Bush Agenda Is AWOL

While aides say that Bush will present a a detailed second-term agenda in his nomination speech, viewers are likely to find themselves questioning the president's sincerity. Will we see the tax-cutting George Bush who seeks severe restrictions on stem cell research, a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, and who is working to replace the IRS tax code with a national consumption tax?

Or will he be someone else?

Like the rest of this year's chaotic and increasingly disingenuous Republican presidential campaign, it appears the Republican National Convention will be carefully crafted to attract and reassure millions of moderate Republicans and independents. These supporters were attracted to George Bush's 2000 mantra of "compassionate conservatism," and who now wonder whether to continue trusting in a vision that has yet to materialize.

These are votes the President desperately needs to win re-election in the Fall. And one thing voters can be certain of – when this president is desperate he will do whatever is necessary to achieve his ultimate goal.

That is why television viewers will be served up significant portions of shameless bait and switch, presented by moderate keynote speakers who are a pale reflection of this administration's hard line neoconservative agenda. Moderate surrogates who seek to soften and reinterpret the train wreck that has been the last three and a half years of George Bush's presidency.

The four-day $100 million infomercial has been designed to advance the image of a strong and compassionate leader who has nothing but the best interests of the American people in his heart. The gallant commander-in-chief who is this nation's most impenetrable shield against the worldwide threat of mindless terror. A president who has reinvigorated the American economy, strengthened health care and education, and provided limitless opportunities for millions of Americans seeking a better life.

The RNC prime-time lineup is filled with faces one will not normally associate with the daily operations of the Bush administration. Scheduled for prominent speaking appearances are: former Democrat and New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg; ongoing national spokesperson for pro-choice organizations and moderate Republicans Rudolph Giuliani; Republican voice of reason and integrity, Senator John McCain; pro-choice, pro-gay, and increasingly bipartisan California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger; and opponent to the President's constitutional amendment banning gay marriage Lynne Cheney.

Equally significant is the fact that convention organizers have sidelined prominent evangelical Christian leaders – voices they worry could polarize an already tight presidential race.

Longtime Bush supporter the Reverend Jerry Falwell did not seem troubled by the seemingly deliberate oversight. Speaking on CNN Falwell said, "I just believe George Bush is as fine a president as we've had in my lifetime. If condemning him will help him, I'll condemn him; if applauding him will help him, I'll applaud him. All I care is that he is back in the White House in November."

John Green, a specialist in religion and politics at the University of Akron, said that after decades of activism in Republican national politics, conservative Christians are now party insiders with major influence and power who do not require a specific and highly visible role at a national political convention.

In the mid 1990s, as National Communications Director for the Republican Coalition for Choice, I worked with thousands of other traditional party members to fight the emergence of what we now know as the neoconservative agenda.

The tool our opponents used so effectively was a weapon they learned from Bush friend and mentor Lee Atwater – stealth. Work invisibly, say whatever needs to be said, and when the occasion demands call upon nameless, faceless surrogates to do your dirty work for you.

Atwater protege and Bush political advisor Karl Rove learned well from his old boss. If transparent dishonesty and insincerity advance the team's agenda then Rove will do whatever is required.

Never mind that Lynne Cheney has opposed the president's constitutional amendment banning gay marriage saying, "...[P]eople should be free to enter into any relationship they choose.... to recognize that has been historically what the situation has been, and that when it comes to conferring legal status on the relationships that is best left up to the states."

Or that Senator John McCain has called on the president to specifically condemn the "dishonest and dishonorable ads" attacking Senator John Kerry's Vietnam war record, only to have White House spokesman Scott McClellan decline to do so, saying the president "deplores all that unregulated soft-money stuff."

Or that self-described "compassionate libertarian" Arnold Schwarzenegger defends gay rights saying, "I have no sexual standards in my head that say that this is good and this is bad. Homosexual only means to me that he enjoys sex with a man and I enjoy sex with a woman. It is all legitimate to me."

These voices do not align well with this administration's track record. But no matter, in the end it's the message and the image – not reality or truth.

Protests don't even seem to be a concern to Republican leaders. Opening night speaker New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has figured out a way to make a profit on the protesters he anticipates descending on his city. Saying that, "It's no fun to protest on an empty stomach," the mayor is offering "peaceful political activists" discounts at select hotels, museums, stores and restaurants around New York City.

And, one senior convention organizer said in a New York Times story, "You know the protesters are going to be here. You know they're going to be a story. I look at that as a wave: not a wave to stand in front of, but a wave you have got to ride and take advantage of."

The unaswered question is whether Americans suffering from economic and unemployment worries at home and deep concerns over George Bush's interventionist foreign policies abroad will be fooled by the Republicans' shameless abuse of the truth.

It is a cynical strategy that has worked well for them repeatedly in the past. What's to keep it from working now?

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