Dealing with the Republican National Convention and Related Issues

Column No. 27 By Steven Jonas, MD, MPH – August 26, 2004

For the past couple of months I have been writing a series of columns around the general themes of the Democratic National Convention and thoughts about how the Kerry Campaign might move to action.  This column is the first in a series that will focus on the Republicans, this time dealing with their Convention (RNCon) and related issues, with some thoughts about how the Kerry Campaign might respond.

Preparing for Violence at the Republican National Convention

In my mind, the first and most important issue concerning the RNCon for us as opponents of the Georgites is pre-meditated violence. The overwhelming majority of the hundreds of thousands of anti-Georgite protesters gathered in New York City will want to have nothing to do with any violence, whether initiated by protesters or thrust upon them by outside forces (remember the Chicago Police Riot in 1968).  Nevertheless, I am certain that certain pro-Georgite operatives, official and/or unofficial, are going to make sure that violence occurs.  Given where they are and where they are going in this Campaign, it is vital for them that violence does occur.

As readers of TPJ know well, the Georgites have nothing positive going for them; neither a positive past Bush record nor a positive future Bush program to run on.  So far -- as I happened to have been advocating for months (but hardly because of me) --- the primary agenda item of the Campaign has been George Bush.  If the Kerry Campaign can manage to maintain that status quo, we will win.  Both campaigns know this.  So the Georgites will try anything to get the focus shifted away from Bush and onto Kerry.  So far, none of their efforts in this direction --- from trying to make “gay marriage” a primary issue to making an argument, that some veterans should be taking up with the Navy not John Kerry, about Kerry’s war decorations (which he hardly awarded to himself) --- have been successful.  At this time, then, what better way to do that than by having violence, on as large a scale as possible, occur at the RNCon, and then be able to put Kerry on the defensive about it.

And so, in my view it is highly likely that “they” will make sure there is violence, both through agents provocateurs placed in various anti-Georgite organizations and through direct action of their own people.  I hope that I am wrong.  But I myself saw a highly probable example of the latter happen at the close of the anti-War march that took place in New York City in February 2002.  At the end of a march that been extraordinarily peaceful, even with some fraternization between marchers and the police along the way, and literally at the physical point for dispersal in Washington Square, I saw a couple of vans pull up and disgorge a group of well-dressed young people.

I had a pretty good idea of what was going to happen and I suggested to my group that we leave immediately, which we did.  It was later reported that just about the time these young folks arrived, some anti-police violence erupted in the Square.  It wasn’t a considerable amount, but it was enough to get mentioned in the news stories. Can I be sure that the youngsters who I saw pull up in those vans were the perpetrators?  No, for I didn’t see them directly.  But the timing was right.  Enough said.

In the current instance, even if some demonstrators on our side fail to realize how violence would play into the Georgites’ hands, we have to be ready for it to take place.  When it does, the Kerry Campaign will have to deal with its effects.  How?  First, the usual: condemnation of, disassociation from, and disapproval of any police tactics that could be considered provocative.  Second, condemnation of the “’tiny minority’ of anti-Bush demonstrators who abandoned the American Way of peaceful protest for something that obviously just plays into our opponents’ hands.”  Both would then be accompanied by a statement to the effect that it is “too bad the Bush Campaign has nothing else to talk about, certainly nothing positive about what is going on inside their Convention because there isn’t anything positive to talk about, given the record of this Presidency.” If violence, whether initiated by irresponsible anti-Georgites or provoked/created by pro-Bush forces, does occur, the Republicans will talk about little else.

Second, one could hope for something unusual: an intelligence operation, already planned, that has been able to penetrate the agent provocateurs’ organization and then, at the right time, thoroughly expose it.  Now wouldn’t that be something?  It may be too much to hope for, but one never knows. If provocateurs are “uncovered” with a “smoking gun” in their hands, then a statement of the “what is this country coming to” variety should be issued by the Kerry Campaign.  It should not ask for an accounting by the Bush team, because they won’t give one, and doing so simply gives them the opportunity to get into the distractive “yes you did, no we didn’t” game they love so well.  The statement should, on the other hand, demand a return to sanity and a focus on what is really important: the Bush record and what the Bush Administration has done to so damage our great nation, at home and abroad. In other words, the Kerry Campaign both takes the high road and maintains the agenda focus on Bush.  There would plenty of other folks, within and without the media, who would be going after the provocateurs and their connections and sponsors.

Running Against the Republican Platform

The Republican National Convention is bound to supply us with a very juicy bit of Campaign red meat: the Republican National Platform.  Especially since, apparently, the Convention is going to give little public exposure to the Republican Religious Right, they have to give something to the “Faithful” (of that certain, let’s-use-the-criminal-law-to-impose-OUR-version-of-faith-on-everyone-else type).  The “Faithful” will thus be given the platform, covering all of their favorite subjects.

Clinton never ran against the Republican National Platform because the DLC wouldn’t allow it.  After all, doing so would have clearly shown the ideological differences between the two parties, while the DLC’s position has always been “you know, we’re pretty much the same; we Democrats could just run things better.”  In his speeches so far, Senator Kerry is showing that he is made of sterner stuff.  He clearly recognizes that yes, Virginia, we Democrats really are different.  What better way to demonstrate the manifold differences than by holding up the Republican National Platform for everyone to see – a platform which, in recent elections, the Republicans as well as DLC Democrats have worked so hard to keep in the closet.  Once it is in plain sight, what a wonderful target is it likely to be to shoot at.

Dealing With Negative Campaigning

A colleague writes to a member of a pro-Kerry grouping, words to the effect of:

“In regard to your latest communication with our group, I too find the present situation very discouraging.  There is a very conservative talk show host in the Boston area, Jay Severin (who might be going national). He was a guest on Don Imus’ show last week and indicated that, as a professional political consultant as well as a talk show host, ‘he and the Bush team know that Bush is just about maxed out with the people who are presently likely to support him with their vote.’ Hence the only way Bush can win is to maximize Kerry negatives, to throw doubt in Kerry supporters' minds, to get enough of them to switch their vote to Bush. This was Severin’s response to Imus asking: ‘isn't the Republican mud-slinging starting too early?’ ”  Severin did say, this informant told us, that under normal circumstances that the Republicans would wait until a few weeks before the election to descend to the low road, but in this case they need now a strategy to win, and this is all they have left.

My response was to say that, in fact, this is good news.  Jay Severin is a card-carrying Far Right Media type.  He is a typical Georgite media mouthpiece.  If anyone knows the degree of the Georgites' growing desperation, he does.  The question is, how to respond to the increasingly negative attacks, attacks that will, for example, be the centerpiece of every speech at the RNCon. Of course, the Republican negativism will be of an entirely different kind than the strong anti-Bush focus of the DNCon.  That focus was on programs, policies, and the Georgites’ total approach to governing.  The Republicans’ focus will be as personal as they can get, and as off the issues as they can manage to be.

The question for Kerry is, of course, how to respond.  The last thing he wants to do is get into tit-for-tat.  In my view, the first thing he wants to do is deliver something like the following message:

"See this, folks?  This is what this President and his henchmen are all about.  No record of achievement to defend; no positive program for the next four years to put forward; no solutions to the problems we face at home with the economy, education, the environment, and health care, and abroad with Iraq and the world.  All they have is mud and distraction.  Is this what you want in the Oval Office for the next four years?  If so, vote for them.  If you want a positive program for change and achievement, designed to bring America back to greatness at home and abroad, a program I have been putting forward ever since I started this campaign, vote for me.  But I am not going to get into the gutter with these folks, however hard they may try to pull me there."