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COLUMN

The Compassion of the Heist

Alexander Del Nido

After watching the Republican National Convention, I looked up the word “compassion” in the dictionary. President Bush in his acceptance speech characterized his agenda as “compassionate conservative,” meaning, according to dictionary.com, that he should have a “deep awareness of the suffering of another, coupled with the wish to relieve it.” Now, if Bush wins a second term, maybe he will get around to that wishing-to-relieve-suffering thing, but as things stand now it’s obvious that this rebirth of Bush’s compassion is just another GOP move to pull an election heist.

While the Republicans at their Convention last week attempted to revive the ailing “compassionate” label for their candidates, trotting out the two Bush daughters who tried (and failed) to put a human face on “dad,” and the Cheney grandchildren to humanize the GOP’s version of Darth Vader, Republicans left New York last week for Washington and the campaign trail, and promptly showed that “compassion” means stalling on real efforts to prevent terrorism, and then scaring the people into voting for you anyway.

First, the Vice President returned to the campaign trail last weekend and, in a “forum event” of 350 hand-picked supporters (I guess being “compassionate” means that you won’t talk to people who don’t agree with you, like reporters at press conferences or the general unfiltered public), Cheney declared openly what the Bushists have been implying for a long time- a vote for John Kerry is a vote for terrorism.

“Because if we make the wrong choice,” intoned Cheney, as a teacher might speak to first-graders about the perils of getting into a stranger’s car, “then the danger is that we’ll get hit again. That we’ll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States, and that we’ll fall back into the pre-9/11 mind-set if you will, that in fact these terrorist attacks are just criminal acts, and that we're not really at war.”

When later asked to clarify that little statement, Cheney said that he merely meant that President Bush would have “different policies” on terrorism than would Senator Kerry. Translation: Bush’s policy is to prevent terrorism; Kerry’s is to allow it to happen. I feel much better.

I suppose we should forget that the Bush foreign policy team’s “pre-9/11 mind-set” was that China, not al-Qaeda, was the greatest threat to America, (easy mistake -- the two words sort of rhyme...) even though nearly all of President Clinton’s departing advisors had warned the incoming administration that terrorism would be the next president’s number one foreign policy problem. Bush, of course, ignored them -- “after all,” the Bush mind whirred into action, “Clinton was just an aging hippie who cheated on his wife while in office; we’re going to restore dignity to the White House, gosh darnit!” As it turned out, Bush’s “dignity” involved doing the exact opposite of everything Clinton did, including cutting back or ignoring most of Clinton’s now-forgotten efforts to fight terrorism.

Cheney would also have us forget that, even after 9/11, the Bushists relied on discredited foreign policy theories (or perhaps they relied on nothing at all) to attack a country that was in no way involved with 9/11. Bush again displayed his compassion, this time for Osama bin Laden, who no doubt was unable to believe his luck at the U.S.’ stupidity, by giving him an opportunity to escape from Afghanistan and allowing the plague of radical jihadism to fester and spread throughout the world. Not only does Bush “not really think about [bin Laden] much anymore” (I noticed that Osama bin Laden was not mentioned once at the RNC, while Senator Kerry was mentioned every other minute -- guess who America’s real enemy is), he’s now talking of reviving the old Republican fantasy of building a missile defense system, even though it doesn’t work, would cost billions of dollars, and would not exactly help in stopping suicide bombers.

Thankfully, we don’t have to rely on the administration dwelling in its alternate compassionate universe to truly protect the country from harm. I, for one, will be sleeping better at night knowing that the Republican-controlled Congress is back in session and is busy dealing with two of the gravest threats to the survival of this country that we have ever faced: flag burning and gay marriage.

The session opened with lawmakers in both houses making speeches about the urgent need for Congress to respond to the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. This bipartisan chest-thumping was quickly followed by statements from the Republican leadership that the House of Representatives will vote in the coming month on a Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, and that the Senate will vote on the quadrennial Constitutional amendment banning desecration of the American flag. True, these proposals probably don’t have nearly enough support to pass either chamber, let alone to become parts of the Constitution, but since when have Republicans let popular opinion get in the way of their agenda? After all, GOP members in the House are letting the ten-year-old ban on assault weapons die this week, even though over 65 percent of the public supports the ban. Among other planned Congressional achievements of the session are a “resolution” in the House that highlights supposed “successes” in the “war on terrorism,” yet another debate about abortion, and perhaps a doomed bill to reform the legal system and limit so-called “junk lawsuits.”

And, of course, once Congress recesses to go campaign for re-election, GOP candidates will tout these and other examples of Republican compassion as “steady leadership” in times of peril. Voters like myself, who no doubt hesitate to leave home every morning, for fear of seeing an American flag being burned, or being hit in court with a class-action lawsuit, will sigh with relief that Republicans in government truly are showing their compassion for us, and alleviating the suffering we all feel when we see a gay couple move in down the street. Forget terrorism, forget bin Laden, forget Iraq; vote for Bush because he cares about your embryos! Oh, and if you vote for the other guy, you die!

Alexander Del Nido is a member of the Class of 2006.