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Bush's 'hopeful place' is nowhere we want to be


I was about to call the Republican National Convention a fraud, but then I heard conservative talkster John McLaughlin term it "Kafkaesque." That's a better word, in that it leaves open the question of whether President Bush knows that the world he described isn't real, or rather--and I do think this is the case--he truly believes the fairytale he told about his first term in office. We're "lead(ing) the cause of freedom in the new century?" Then why did Madison Square Garden in New York look to the sentient viewer like the Kremlin circa Leonid Brezhnev--if only Brezhnev had thought to add lots of New Jersey-style concrete barriers? Speaking of New Jersey, I knew security in the Big Apple was out of control when I caught sight of cops on the PATH transit platform wearing N.J. Department of Corrections uniforms.

After days spent in the company of the NYPD, the Port Authority's cops, the National Guard, the Secret Service, and all manner of private security operatives, I could no longer resist the impulse to ask, what is the New Jersey prison system doing on transit duty? "We're a special tactical unit," one of the prison guards answered. "We're protecting you."

We are chasing our tails.

Which serves Bush well, of course. While we're running around in circles, pursuing the terrorists in our midst, we won't notice the implosion of the country formerly known as Iraq, which Bush is calling "a hopeful place." Living in fear, we won't notice that, two years into a supposed economic recovery, we still have 1 million fewer jobs in American than when Bush took office.

In this century, only Herbert Hoover saw jobs decline in a four-year presidential term.

"Now, because we have made the hard journey, we can see the valley below," Bush says.

Yes, and deficits as far as the eye can see.

Two things about Bush's speech I found especially irritating. The first: His riff about how John Kerry could not possibly be the "candidate of conservative values" if he thinks the "heart and soul of America is found in Hollywood" (as Kerry said at a showbiz fundraiser). OK, who put Arnold Schwarzenegger front and center at his convention? Excuse me, but the heart and soul of American foreign policy is depicted by movies like Apocalypse Now and--hell, yeah--Conan the Barbarian. While in Times Square, cleaned up--or was it tarted up?--by Republican Mayor Rudy Giuliani and the Disney Corp., I was struck by the number of women wearing pink. Some were pro-choice feminist protesters wearing pink ("Code Pink") as a political statement. They were, in the main, overdressed for a hot summer's day, but my point is, the only thing they were representin' was their anti-GOP opinion.

Many others in pink, however, were representin' their similarities--cultural ones, if not necessarily physical--to Brittany Spears and/or Paris Hilton. These scantily clad women were oblivious to the political convention in town, notwithstanding that it was taking place just eight blocks away. But as they ducked into high-end stores selling "Juicy Couture," I had to think that if they vote, they'll be votin' Republican.

Yes, trashy commodification, soft pornography and firepower to the max--the heart and soul of America is absolutely to be found in Hollywood, and it is all about conservative values, not liberal ones.

The second irritation in Bush's speech: His clearly stated view that our nation's economic policies should mimic those of a good ol' Southern governor. And I quote, "To create more jobs in America, America must be the best place in the world to do bidness." (The official text says "business.")

Where have you heard this before? Oh, right, you heard it when the South was stealing ("attracting") manufacturing plants from the North by promising lower wages, fewer benefits, slacker environmental rules and no unions. Now, that's what Thailand, Indonesia and especially China are promising, and we're letting them sell their cheaply made, pollution-producing goods into our markets with nary a peep--or demand.

Governors have always had the excuse that if they try to make companies do the socially responsible thing in, say, North Carolina, why those old bandits'll just up and move their plants to more accommodatin' South Carolina. Remember, the Commerce Clause of the Constitution makes the U.S. one big market, so Gov. Mike Easley can't stop Gov. Mark Sanford's BMWs at the border and demand tariffs.

But President Bush and his friendly Republican Congress can stop the Chinese textiles and Thai furniture at the border, or at least slow them down in light of our $400 billion-plus trade deficit that just grows and grows, year after year, along with our military-driven federal budget deficits. China sells us 10 times as much stuff as we sell them, at a net trade deficit to us from China alone of more than $100 billion a year. That's stuff we're putting on our credit cards at the cost of our neighbors' jobs.

Our president should say that to create more jobs in America, America must lead a system of world trade reform that lifts labor and environmental standards in every nation, including ours. We will no longer allow multinational companies to enjoy unfettered access to American markets--and we are the biggest marketplace in the world by far, one no other nation can afford to lose--if they insist on producing in countries where labor and health rules are lousy and not getting any better.

Am I talking protectionism? I'm talking free trade with benefits for the people of both trading countries, not just the corporations doing the trading.

To make America pro-bidness, Bush sketched a frightening agenda of privatization and permanent tax breaks for the rich. Instead of social insurance that protects the unlucky folks who lose their jobs (e.g., a national health insurance system, Social Security, job training), Bush wants everyone to save for their own retirement and their own "health savings accounts" while he "simplifies" the tax system, which you just know isn't going to raise taxes on the rich.

Guess what? Rich people do save for their own retirements, and they'd love to get tax credits for the health insurance they already have. It's the working poor, whose jobs are constantly at risk in the "changed world" Bush talks about, who need some insurance against calamity, but who are now told by their president to insure themselves.


Smackdown: John Kerry needs to win the debates with Bush, and he needs people to watch him win, right? Here's my nephew Adam's advice (I'll take it over John Sasso's, the genius of the Dukakis campaign): Start running commercials that plug the debates the same way Fox TV sells "Celebrity Boxing." Everybody Adams knows, apparently, watched the William "the Refrigerator" Perry vs. Manute Bol fight. Who'd win, the 400 lb. 'Fridge, the ex-Chicago Bear, or Bol, the 7-foot-7 ex-NBA scarecrow? (Answer below.)

Kerry's ads should promise that he will kick Bush's butt on the deficit, the economy, Iraq--and he'll whip any Swift Boat Veterans Bush wants to bring along.

And then--here's the hard part, given Kerry's nuanced positions--he's gotta do it. But hey, as bad as Bush's record is, Kerry's not debatin' no Conan.

Write Bob Geary at rjgeary@mac.com. To my surprise, Bol was an easy winner over the sluggist Fridge.

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