So here's how I spent my afternoon: I attended the Idaho Republican Party's rally with GOP national chairman Ken Mehlman, a.ka. Jack Abramoff's "rock star," in downtown Boise. Really. I just walked in.
Well, I just walked in and people were standing around yakking for a half-hour. So I read all the literature, left, walked around the block a few times, tried to be inconspicuous so no one would ask me to wear a sticker or sign a loyalty oath or something. Finally, the program started. See, I even took this picture, albeit from the back of the room. I wanted a ready escape route if I needed one, you know?
Basically, Mehlman sung two notes: terror and tax cuts. Mehlman was masterful in sounding the usual GOP refrain: Be afraid. Be very afraid. "Look at the headlines," he said. (Which ones? The Foley story? George Tenet warning top admin officials in July 2001 of an imminent terror attack? Intelligence officials agree the occupation of Iraq has made us less safe? Congress gives the president even more unchecked power? No, none of those were mentioned, of course.) I think he meant "Look at the history books," for he ran off a litany of terrorist incidents stretching back decades. And now, he said, Iraq is the central front of the war on terror because Osama bin Laden says so! (Uh, Ken, it wasn't that way until your boss said "Bring it on ..." and al-Qaeda did.)
If Larry Grant wins, Mehlman said, his very first vote will be for Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House. (I guess this means they are giving up on holding Congress. And Grant has said he'd consider voting for an alternative Dem candidate, such as John Murtha of Pennsylvania or Steny Hoyer of Maryland, should one emerge.) If Grant wins, Mehlman said, he will vote to raise taxes across the board. And, he added, Bill Sali has never voted for a tax increase. He said that twice. (Ooops, I guess they're not counting the 20 percent sales tax increase that went into effect five days ago in the Jim Risch Tax Shaft, I mean Shift.) And if taxes are raised, American jobs will go overseas.
See, here's what I'll never get about Republicans, at least those who deny that some taxation is essential to a functioning civilization - and that, when carefully managed, taxes can even make our lives better. (See: Interstate highways. Social Security. Medicaid. The Food & Drug Administration. The Environmental Protection Agency. FEMA ... oh, forget that for now.) Free-market Republicans say all taxes are bad, period. End of discussion. But what about a targeted tax to help boost math and science classes in our high schools so our students remain competitive and jobs don't go overseas? Or what about a nickel-a-gallon tax designated specifically for alternative energy research and development that could ultimately help us become less dependent on fossil fuels? Or - most critical of all - what about rescinding the Bush tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans so we can pay down the deficit instead of passing a deferred tax increase on to our kids?
But that stuff's way too nuanced for anti-tax zealots. All's black and white in GOP world. Sali ... good. Grant ... bad. War without end ... good. Taxes ... bad.
Possibly the strangest thing Mehlman said was that more people watched George W. Bush's acceptance speech at the 2004 Republican National Convention on FOX than on any of the other networks. O-kay. But the point he was trying to make was not that Faux News is indeed the Pravda of the GOP, but this: We all have our own networks, and reaching out to your network is how people can help elect Republicans. In 2004, he said, George Soros gave the Democrats a lot of money but 1.4 million Republicans volunteered on campaigns, and that's what made the difference. Actually, Dems had at least that many volunteers - probably way more, I'd guess. What we didn't have were guys named Diebold donating to our campaigns nor priests and ministers preaching from liberal pulpits that we must vote a certain way or be damned.
One more thought: The crowd at the GOP's downtown Boise storefront headquarters appeared to number somewhere around 80 to 100. I'll be fair: That's not a bad turnout, considering folks got one day notice for an event during a workday. But really, what are they doing holding a rally on a workday with 24 hours notice, anyway? Democrats really know how to party, and we will have many times that turnout when we greet American hero Max Cleland to the Idaho Center on Oct. 16.