Jewish World Review Sept. 2, 2004 / 16 Elul, 5764
The loonies are doing us a disservice
NEW YORK During Sunday's long hot march along the streets of Manhattan, the phalanx of bossy police officers kept media and assembled spectators from getting close to the tens of thousands of Bush-hating activists. As I struggled to see the signs and listen to the chants, I thought this tightly controlled protest march was a metaphor for the ongoing wars on Iraq and terror: Just as the protesters were cordoned off from the real world, so is the simmering anger and resentment at U.S. anti-terror policies so far cordoned off from the presidential race.
The United States is immersed in a costly war that has sparked widespread and heartfelt anger the world over. It has galvanized the Left in hatred of this president and has split the Right as well.
Likewise, the nation is deeply divided over the War on Terror, with many critics on both sides of the political spectrum questioning the civil-liberties impact of the Patriot Act and other domestic policies designed to protect the "homeland."
Yet even though the Kerry campaign has tried to tap into resentment toward these policies, his campaign rarely does more than nip around the edges. The Democratic senator from Massachusetts dares not challenge the president too stridently on this issue, lest he be called a liberal wimp.
Of course, there's no debate among GOP convention delegates over the president's handling of the war. On Monday the theme was national security, with one speaker after another characterizing President Bush as the right man to lead the nation in dangerous times. This is popular stuff here this week.
"(President Bush) has been tested and has risen to the most important challenge of our time, and I salute him," said Sen. John McCain in remarks prepared for his evening convention speech. "I salute his determination to make this world a better, safer, freer place. He has not wavered. He has not flinched from the hard choices. He will not yield. And neither will we."
As a result, the only real voice against the war and the anti-terror policies comes from the assembled hard-left lunatics on the street. I did eventually get up close and personal, and I can guarantee that almost all the folks I saw were certifiable anti-American loons.
That depresses me. We're two months from a presidential election and the most divisive and significant U.S. policy is not being debated in a thoughtful way.
It's not just lefties who oppose the war. Many conservatives and libertarians have expressed deep reservations about it. I'm one of them, and I repeatedly talk to many others like me. But not here in New York, where the party line rules, and not in Boston, where Democrats staged their infomercial so as not to frighten away Middle American voters who tend to worry about Democratic priorities when it comes to war and security.
Some news sources question whether the convention is exploiting fear about terrorism to re-elect the president. Monday's Christian Science Monitor points to this "risky" strategy of focusing on the president's handling of the Sept. 11 aftermath, something that can backfire if it's too heavy-handed.
Although I disagree with many war and terrorism policies promoted by this administration, I believe it is sincere in its desire to protect us. The president will not visit the World Trade Center sites this week, yet that site will be the backdrop of the convention. It's the reason Republicans are in New York, even though New York is not in play for the election.
I visited the site on Monday. The last time I was in the city, I remember staring up at those impressive towers. This trip, I walked by the eerie 20-acre hole in the ground, read the memorials alongside hundreds of other sightseers. I stared at the cross-shaped iron trusses that stand as a memorial on the site. I wasn't stunned by the experience ... until I crossed Church Street, and instinctively looked up at the buildings as I had done on my last trip to New York. Seeing the empty air was quite moving.
So I understand the depth of sentiment and the strength of conviction President Bush brings to the matter. But he was wrong about Iraq, and he is wrong to promote policies such as the Patriot Act that erode our civil liberties in the name of protecting freedom.
I only wish the debate about those issues could break out in the national campaign, instead of having this crucial issue coopted by the nuts and lefties who are trying to disrupt this convention.
Steven Greenhut is senior editorial writer and columnist for The Orange County Register. He is author of the new book, "Abuse of Power: How the Government Misuses Eminent Domain." (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.) Comment by clicking here.
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