracy is coming to the broader Middle East.
"We are serving a vital and historic cause that will make our country safer. Free societies in the Middle East will be hopeful societies, which no longer feed resentments and breed violence for export. Free governments in the Middle East will fight terrorists instead of harboring them, and that helps us keep the peace."
America's crusader-in-chief uttered not a word about Iran, nor about North Korea, whose threats are far graver than any the US ever faced from Iraq. Nor did he have anything to say about Afghanistan's return to the title of number one poppy-grower-to-the-world, nor about the pathetic non-planning for the Iraqi post-war, nor about the chaos that persists in both these places, nor of the ever-rising body count, nor of the hatred for US policy generated in the Middle East by its lopsided Israel policy and its ham-handed introduction of its Greater Middle East Initiative, nor about the findings of the Sept. 11 Commission or the slam-dunk intelligence that gave us the rationale for invading Iraq.
In this political theatre of the absurd, facts are mere inconvenient obstacles in the path of White House speechwriters.
One final word: A favorite construct of the president and his advisors is "striking terrorists abroad (means) we do not have to face them here at home". If there is some occult logic in this, it eludes me. The president needs to know that terrorists are multitaskers.
Before the convention began, columnist David Ignatius wrote: "Bush, who has defined himself through his role as a "wartime president", has a special responsibility this convention week to explain how (the war on terrorism) is going — and what strategy he will pursue if he wins a second term. Bush's rival, John Kerry, owes the country the same clarity."
In the event, the American people got neither from either. They deserve better.
The writer has managed economic development programs in the Middle East for the US State Department and the US Agency for International Development, and served in the international affairs area in the Kennedy administration.