Unmitigated Gall

Stephen Colbert, correspondent for "The Daily Show," the only news program to watch during the Republican convention, found the theme of this convention like a homing pigeon: "Unmitigated gall."

This convention alone would be enough to convince me that John Edwards is right about "two Americas," except I don't think he's gone far enough. These folks are in from another planet. They're living in an alternative reality. When is a fact a fact to these people? When did anyone ever find evidence Saddam Hussein had dog to do with Sept. 11?

It's all very well to claim our invasion of Iraq may yet bring about peace and democracy in the Middle East – hey, miracles happen – but when Rudy Giuliani assured us this "idealism" is in fact triumphing as he speaks, one must question the man's grip on sanity. Even the president is now claiming the disastrous occupation is the result of "catastrophic success." That seems to mean he thinks we won the war too fast.

Speaking of what Bush means, what a dumb flap over his obviously accidental misstatement that we can't win the war against terrorism. As I have often noted, even when Bush misspeaks you can usually tell what he meant to say. This little doozy was "clearified" the next day – on that mighty organ of reliable information, The Rush Limbaugh Show – only to be followed by Democrats chanting, "Flip-flop."

That level of stupefying pettiness over nothing should be legally limited to Republicans. Meanwhile, note that Bush is back to being "a war president." Just a few weeks ago, he was going around claiming to be "the peace president" every 10 minutes, after months of claiming to be "a war president." So that makes the new shift a flip-flip-flop.

One of my favorite moments of non-reality came from Education Secretary Rod Paige, formerly school superintendent in Houston, where the stats on student performance have been so badly twisted it is now a national scandal. It was Compassion Night at Madison Square Garden, so we were celebrating Republican domestic achievements, a short list unless you just make stuff up, such as, "All across America, test scores are rising, students are learning, the achievement gap is closing, teachers and principals are beaming with pride." Now you tell me if this guy is living in Never Never Land.

The party platform, written in large part by Phyllis Schafly and her Eagle Forum, condemns stem cell research, women's right to decide whether to bear a child under any circumstances, and gay people. Just as a historical curiosity, I present the fact that at the Republican Convention in New Orleans in 1988, Mrs. Schafly gave a party with the theme "Let the Good Times Roll," thus proving the enduring role of irony at political conventions.

The real theme of the convention is "George Bush Makes Us Safer," as dubious a proposition as Madonna's virginity. Tom Ridge is not only not speaking in primetime, he's not addressing this convention at all – he's a non-person. In the current issue of Mother Jones magazine is a must-read by Matthew Brzezinski called "Red Alert." The "pull quote" is: "It was billed as America's frontline defense against terrorism. But badly underfunded, crippled by special interests and ignored by the White House, the Department of Homeland Security has been relegated to bureaucratic obscurity."

Brzezinski reports, "... the administration's misplaced priorities – - particularly its obsession with Iraq – - have come at the expense of homeland security." What a mess. What a waste of money. What colossal ineptitude. It's so dispiriting to read about it, one can't even work up a Henry Higgins-like: "Safer? Ha!"

While I was prepared to listen to much rhetoric about Bush's stalwart firmness as he steers the ship of state in the wrong direction, I was startled to hear Giuliani try to make points over our falling out with so many allies.

Look, the Coalition of the Willing is a public embarrassment, a monument to diplomatic witlessness, not to mention open bribery. To blame others for our diplomatic failure is both fatuous and offensive. Then to repeat Bush's obnoxious little bully line, "You're either with us or you're with the terrorists," is both stupid and dangerous.

The perception that we lack a decent respect for the opinions of mankind itself contributes to terrorism. Why encourage Americans, many of whom are already dangerously xenophobic, to treat the arguments of other nations with contemptuous dismissal? Especially when so many of them have been proved right?

Loved the Schwarzenegger speech and apologize again for having accidentally misappropriated the wonderful line of Clive James', the Australian journalist: "He looks like a condom stuffed with walnuts."

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