Republicans Wrap McCain in the Flag and Run Away from Bush
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Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, who left the Democratic Party over his hawkish support of the war in Iraq during his 2006 re-election, addressed the nation from the Republican National Convention and urged Democrats and independents to elect Republican John McCain, saying such a choice would put country before party.
"I ask you whether you are an Independent, a Reagan Democrat or a Clinton Democrat, or just a Democrat: This year, when you vote for President, vote for the person you believe is best for the country, not for the party you happen to belong to," Lieberman said. "You may be thinking of voting for John McCain but you're not sure. Some of you have never voted for a Republican before and in an ordinary election, you probably wouldn't. But this is no ordinary election, because these are not ordinary times, and John McCain is no ordinary candidate."
Lieberman's speech capped the opening night of the Republican National Convention, where numerous speakers emphasized military service and sacrifice, and courageous if not maverick leadership, as the qualities best needed in the next president. While those qualities matched McCain's life story and were ascribed to his vice-presidential choice, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, they also underscored how the president's party feels it must distance itself from the current Republican president's record to win in November.
"John is an independent man who thinks for himself," said President Bush, speaking by video from the White House, where he was monitoring the response to Hurricane Gustav. Even the president sought to emphasize how McCain would not follow in his footsteps. "He's not afraid to tell you when he disagrees. Believe me, I know."
The opening night of the Republican National Convention was postponed by one day in deference to the hurricane threatening the Gulf Coast. On Monday, both the president and vice-president were slated to speak but canceled those appearances. Monday evening's early speeches focused on the GOP's preferred definition of public service - serving in the military or law enforcement. Those speeches did not discuss any domestic issues.
Fred Thompson, the former presidential candidate, Tennessee Senator and actor, gave the strongest speech extolling McCain's character and opened the attacks on Obama.
"If you want to know who John McCain is, if you want to know what John McCain values, look at the men and women who wear the uniform today," Thompson said. "Now being a POW (prisoner of war) doesn't qualify anyone to be president, but it does reveal character. This is the kind of character that civilizations since the beginning of time have sought in their leaders."
He attacked Obama for speaking to an estimated 200,000 people in Germany, in "a speech designed to appeal to America's critics abroad." Thompson called Obama "the most liberal, inexperienced nominee ever to run for president." He also said Democrats would raise taxes on businesses, increasing costs for necessities for everyday Americans. Thompson also praised Palin as a political maverick, whose instincts mirrored McCain's. Concluding, he said his "role tonight" was to describe "the man behind the vision" and not "the issues." He said America needs "a president who feels no need to apologize for the U.S.A."
Thompson followed President Bush, who was introduced by First Lady Laura Bush. Her introduction, from the podium in St. Paul, included what was may have been the shortest summary of the accomplishments of a two-term president at any recent convention.
Laura Bush cited the president's accomplishments as: the "most important educational reforms in a generation," referring to the No Child Left Behind Law; appointing Supreme Court judges "who respect the Constitution;" creating "faith-based partnerships" between government and religious organizations; helping nearly 2 million Africans receive medicine for AIDS; helping to protect millions of African children from malaria; helping "50 million people" in Iraq and Afghanistan to live "in freedom;" and keeping "America safe" from further terrorist attacks after 9/11.
Lieberman's speech did not have the aggressive fire of the last prominent Democrat to speak at a Republican Convention, former Georgia Governor and U.S. Senator, Zell Miller, who criticized the 2004 Democratic nominee, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA). But Lieberman described his 20-year friendship and Senate service with McCain and unambiguously said that Obama was unfit to be the next commander in chief.
"Why I am here tonight," the 2000 Democratic vice-presidential nominee began. "What, after all, is a Democrat like me doing at a Republican convention like this? The answer is simple. I'm here to support John McCain because country matters more than party.
"I'm here tonight because John McCain is the best choice to bring our country together and lead our country forward. I'm here because John McCain's whole life testifies to a great truth: being a Democrat or a Republican is important. But it is not more important than being an American."
Lieberman said both presidential nominees "talk about changing the culture of Washington but only one of them has actually done it," referring to McCain.
"I have personally seen John, over and over again, bring people together from both parties to tackle our toughest problems we face -- to reform our campaign finance, lobbying and ethics laws, to create the 9/11 Commission and pass its critical national security reforms, and to end the partisan paralysis over judicial confirmations," he said. "My Democratic friends know all about John's record of independence and accomplishment. Maybe that's why some of them are spending so much time and so much money trying to convince voters that John McCain is someone else."
Lieberman said McCain was not a follower of anyone, especially the current president.
"If John McCain was just another go-along partisan politician, he never would have taken on corrupt Republican lobbyists, or big corporations that were cheating the American people, or powerful colleagues in Congress who were wasting taxpayer money. But he did," Lieberman said. "If John McCain was just another go-along partisan politician, he never would have led the fight to fix our broken immigration system or to do something about global warming. But he did. As a matter of fact, if John McCain is just another partisan Republican, then I'm Michael Moore's favorite Democrat."
Then Lieberman attacked Obama.
"Sen. Obama is a gifted and eloquent young man who can do great things for our country in the years ahead," he said. "But eloquence is no substitute for a record -- not in these tough times. In the Senate he has not reached across party lines to get anything significant done, nor has he been willing to take on powerful interest groups in the Democratic Party."
"Contrast that to John McCain's record, or the record of the last Democratic President, Bill Clinton, who stood up to some of those same Democratic interest groups and worked with Republicans to get important things done like welfare reform, free trade agreements, and a balanced budget," Lieberman continued.
The former Democratic Senator then said McCain was right and Obama was wrong on the war in Iraq.
"When others were silent, John McCain had the judgment to sound the alarm about the mistakes we were making in Iraq," Lieberman said. "When others wanted to retreat in defeat from the field of battle, when Barack Obama was voting to cut off funding for our troops on the ground, John McCain had the courage to stand against the tide of public opinion and support the surge, and because of that, today, our troops are at last beginning to come home, not in failure, but in honor!"
Lieberman then turned to the television cameras to speak directly to Democrats and political independents.
"Before I conclude, I ask the indulgence of those in this hall tonight, as I want to speak directly to my fellow Democrats and Independents who are watching," he said. "I know many of you are angry and frustrated by our government and our politics and for good reason Vote for the leader who, since the age of 17, when he raised his hand and took an oath to defend and protect our Constitution, has always put our country first.
"So, let's come together to make a great American patriot our next great President!"
Steven Rosenfeld is a senior fellow at Alternet.org. He is author of " Count My Vote: A Citizen's Guide to Voting " (AlterNet Books, 2008) and co-author of " What Happened in Ohio: A Documentary Record of Theft and Fraud in the 2004 Election ," with Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman (The New Press, 2006).