by CHRIS DAVIS
Walking from St. Paul's WWII memorial to the Xcel Energy Center, where in a few short hours Sarah Palin would stand before a throng of cheering supporters and nasally intone a cloying, inexplicably effective speech, I encountered a group of Republican delegates talking strategy.
"In 2006 the Democrats were able to run against Bush," said the eldest among them -- a tall, lean white haired gentlemen -- as he and his colleagues passed a Kurdish restaurant where I was standing, hungrily reading a misspelled, but no less delicious sounding menu.
But now they don't have Bush to run against," the man lectured. "So all they've got to run against the war." His younger colleagues nodded appreciatively. "And if they do that they're running against the troops."
Conflating support for the war with support for the troops has been a despicable cornerstone of the GOP's political strategy from the moment American boots hit the ground in Iraq. And even if voters understand that the invasion and occupation of that country was a scheme hatched by Bush and his neoconservative brethren, it's doubtful that anybody has forgotten who stood side by side with the president, gnashing their angry teeth, denouncing dissent as treason, and pointing to the yellow magnetized ribbons on their pickup trucks as though they were of proofs Saddam Hussein's nuclear stockpile.
But the conflict in Iraq has become so broadly unpopular that even the unhinged anti-abortion preachers belting out fire-and-brimstone speeches in the streets of Denver and St. Paul occasionally stopped their regularly scheduled bile to toss in a line or two about America's great Middle-East mistake.
In his mean-spirited keynote address, miserably failed presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani accused Democrats of being in "denial" as to the threats of terrorism. That's no great surprise, since it was the former New York Mayor's inability to talk about anything but the well-known horrors of 9/11 that led to his precipitous decline in the polls from front running candidate to disgraced basement-dweller.
If anybody is in denial about anything, it is Rudy and his hawkish kindred, who have failed to notice that the American body count in Iraq exceeded the 9/11 death toll some time ago, with no end to the killing in sight.
Palin's well-received speech, built on such hot-button topics as hockey moms, lipstick, and the PTA, only touched on Iraq long enough to note that her son Track would soon be the second of her five children to be deployed there.
But this isn't Preston Sturgis' satirical WWII-era film Miracle at Morgan's Creek, which ends with Hitler's unconditional surrender in the terrifying face of Betty Hutton's dangerous fertility.
If the Republicans are going to use Hillary Clinton's famous attack line about how the president must be ready in the event of a 3 a.m. phone call, then Palin must live up to the same standard. John McCain is 73 years old, and Palin might discover herself thrust suddenly into the role of commander in chief. She still hasn't given the nation a reason to believe she is prepared to do that. If the Republicans really think that Americans will be fooled by the "support our troops" rhetoric of years past, they are in for rude awakening, as witnessed by the number of generals who walked out on stage with Barack Obama, and the many veterans protesting in the streets of St. Paul.
The GOP remembers that George W. Bush was also perceived as a spunky cheerleader whom the nation once wanted to have a beer. But this election is widely considered to be one of the most important in modern history, and it will be won or lost on the issues, as swing voters and independents move to one camp or the other. It's unlikely that the general electorate will fall for the same semiotic tricks that got them eyeball deep in international crisis and economic hardship. Palin proved she could deliver a speech, and that is all she proved.