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A View From Abroad


Listening on and off, parsing through the rhetoric at the Conservative Political Action Committee’s combination tent revival and trade show, it’s hard to tell who won this election.
Congress is spending too much to support the U.N. John McCain’s campaign finance reform proposals are a gag on free speech. Teresa Heinz and George Soros – millionaires both – are engaged in that will undermine the country’s economic health.
You’d think John “François” Kerry – the French affectation is kinda cute, no? – had won the presidency not George Bush.

A few hours of this and you see why Bush tries to tell people he’s a compassionate conservative. A few more hours of this and he’s going to sound believable. It’s hard to remember that all this vitriol — and yes, that is the right word — is a backhanded compliment for those of us who only use the word “conservative” when we’re talking about bankers’ suits.
The oddest thing is that the class-resentment rhetoric of the left has been wholeheartedly incorporated by this group. Change only the names and the concerns – that American’s rights are being abridged by a well-funded, well-managed cabal intent on remaking this nation into a country beyond recognition – are the same. It’s just the “bad guys” are different. And there are repeated attempts to “prove” the negative, always a thankless task: Lack of action, a refusal to sue, a decision not to pursue a goal, are cited again and again as evidence, proof that a cause is just, a suspicion valid, an assumption proved.
The simmering class resentment is more believable here, of course, than when freeze-dried Marxist rhetoric comes from hippies with million-dollar homes and fat bank accounts. CPAC’s audience is an uniformly white crowd and it is predominantly male; the men talk directly to one another, past the women and they freely order their young female contemporaries around. The girls happily traipse off on their assigned errands. There’s the occasional fur coat or the St. John suit, a flash of monogrammed cuff but this isn’t a money crowd. The well-tailored affluence of New York isn’t to be found here. And it’s almost entirely white. Coming from San Francisco, where Asians and Latinos crowd the streets, the difference is stark. The mixed ethnicity sensuality – the full soft mouth, the curly ringlets, the odd tattoo — of the Ivy League slacker doesn’t exist here.
All of which goes to underline the class distinction that seems at the heart of U.S. politics these days. It was part and parcel of love fest the “Swifties,” as they’re affectionately known, held with their blogging fans yesterday morning.
John O’Neill, Kerry’s longtime nemesis, wasn’t holding back as he described Kerry in Vietnam. Stripping away all the claims and counterclaims, you’re left with a portrait of an insufferable, pain-in-the-butt more worried about the mark he was leaving on their world than the people around him. Very few of those who served with Kerry seem to have liked – or even known well – the man. It’s not hard to see how this dislike was turned into something much more powerful. Something else is just as clear: Unlike many Democrats, the Swift Boat vet’s supporters were mindful of this country being at war during the election. Why? Because their sons, nephews, daughters, cousins and friends’ children were serving. O’Neill, in fact, mentioned Abu Ghraib, mangling the name, but nevertheless making the very powerful point that soldiers can’t speak in their own defense.
So the Swift Boat vets spoke for them, airing their concerns about Kerry’s ability to lead the country during wartime. What is harder to see is how Democrats ignored the charges lodged by the vets. “They never saw us coming,” said one of the campaign’s organizers. And when “they” – that’s the Democrats – did, it was too late. This jives with what Donnie Fowler was saying in his race to be chairman of the DNC. Fowler says he was repeatedly told that the party didn’t need to respond to the Swift Boat vets because they’re story hadn’t made the nightly news. Until that happened – until the story went “legit” – the party wasn’t commenting. Big Media ignorance about Vietnam — or about the military in general as Winds of Change’s Robin Burke pointed out — only compounded the problem.
It’s not entirely clear that the Swift Boat ad campaign completely undid John Kerry. It’s more likely he did that to himself. But he got lots of help. From this venue, it’s a little earier to see how a political campaign waged in 2004 ended up spending so much time, money and effort on a war that ended 30 years ago. But it’s cold comfort.

Share  Posted by Chris Nolan at 5:29 AM | Permalink

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