SYNOPSIS: A discussion of the hate and slander that is the Republican National Convention
"I don't know where George Soros gets his money," one man said. "I don't know where - if it comes from overseas or from drug groups or where it comes from." George Soros, another declared, "wants to spend $75 million defeating George W. Bush because Soros wants to legalize heroin." After all, a third said, Mr. Soros "is a self-admitted atheist; he was a Jew who figured out a way to survive the Holocaust."
They aren't LaRouchies - they're Republicans.
The suggestion that Mr. Soros, who has spent billions promoting democracy around the world, is in the pay of drug cartels came from Dennis Hastert, the speaker of the House, whom the Constitution puts two heartbeats from the presidency. After standing by his remarks for several days, Mr. Hastert finally claimed that he was talking about how Mr. Soros spends his money, not where he gets it.
The claim that Mr. Soros's political spending is driven by his desire to legalize heroin came from Newt Gingrich. And the bit about the Holocaust came from Tony Blankley, editorial page editor of The Washington Times, which has become the administration's de facto house organ.
For many months we've been warned by tut-tutting commentators about the evils of irrational "Bush hatred." Pundits eagerly scanned the Democratic convention for the disease; some invented examples when they failed to find it. Then they waited eagerly for outrageous behavior by demonstrators in New York, only to be disappointed again.
There was plenty of hatred in Manhattan, but it was inside, not outside, Madison Square Garden.
Barack Obama, who gave the Democratic keynote address, delivered a message of uplift and hope. Zell Miller, who gave the Republican keynote, declared that political opposition is treason: "Now, at the same time young Americans are dying in the sands of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan, our nation is being torn apart and made weaker because of the Democrats' manic obsession to bring down our commander in chief." And the crowd roared its approval.
Why are the Republicans so angry? One reason is that they have nothing positive to run on (during the first three days, Mr. Bush was mentioned far less often than John Kerry).
The promised economic boom hasn't materialized, Iraq is a bloody quagmire, and Osama bin Laden has gone from "dead or alive" to he-who-must-not-be-named.
Another reason, I'm sure, is a guilty conscience. At some level the people at that convention know that their designated hero is a man who never in his life took a risk or made a sacrifice for his country, and that they are impugning the patriotism of men who have.
That's why Band-Aids with Purple Hearts on them, mocking Mr. Kerry's war wounds and medals, have been such a hit with conventioneers, and why senior politicians are attracted to wild conspiracy theories about Mr. Soros.
It's also why Mr. Hastert, who knows how little the Bush administration has done to protect New York and help it rebuild, has accused the city of an "unseemly scramble" for cash after 9/11. Nothing makes you hate people as much as knowing in your heart that you are in the wrong and they are in the right.
But the vitriol also reflects the fact that many of the people at that convention, for all their flag-waving, hate America. They want a controlled, monolithic society; they fear and loathe our nation's freedom, diversity and complexity.
The convention opened with an invocation by Sheri Dew, a Mormon publisher and activist. Early rumors were that the invocation would be given by Jerry Falwell, who suggested just after 9/11 that the attack was God's punishment for the activities of the A.C.L.U. and People for the American Way, among others. But Ms. Dew is no more moderate: earlier this year she likened opposition to gay marriage to opposition to Hitler.
The party made sure to put social moderates like Rudy Giuliani in front of the cameras. But in private events, the story was different. For example, Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas told Republicans that we are in a "culture war" and urged a reduction in the separation of church and state.
Mr. Bush, it's now clear, intends to run a campaign based on fear. And for me, at least, it's working: thinking about what these people will do if they solidify their grip on power makes me very, very afraid.
Originally published in The New York Times, 9.3.04