Rebels without a cause

NEW YORK, NEW YORK–The loudest cheer during President Bush’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention last Thursday was not in response to anything he said. The crowd got most rowdy when a few Secret Service agents hauled a protester off the convention floor.

The delegates, alternates and guests all chanted “Four more years” with full-throated passion each of the times someone disrupted Bush’s speech. A hearty applause filled the arena when the agents finally dragged these anti-Bush protesters into the bowels of Madison Square Garden.

And “anti-Bush” is the only apt term for the agitators and protesters who infiltrated the Garden and filled the streets of New York last week. The marchers’ signs and yells dealt with every imaginable issue, but they had one theme: George W. Bush.

“Bush lied us into war,” they chanted. “George Bush wants me dead because I’m queer,” shouted one college girl who could easily be pretty. “Bush is silencing me,” was one of my favorite signs, especially when held by the guy who started the chant, “Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Fox News has got to go!”

Almost all of these protesters, according to a survey by the New York Sun, will vote for John Kerry in November. Kerry voted for the war and for the PATRIOT ACT, the two most offensive actions taken by this President in the eyes of the protesters. John Kerry is nearly as in bed with big businesses and special interests as is Bush. Kerry is richer and more entrenched in the elite. It’s been written a hundred times, but the protesters are driven by little more than a personal hatred of the smirking Texan.

But boy, are they driven. Estimates had a quarter-million angry people marching up 7th Avenue last Sunday. While I don’t know about the numbers, I do know first hand about the anger.

Our cabbie refused to take my boss and me anywhere near Midtown, and so we were forced to take the subway. When we got off at 33rd street and had to walk a block, dozens of protesters peeling away from the march walked down the street past us.

I never knew, when I took my current job, that it would involve being Bob Novak’s body guard as angry peace-protesters shouted threats at him. “You belong in jail,” shouted one of the more friendly fans. “Zeik Heil,” one tired protester cleverly yelled at Novak.

Such passion, despite the clear contradictions and conflict in message and mission, has got to be worrisome to the Bush campaign. The left is unified, and John Kerry does not have to worry about his base. In Boston, one delegate explained to me that this was the key to Kerry’s victory–Kerry’s base was shored up, while Bush’s wasn’t.

Sure enough, Bush has alienated conservatives to the point that many may not vote, or will vote for a third-party candidate. Delegates I spoke to in New York were displeased with Bush’s overspending. Conservatives at the GOP platform hearings the week before the convention were angry that they were steamrolled on their efforts to call for greater border control, a smaller federal role in education, and less federal funding for research on human embryos.

But these protesters may have solved that problem. The GOP delegates who were supportive of Bush when they arrived on Sunday night were radicalized behind him over four days by the sight of the left’s face.

Because Kerry is mostly similar on most issues, and because Bush is less than perfect, many Republicans haven’t seen this election as dire.

But the anger of the left–shouting “get out of our city,” “you belong in jail,” and calling for the abolition of right-of-center voices on television–was enough to make any conservative fearful. Would these people have any say if the Democrats took over? And what would they do to us?

It only takes a couple more steps for the mind to recall Janet Reno’s ruthlessness, Clinton’s abuse of IRS audits and FBI files. Think of the laws in Europe that punish “hate-speech,” (which would include much Christian teaching on homosexual behavior) and consider activist leftist judges who would like to create such laws here. All of a sudden, this election matters.

But at this point, anyone concerned with our nation’s political health will despair. We have one party whose essence is hatred of the president. We have another whose base is largely driven by fear of the haters on the other side.

It is true that the nation is split down the middle, but it’s sometimes hard to say what the split is all about. I saw a telling scene as the protesters marched by my hotel last Sunday afternoon.

First, before I left the hotel, C-SPAN interviewed a Catholic priest who was marching. He opposed the war because the Pope opposed it, and so he was marching. The interviewer asked him about abortion. Like a trained politician, this priest stayed on message: “I’m pro-life, which means I oppose the bombing of innocent Iraqi children.”

At the same time, there was a counter-protester on the corner of 33rd and 7th. He was holding a post with signs that read “Defend Life” and “Choose Life” and “I Vote Pro-Life.”

He elicited some angry yells from women telling him to keep his laws off their bodies (never mind that “choose life” is an entirely pro-choice sign). One protester shouted at him: “War isn’t pro-life. War kills, too.”

The counter-protester responded, “I oppose the war, too.”

So the priest and this man agreed on the issues, but they were on opposite sides of the fence. This is not to suggest Red America and Blue America are really no different. It is to say that the battle lines are curiously drawn.

Fierce dedication or opposition to a party seems an odd thing when we reflect on how vacuous the parties actually are. The Bush-Cheney campaign, through heavy-handed central management, transformed the party’s platform from a statement of principles into a Bush campaign document. (Gotta stay on message. Gotta stay on message.)

The Democratic platform is even more vague.

Bush won in 2000 because he kissed Oprah on the cheek. He is trying to win 2004 because he put his arm around a fire chief.

Kerry thinks he deserves to be president because he spent four months in Vietnam 30 years ago. Nearly half the country agrees because Bush mispronounces “nuclear.”

Two parties without substance have each commanded the allegiance or enmity of half the country.

Conservative writers point out that there is no consistency in the leftist protesters’ message. Sadly, the governing party of our country is guilty of the same crime.

The “anti-globalists” want more UN power. Bush says the people know how to spend money better than the government and then brags about increasing government spending.

The convention was brilliantly crafted, and so Bush supporters have reason to be confident. For those concerned with our political well being as a Republic, New York held a darker omen.

Tim Carney is a reporter for the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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