On the eve of the Republican National Convention, anticipation and worry continue to build over the hundreds of thousands of anti-Bush protesters expected to swarm the streets of New York. While various groups are planning a spectrum of activities, from rousing the disenfranchised to rousing libidos, most attention and debate has been riveted on the prospect of violence.
For its part, the Bush campaign intends to tar John Kerry as responsible for any unsavory behavior in New York next week -- regardless of who is behind it. "Mr. Bush's advisers said they were girding for the most extensive street demonstrations at any political convention since the Democrats nominated Hubert H. Humphrey in Chicago in 1968," reported Adam Nagourney in Sunday's New York Times. "But in contrast to that convention, which was severely undermined by televised displays of street rioting, Republicans said they would seek to turn any disruptions to their advantage, by portraying protests by even independent activists as Democratic-sanctioned displays of disrespect for a sitting president."
Some on the political right have seized on the prospect of violence by fringe groups to portray all anti-Bush protesters in the ugliest possible light. Bernadette Malone, the former editorial page director of The Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News, is seething over what she believes will be a veritable plague of domestic terrorism.
"People who hate Republicans plan to release swarms of mice in New York City to terrorize delegates to the National Republican Convention. Republican-haters plan on dressing up as RNC volunteers, and giving false directions to little blue hair ladies from Kansas, sending them into the sectors of New York City that are unfit for human habitation. They plan on throwing pies and Lord knows what else at Republican visitors to the city. Prostitutes with AIDS plan to seduce Republican visitors, and discourage the use of condoms, according to liberal journalist Ted Rall.
"New York City is a place renowned for coddling no one -- tourists, babies, old people. And yet, its new mayor, a Boston transplant, plans to coddle these junior terrorists."
Malone scoffs at Mayor Bloomberg's initiative to encourage peaceful dissent by issuing official buttons entitling protesters to discounts at various city attractions.
"By wearing these buttons, and obtaining these nifty little discounts, the mice-releasers, pie-throwers and AIDS-spreaders are entering into an implicit agreement and the rest of society: 'Give me $5 off a chicken entree at Applebee's, and I promise not to terrorize you.' That oughtta work. Not."
She sees no distinction between anti-Bush demonstrators and Islamic militants.
"Perhaps the Department of Homeland Security should hand out buttons at the convention that say 'Peaceful Islamic Radical.' All the scary-looking guys with fertilizer on their shoes, wires coming out of their pockets, and duct-tape visible under their shirts can walk around with these buttons, enjoying nice-priced margaritas and reduced-admission live sex shows before they blow up Madison Square Garden."
And Malone says recent FBI harassment of protest organizers is perfectly justifiable -- and handily links any potential unrest to Kerry himself.
"Protestors are complaining already that the FBI is visiting them and sowing intimidation. Who cares? As long as theyre not planning to break the law, protestors should have no reason to fear inquiries from law enforcement officials.
"Bloomberg is calling for a sensitive war on protestor-terrorists, the way John Kerry is naively calling for a more sensitive war on international terrorists. Instead of manufacturing smiley-face buttons to pin on potentially unruly protestors, Bloomberg should be manufacturing plastic handcuffs."
Rupert Murdoch's right-wing tabloid the New York Post has done its share to fan fears of the protesters. Post reporter Stefan C. Friedman unleashed a lightning bolt on Monday, "Radicals Plot Bad Weather," citing a "top-level source" of some sort about the sinister return of infamous 1970s radicals:
"A number of extremists with ties to the 1970s radical Weather Underground have recently been released from prison and are in New York preparing to wreak havoc during the Republican National Convention, The Post has learned.
"A top-level source with extensive knowledge of police plans wouldn't disclose the names of the aging rabble-rousers but said a handful of them are already here and will play a behind-the-scenes role in attempting to disrupt the GOP gala."
The "aging rabble-rousers" may no longer have the gusto to take action themselves, says the Post, but they can still offer deadly know-how.
"'These people are trained in kidnapping techniques, bombmaking and building improvised munitions,' the source said. 'They've very bad people.' [sic]
"'They're not likely to take direct action,' the source continued, 'but they'll be orchestrating operations.' Originally called 'The Weathermen,' the anarchist organization came into existence in June 1969 as a radical splinter group of the Students for a Democratic Society. During a two-year stretch, the group bombed a number of high-profile government buildings, primarily to protest the Vietnam War and racism in America."
Apparently the revived Weathermen are more interested in targeting Bush than they are Kerry.
"While the group has been largely unheard from for more than 30 years, the release 'over the last two years' of anarchists tied to the Underground -- and their apparent willingness to return to their old ways -- has the NYPD tracking their every move. NYPD operatives spotted a few of the fanatics in Boston for the Democratic convention, but they are 'saving themselves' for New York, the source said."
Meanwhile, Post columnist Adam Brodsky argues that there should be a "protest for war" by imperiled but forgetful New Yorkers.
"Has America become suicidal -- or just lost its good sense? What about New York? Is this city of lawyers, insurers and investors no longer worried about terror? The Twin Towers were attacked and reduced to rubble not three years ago yet Americans, even New Yorkers, act like it was just some urban version of Hurricane Charley, eons ago. Unity is gone. Anger has turned inward.
"Many refuse to fight, even in self-defense. A willingness to cooperate with authorities, to make even small sacrifices for the cause of self-preservation, is woefully lacking for a major war, particularly a clandestine, terrorist war.
"Meanwhile, supposedly saner folk rush to defend the 'rights' of those who threaten havoc. A local judge orders limits on bag searches. The New York Times, based on 43rd Street, bemoans an outbreak of 'totalitarianism' -- because FBI agents ask protesters about plans for law-breaking. Democrats dismiss terror alerts as 'political.'"
Unlike the more levelheaded debate of the Vietnam era, argues Brodsky, America can't afford any pacifist dissent today.
"This is not the Vietnam War, on which reasonable people differed. This is a live, hot conflagration being waged by the enemy through sneak attacks. Right here on U.S. soil. It has already struck New York City. If ever there was a time for extraordinary measures, this is it.
"How fitting it would be if city natives held their own protests and spoke up for themselves, in support of an even tougher War on Terror, both at home and abroad. How satisfying to see locals, who have endured terror first-hand, step up and tell the pacifists to get with the program and defend America."
While demonstrators flock to the RNC in droves, there may be almost nil in the way of celebrities -- and that's a good thing, says Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Steyn.
"One of the most agreeable aspects of the Republican Party is that there's minimal risk of running into celebrities. At a Democratic political get-together, the only way to tell who the senators are is that they're the only two guys in the room you don't recognize: Everyone else is Meryl Streep, Bruce Springsteen, Barbra Streisand, Ben Affleck, the Dixie Chicks."
Steyn says Hollywood's A-list brings good cash but bad vibes.
"John Kerry's raised nearly 50 million bucks from Hollywood, and, short of divorcing Teresa and the pre-nup kicking in, he's not going to find that kind of money anywhere else. So he's obliged to go along with, for example, Whoopi Goldberg comparing President Bush with her own, ah, intimate areas, as she did at a recent all-star Kerry gala. Or with Meryl Streep musing, 'I wonder which of the megaton bombs Jesus, our president's personal savior, would have personally dropped on the sleeping families in Baghdad.' The financial benefits of the celebrification of the Democratic Party are unquestionable. But the surest sign of its limited appeal in the broader sense was the Kerry campaign's refusal to release the video of the Goldberg-Streep gala. Having the most popular figures in popular culture on your side can seriously damage your popularity."
Steyn focuses his point around an incident "a few years back" when Sir Elton John allegedly berated a hotel waiter in Italy for a breeze coming across his balcony.
"So when celebrities venture into politics it's hardly surprising they're as deranged about that as they are about everything. These days Sir Elton mutters darkly that there's something in the air and it's not just the f---in' wind. No, it's a 'deadly atmosphere of fear in America.' The poor lad's going to too many parties with too many other paranoid show biz plutocrats. The feeling that the entire country is one big scary police state is, after all, only a heightened version of VIP Lounge Syndrome."
Neocons at war -- among themselves
There is a deepening dispute among key ideological architects of the Iraq war, according to the New York Times. In a recent interview, influential intellectual Francis Fukuyama said that he had harbored private doubts prior to the invasion of Iraq, though he kept quiet about them at the time. "I figured it was going to happen anyway, and there wasn't anything I could do about it," Fukuyama told Times reporter David D. Kirkpatrick. "I believed it was a big roll of the dice, and I didn't believe it was a wise bet. But on the other hand, it was a roll of the dice, and for all I knew, it might have worked." But, he added, "It turned out to be even worse than I anticipated."
According to the Times, Fukuyama is now under fire from other influential neoconservative voices, including ally and Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, who rebukes Fukuyama's current polemic as "breathtakingly incoherent." In turn, Fukuyama describes a recent speech by Krauthammer on unipolar American power as "strangely disconnected from reality. One gets the impression that the Iraq war has been an unqualified success," Fukuyama said, "with all of the assumptions and expectations on which the war had been based vindicated."
While Fukuyama argues that neoconservatives were overconfident about turning Iraq into a democracy, too quick to dismiss arguments of longtime allies and too willing to give up the practical advantages of partnership with other nations, others maintain that attacking Iraq was the proper first step in ridding the Middle East of terrorism -- and that Iran could be next. "Like anybody else in the world who is sane, I am very much worried about Iran gaining nuclear capacity," said Norman Podhoretz, the former editor of Commentary magazine and a founder of the neoconservative movment . "I am not advocating the invasion of Iran at this moment, although I wouldn't be heartbroken if it happened."
Also a longtime colleague of Fukuyama's, Podhoretz, too, questions Fukuyama's analysis. "Some things went wrong, but things always go wrong in every war. It is always a question of compared to what?"
"Have we not suffered enough?"
Meanwhile, former Reform Party presidential candidate Pat Buchanan is also attacking President Bush over the Iraq war. According to the Times' David D. Kirkpatrick, Buchanan's new book, "Where the Right Went Wrong," argues that Bush's policies have nothing to do with true conservatism.
"[Buchanan] aims some of his fiercest attacks at Mr. Bush's frequent statement that perceptions of weakness, not the use of force, invite terrorist attacks. Mr. Buchanan contends that containment has often proven an effective strategy, while intervention sows the seeds of terrorism.
"Noting that he criticized the first President Bush for the first gulf war, Mr. Buchanan quotes himself campaigning as the Reform Party candidate in 2000. 'How can all our meddling not fail to spark some horrible retribution?" he said then. 'Have we not suffered enough -- from Pan Am 103 to the World Trade Center [bombing of 1993] to the embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam -- not to know that interventionism is the incubator of terrorism? Or will it take some cataclysmic atrocity on U.S. soil to awaken our global gamesmen to the going price of empire?'"
If Buchanan sounds oddly similar to the antiwar left, he's also got some love for the antiwar presidential candidate Ralph Nader, though it's not entirely unconditional.
"I like Ralph very much," Buchanan told the Times. "He has been enormously courageous on trade issues and on the war issue, but I am right-to-life all the way."
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