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
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
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 9/11 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.