NEW YORK — If I've heard it once, I've heard it a hundred times from discouraged Democrats and liberals as the Republican convention here wrapped up this week. Their shoulders hunched, their eyes at a droop, they lower their voice to a whisper hoping that if they don't say it too loud it may not come true: "I...I...I think Bush is going to win."
Clearly, they're watching too much TV. Too much of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Zell Miller, Dick Cheney and Rudy Giuliani. Too much of swift boat veterans and Fox News commentators.
Action heroes always look good on TV. On Wednesday night, the GOP even made an action-hero video and showed it at the convention. There was White House political czar Karl Rove and other administration officials dressed up for "war" and going through boot camp on the National Mall in Washington.
I could only sit there in the convention hall and wish this were the real thing: Rove, national security adviser Condi Rice and Co. being sent to Iraq, and our boys and girls being brought home. But then the lights came up, and everyone sitting in the Bush family box was having a grand ol' hoot and a holler at the video they just saw.
For some reason, all of this has scared the bejabbers out of the Democrats. I can hear the wailing and moaning from Berkeley, Calif., to Cambridge, Mass. The frightening scenes from the convention have sent John Kerry's supporters looking for the shovels so they can dig their underground bunkers in preparation for another four years of the Dark Force.
I can't believe all of this whimpering and whining. Kerry has been ahead in many polls all summer long, but the Republicans come to New York for one week off-Broadway and suddenly everyone is dressed in mourning black and sitting shivah?
Exactly what moment was it during the convention that convinced them that the Republicans had now "connected" with the majority of Americans and that it was all over? Arnold praising Richard Nixon? Ooooh, that's a real crowd-pleaser. Elizabeth Dole decrying the removal of the Ten Commandments from a courthouse wall in Alabama? Yes, that's a big topic of conversation in the unemployment line in Akron, Ohio. Georgia Sen. Miller, a Democratic turncoat, looking like Freddy Krueger at an all-girls camp? His speech — and the look on what you could see of his strangely lit face — was enough for parents to send small children to their bedrooms.
My friends — and I include all Democrats, independents and recovering Republicans in this salutation — do not be afraid. Yes, the Bush Republicans huff and they puff, but they blow their own house down.
As many polls confirm, a majority of your fellow Americans believe in your agenda. They want stronger environmental laws, are strong supporters of women's rights, favor gun control and want the war in Iraq to end.
Rejoice. You're already more than halfway there when you have the public on board. Just imagine if you had to go out and do the work to convince the majority of Americans that women shouldn't be paid the same as men. All they ask is that you put up a candidate for president who believes in something and fights for those beliefs.
Is that too much to ask?
The Republicans have no idea how much harm they have done to themselves. They used to have a folk-hero mayor of New York named Rudy Giuliani. On 9/11, he went charging right into Ground Zero to see whom he could help save. Everyone loved Rudy because he seemed as though he was there to comfort all Americans, not just members of his own party.
But in his speech to the convention this week, he revised the history of that tragic day for partisan gain:
As chaos ensued, "spontaneously, I grabbed the arm of then-police commissioner Bernard Kerik and said to Bernie, 'Thank God George Bush is our president.' And I say it again tonight, 'Thank God George Bush is our president.' "
There were the sub-par entertainers nobody knew. There was the show of "Black Republicans," "Arab-American Republicans" and other minorities they trot out to show how much they are loved by groups their policies abuse.
And there were the Band-Aids. The worst display of how out of touch the Republicans are was those Purple Heart Band-Aids the delegates wore to mock Kerry over his war wounds, which, for them, did not spill the required amount of blood.
What they didn't seem to get is that watching at home might have been millions of war veterans feeling that they were being ridiculed by a bunch of rich Republicans who would never send their own offspring to die in Fallujah or Danang.
Kerry supporters and Bush-bashers should not despair. These Republicans have not made a permanent dent in Kerry's armor. The only person who can do that is John Kerry. And by coming out swinging as he did just minutes after Bush finished his speech Thursday night, Kerry proved he knows that the only way to win this fight is to fight — and fight hard.
He must realize that he faces Al Gore's fate only if he fails to stand up like the hero he is, only if he sits on the fence and keeps justifying his vote for the Iraq war instead of just saying, "Look, I was for it just like 70% of America until we learned the truth, and now I'm against it, like the majority of Americans are now."
Kerry needs to trust that his victory is only going to happen by inspiring the natural base of the Democratic Party — blacks, working people, women, the poor and young people. Women and people of color make up 62% of this country. That's a big majority. Give them a reason to come out on Nov. 2.
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