Speaker by Various Artists

Any publicity

by Williams 09 04

They're clever buggers, those Republicans. They'd never held a convention in New York (till now) and they knew any move to do so would make them the subject of massive demonstrations and ridicule. Even more reason to do so, you can almost hear them say - after all, any publicity is good publicity.

They knew the eyes of America would be on them: the left to be outraged at the arrests from the riots; and the right, well, to get their jollies off that the Grand Old Party were having such a great time deep in Democrat territory. And they didn't waste the opportunity.

All week the speakers were talking about September 11 (just down the road), building the character of their president (who stood with his arm around a fire fighter, just down the road) and, predictably, taking aim at John Kerry (who should be sent down the proverbial road). It wasn't just the Democrat presidential candidate's war record, either ˆ Swift Boat Veterans For Truth were already scoring points in that department. Kerry's record of defence voting was questioned, most vehemently by a retiring Democratic senator, Zell Miller.

"George W Bush wants to grab terrorists by the throat and not let them go to get a better grip. From John Kerry, they get a "yes/no/maybe" bowl of mush that can only encourage our enemies and confuse our friends," Miller said.

Vice president Dick Cheney, who appeared subdued compared to a pumped-up Miller, also chipped in:

"Even in this post-9/11 period, Senator Kerry doesn't appear to understand how the world has changed. He talks about leading a 'more sensitive war on terror"' ... as though Al Qaeda will be impressed with our softer side."

In a stunning coincidence, dozens of convention-goers wore jandals (flip-flops for those North American types) - not on their feet, but on their hands. And in a "spontaneous" reaction to Kerry-bashing, the crowd waved their arms and yelled "flip-flop!" You've gotta love these unscripted conventions.

The vitriol and sniping about foreign policy were roles turned over to the eager captains and majors. So, at the end, the five-star general, President Bush, came in and seem like a breath of fresh air - spending much of his time on domestic issues and breathing the fresh air of positivity into the convention.

"Since 2001, Americans have been given hills to climb and found the strength to climb them," Bush opined. "Now, because we have faced challenges with resolve, we have historic goals within our reach and greatness in our future," he eloquently stated, with a chorus of angels singing behind him (just kidding). Then he addressed the issues of jobs, home ownership, health care, education and even talked of simplifying tax. All of these things the Democrats usually club the opposing party with, but, by some work of magic, some of them are positives and others are going to be fixed. Great!

He also launched an attack against an unpopular leader of dubious intelligence ˆ himself! "People sometimes have to correct my English. I knew I had a problem when Arnold Schwarzenegger started doing it."

Yup, if you believed everything you heard, he's a regular guy who loves his country, who wants to put more money into your pocket, simplify tax and health care and he'll protect you better than anyone else!

Are you scared yet? I am!

Admittedly most parties get a convention balloon in the polls, but this week Bush is already ahead of Kerry by 11 points, 52-41.

After the Democrat convention, Kerry was said to be ahead 50-44. But Kerry only enjoyed an extra two percentage points after his convention. And the lead was not in double digits.

The convention, according to this article in the New York Observer, also re-affirmed that the Republicans are determined to play by a different set of rules. Those who remember the 2000 presidential race will know exactly what that means, particularly in Florida - in the words of Robert Sam Anson, dubious vote-counting and systematic, massive disenfranchisement of minorities, en route.

In fact, Anson says, events are heading towards dubious Florida election: The sequel.

The installation in the state's most heavily Democratic counties of "touch-screen" voting machines (the gizmos that leave no paper trail and don't record 1 percent of ballots cast), Kerry Watch told you about a few weeks ago. Ditto, the "accident" that failed to cleanse the registration rolls of Republican-voting Cuban felons˜but worked flawlessly getting rid of Democratic-voting black ones.

Well, there've been further developments. Notably, New York Times columnist Bob Herbert wrote last month, officers of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement - an agency that reports to Jeb - going into the homes of elderly black voters in Orlando, supposedly to investigate allegations of voter fraud during the city's March mayoral election. Interviewed by Mr. Herbert, a spokesman for the younger Bush's cops refused to divulge what "criminal activity" brought on the intimidating visits to elderly African-Americans, and claimed that those grilled had merely been selected at "random".

Sure. And snow is in the forecast for Tallahassee next week.

As with everything Bush says, you have to balance his words against his record. Take for example his claim in July of wanting to be the "peace president". The pro-peace website Common Dreams reminds us that preparing for peace does not include increasing military spending to historic levels, arguing "insanely" for development of low-yield tactical nuclear weapons and a revived missile defence shield programme.

That stance may put this Bush quote (from the convention) in perspective: "We are staying on the offensive, striking terrorists abroad so we do not have to face them here at home."

Critical thinkers may also want to examine his claim that more than 50 million people have been liberated during his term of office and democracy is coming to the broader Middle East. Ask an average citizen in northern Iraq or southern Afghanistan how liberated they feel (and how harsh the hand of democracy is) and the reaction may be vastly different.

But, as I said, they're clever buggers these Republicans. The messages from the convention were clear and extremely concise. Bush loves his family. Bush loves his country. Bush isn't perfect, but he can protect me. Trust him over any wobbler!

If you look at how Americans get their news, the case for those who want Bush out of the White House may not improve, either. According to a 2002 survey, 56% of Republicans and 64% of Democrats get their news from local TV news. When related to the mid-term elections of the same year the findings were grim:

Almost six out of ten top-rated local news broadcasts contained no campaign coverage whatsoever.

Most of the local campaign stories that did air were broadcast during the last two weeks of the campaign.

Nearly half the local political stories were about horserace or strategy, and not about issues.

The average local campaign story lasted less than 90 seconds.

Fewer than three out of ten local campaign stories that aired included candidates speaking, and when they did speak, the average candidate sound bite was 12 seconds long.

Campaign ads outnumbered campaign stories by nearly four to one.

A presidential election decided on 12-second soundbites two weeks before the elections? Hmmm. That may spell, as the party faithful were so fond of yelling at the Republican convention, "Four more years" for the incumbents.

After all, any publicity, even 12 seconds worth, is good publicity.