Opposing Bush becomes unpatriotic.
The 2004 election is becoming a referendum on your right to hold the president accountable.
That's the upshot of tonight's speeches by Vice President Dick Cheney and Zell Miller, the Republican National Convention's keynote speaker.
The case against President Bush is simple. He sold us his tax cuts as a boon for the economy, but more than three years later, he has driven the economy into the ground. He sold us a war in Iraq as a necessity to protect the United States against weapons of mass destruction, but after spending $200 billion and nearly 1,000 American lives, and after searching the country for more than a year, we've found no such weapons.
Tonight the Republicans had a chance to explain why they shouldn't be fired for these apparent screw-ups. Here's what Cheney said about the economic situation: "People are returning to work. Mortgage rates are low, and home ownership in this country is at an all-time high. The Bush tax cuts are working." But mortgage rates were low before Bush took office. Home ownership was already at an all-time high. And more than a million more people had jobs than have them today.
"In Iraq, we dealt with a gathering threat," Cheney said. What about the urgent, nukes-any-day threat to the United States that supposedly warranted our expense of so much blood and treasure? Cheney was silent.
"A senator can be wrong for 20 years without consequence to the nation," said Cheney. "But a president always casts the deciding vote." What America needs in this time of peril, he argued, is "a president we can count on to get it right."
You can't make the case against Bush more plainly than that.
If the convention speeches are any guide, Republicans have run out of excuses for blowing the economy, blowing the surplus, and blowing our military resources and moral capital in the wrong country. So they're going after the patriotism of their opponents. Here's what the convention keynoter, Miller, said tonight about Democrats and those who criticize the way President Bush has launched and conducted the Iraq war:
While 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.
Motivated more by partisan politics than by national security, today's Democratic leaders see America as an occupier, not a liberator.
In [Democratic leaders'] warped way of thinking, America is the problem, not the solution. They don't believe there is any real danger in the world except that which America brings upon itself.
Kerry would let Paris decide when America needs defending. I want Bush to decide.
Every one of these charges is demonstrably false. When Bush addressed Congress after 9/11, Democrats embraced and applauded him. In the Afghan war, they gave him everything he asked for. Most Democratic senators, including John Kerry and John Edwards, voted to give him the authority to use force in Iraq. During and after the war, they praised Iraq's liberation. Kerry has never said that any other country should decide when the United States is entitled to defend itself.
Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.
Photograph of Zell Miller on Slate's home page by Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images.