George Will

   NEW YORK -- This year's political raptures are perfunctory. In Boston, Democratic delegates, who loathed the Vietnam War partly because they thought it unrelated to America's defense, dutifully applauded John Kerry's revisionism: ``I defended this country as a young man.'' This week Republicans will try to achieve a Molly Bloom moment, exclaiming ``And yes I said yes I will Yes.'' But yes to what?

     Kerry squandered his convention opportunity, incessantly telling voters only what they already knew about him -- that he served in Vietnam. Then when citizens' groups questioned his patently questionable claims about his Vietnam service, he asked the government to construe the campaign finance laws to silence this political speech.

     Bush's convention challenge is to tell voters, who already know America is at war, how the parties differ. Last week he made it dismayingly clear that, in the parties' contempt for the First Amendment, they don't.

     Bush spokesman Scott McClellan cheerily reported Bush's vow to join John McCain in trying to ``shut down'' what McClellan called -- nine times in four minutes -- ``shadowy'' groups. He means citizens working quite publicly -- contributions to 527s can be scrutinized on the Internet -- to influence America's governance.    

     But the political class wants them silenced -- ``outlawed," Bush says -- because it considers the political process its private property. And Bush, adopting the cringing posture so prevalent in today's scramble to be seen as a victim, says, ``I understand how Senator Kerry feels -- I've been attacked by 527s too.'' Oh, well, then.

     Bush, supposed critic of the imperial judiciary, wants a court to order the Federal Election Commission to, in McClellan's words, ``shut down'' all such groups. And if a compliant court cannot be found, McClellan says Bush will try legislation. First try judicial fiat, then legislation as a last resort. Ah, conservatism.

     From the New Deal through the civil rights revolution, liberalism strove to use expanding government to drive the alteration of society. Conservatism's mission was largely restoration -- rolling back big government. Neither persuasion is now plausible.     

George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
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