Mr. Excitement

Posted: Sep 03, 2004 12:00 AM

 WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Republican National Convention in New York City was a swell show. There were some fine speeches and pleasant political pageantry inside Madison Square Garden. Outside, we were treated to occasional glimpses of the New Left anarchist freak show.
There were some warm moments when a radiant Laura talked about her husband, and the twins, Jenna and Barbara, made us laugh at their dad. Vice President Dick Cheney, in his calm and competent way, outlined the administration's defense of America. And President Bush, though not the smoothest talker, proved once again that he is a chronically optimistic Texan with a strong faith in God and the people of his country -- and has a resolute commitment to stand up for both. That was all well and good -- but it was all so, well ... consistent, so expected, so predictable. There was no real EXCITEMENT!

 Now, I know that my GOP friends tried to be stimulating. But was anyone really surprised when Ed Koch, the former Democrat mayor of New York City, castigated his party and its candidate for their flaccid stand on combating terrorism and endorsed George Bush for president? Was anyone stunned when fiery Georgia Democrat Sen. Zell Miller rebuked his party's standard-bearer by saying, "Nothing makes this Marine madder than when someone calls our troops ?occupiers' rather than liberators!"?

 Was anyone startled that after Maryland's black lieutenant governor, Michael Steele, called on people of color to vote Republican, the so-called mainstream media denigrated his effort by pointing out that "96 percent of Republican delegates are white"? Of course not. All of this was so very predictable and UN-exciting.

 For those of us who crave thrills with our politics, there is only one place to turn: the Kerry campaign. The Republicans offered a recitation of policies that they have consistently applied to cut taxes, create jobs, improve education, bolster home ownership and protect the homeland. Then they talked about personal responsibility, private compassion and plans to bring U.S. troops home from places where they are not needed so that we're better prepared to defend the American people. But for sheer excitement, there's nothing like the Kerry campaign.

 Having launched his convention with a double-barreled blast about how heroic he was in Vietnam, Kerry quickly decided he didn't want to talk about a war that ended 29 years ago after fellow veterans showed "inconsistencies" in his story. He doesn't want to talk about his multiple trips to Paris to meet with communist leaders during the Vietnam War. Now, with former POWs pointing out in TV ads that Kerry's "antiwar" rhetoric was used by Hanoi to increase their suffering, the Democrat candidate is really excited about changing the subject.

 In an effort to do just that, Kerry broke the gentleman's tradition of not campaigning during an opponent's convention and went to Nashville to speak at the annual meeting of the American Legion. Exciting people always break traditions. They are called iconoclasts. While he was before my fellow Legionnaires, Kerry said, "The first definition of patriotism ... is keeping faith with those who wore the uniform of the United States."

 Whoops! For most politicians, talk about "patriotism" and "keeping faith" would be fairly benign -- maybe even boring. But not from Kerry; for it immediately makes veterans -- particularly the 2.5 million of us who served in Vietnam -- recall how patriotic he was when he accused us of committing atrocities and war crimes during sworn testimony on April 22, 1971. Several Legionnaires were so moved by his patriotism they got up and walked out.

 Not content to let it go at that, Kerry tried the faithful bit again by noting "how hard we fought after we returned from service to keep faith with our fellow soldiers." That statement was certainly exciting to Paul Galanti, one of Kerry's fellow naval officers who was tortured in Hanoi. The former POW describes Kerry's "faithfulness" as follows: "He dishonored his country and ... the people he served with. He just sold them out."

 Still striving for excitement, Kerry claimed that as commander in chief, "I would've made sure that every soldier put in harm's way had the equipment and body armor they needed." That was pretty stimulating to veterans who remembered that Kerry voted against the $87 billion appropriations package that included money for more body armor. Some of those present suggested that for real excitement, Kerry might like to visit the troops in Iraq.

 And just to make sure he had touched all the hot buttons he could, Kerry promised that if elected, he will deliver better housing, better medical care, better insurance, better education, better retirement, better disability pay. All that was pretty stirring to the vets who recall that in 1995 he voted against $4.3 billion for military family housing; in 1996 he voted against $4.1 billion for the same purpose; and in 2003, he voted to deny Defense Health Program benefits to national guardsmen and against increased combat pay and family separation allowances.

 What makes the Kerry campaign so exhilarating is trying to keep up with all the different stands he takes on all the different issues. His positions on Iraq have more ups and downs, more twists and turns than a roller-coaster. In fact, it's gotten so thrilling to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi that she told voters in Nevada last week that she "can't understand" Kerry's position on Iraq.

 And then there's the Senate's leading Democrat -- he's had all the excitement he can handle. Tom Daschle is now running TV ads in South Dakota showing him embracing that boring, steady Texan -- George W. Bush.