Blogging from the Republican Convention, Day 1.

Politics and policy.
Aug. 31 2004 2:08 AM

Giuliani Plays Offense

Blogging from the Republican Convention, Day 1.

11:04 p.m. PT—Rudy Giuliani, New York's former mayor, wraps up the night. He repeats the line put forward by McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., that we're "one America"—not two, as John Edwards suggests—and must unite behind our president.

More egregiously than McCain, Giuliani equates the plotters of 9/11 with the butchers of Iraq. He recalls Bush's vow that the terrorists who attacked America would "hear from us." "They heard from us in Iraq," says Giuliani. To get around the absence of WMD, he adds that Saddam "was himself a weapon of mass destruction." Please. There's nothing less suitable for strained metaphors than weapons of mass destruction. They're horribly literal. Don't insult the gravity of these weapons by suggesting that even if the country you invaded didn't have them, the guy who ran the country is sort of like one of them.

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

The twist Giuliani adds to McCain's argument is an obsessive repetition of two opposing concepts. Giuliani calls them "offense" and "defense." Defense is what lily-livered liberals advocate: waiting for terrorists to attack us. Offense is what Bush is doing: hitting the terrorists before they can hit us. The offense/defense metaphor treats the use of force as a football game, in which the enemy is clear, and every attack we launch is an advance. This eliminates the salient complication of reality: Al-Qaida and Saddam were distinct adversaries, and attacking the latter wasn't necessarily an advance against the former.

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The defensive mentality is related, in Giuliani's worldview, to appeasement. He blames the Germans and Italians for coddling terrorists in 1972 and 1985. This led, by a seamless train of logic, to the attacks on New York and Washington in 2001. These are the same gutless Europeans who tried to "appease Hitler," according to Giuliani. The Hitler-Saddam analogy figures heavily in his speech, as does the likeness of George W. Bush to Winston Churchill.

Most troubling are the outright misrepresentations Giuliani inflicts on John Kerry. For weeks, the Bush campaign has claimed that Kerry called himself an "antiwar" candidate on Iraq. Chris Matthews, the interviewer who actually used that word, has pointed out that Kerry did not. Other news organizations, including Slate, have noted that Kerry said he opposed the war as Bush conducted it, not categorically. Giuliani doesn't care. He repeats that Kerry "declared himself as the antiwar candidate." Putting more words in Kerry's mouth, Giuliani says the senator claimed "that certain foreign leaders who opposed our removal of Saddam Hussein [italics mine] prefer him" to Bush. And referring to Kerry's claim that he voted "for the $87 billion [for postwar Iraq appropriations] before I voted against it," Giuliani jokes that Kerry needs two Americas so that in the second America, "he can vote against exactly the same thing" he voted for in the first America. The delegates roar their approval, but it's a lie. What Kerry voted for was an alternative that would have paid for the $87 billion by rolling back Bush's tax cut.

In a time of war, Giuliani concludes, "Americans should put leadership at the core of their decision. There are many qualities that make a great leader, but having strong beliefs, being able to stick with them through popular and unpopular times, is the most important characteristic of a great leader." No. The most important characteristic of a great leader is being right. And the most important characteristic of a great speaker—contrary to the view of my colleagues who are raving about Giuliani's speech—is being honest. Bush wasn't right, and Giuliani isn't honest, and no amount of bullheadedness can make up for that.

10:20 p.m. PT—I supported the Iraq war because I thought, erroneously, that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. I never saw any evidence that he had anything to do with 9/11 or was a major sponsor of al-Qaida. Bush's persistence in implying such a link signified nothing more to me than his usual idiocy. I figured he couldn't tell the difference.

But the men who take the stage tonight to repeat this spin aren't Bush-league idiots. They can tell the difference. And they're deliberately obscuring it.

Bernard Kerik, who was New York's police commissioner on 9/11, tells the convention that in the face of the evil wrought that day, "We had to respond. We had to fight this war abroad." Well, yes. We had to fight abroad. But abroad is a big place. Afghanistan, yes. But Iraq? Finally "Saddam will be held accountable," Kerik vows. But for terrorism? For posing a threat to the United States? Or for being yet another bloody dictator?

John McCain, the guy I voted for in 2000, takes the stage at 10 p.m. to defend the Iraq war at length. He makes a good point my antiwar friends neglect: The alternative to war in Iraq wasn't "a benign status quo." Too many liberals ignored Saddam's defiance of the 1991 cease-fire and the United Nations. But McCain carries this argument beyond what the evidence supports. The choice "was between war and a graver threat," he says. Really? After all the fruitless searches for WMD? A graver threat?

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