Jewish World ReviewAugust 31, 2004/ 14 Elul, 5764

Wesley Pruden

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Lots of sinners, but no sawdust | NEW YORK CITY — George W. Bush has his work cut out for him this week. The first thing he does is find the genius who had the bright idea of holding the Republican National Convention in the belly of the beast, and send him back to Muleshoe to clerk at the feed and grain store.

Or at least to Abilene, to reflect on the home truth that you don't go to hell to hold a revival meeting. The sinners need the sermon, but nobody knows the words to the music, the sawdust is in cinders and there's no appetite for repentance.

Manhattan is similarly a bummer for the delegates who were na´ve enough to think convention week in New York would be a tonic for blithe spirits. Thousands of the natives are in the streets at all hours, yelling insults not only at George W., but at anyone who looks like an out-of-towner.

Plague of a certain strain is fashionable enough in certain precincts of the city, but a Republican is as welcome everywhere as Typhoid Mary. Many New Yorkers are indignant that Republicans, a bizarre mutant species, would dare to hold their convention where September 11 happened. (Death at the Pentagon and in a Pennsylvania bean field don't count.)

New Yorkers, rude and bumpkinlike as they may be, haven't spoiled the party by themselves. The Secret Service, which always prefers to shoot first and ask questions later, is in charge of promoting paranoia, and Detective Lt. Fearless Fosdick — the gumshoe in the Li'l Abner comics who systematically stalked supermarkets to shoot little old ladies to keep them from buying a can of poisoned pork and beans rumored to have been planted somewhere in the city — is firmly in charge of security.

Pork and beans, in fact, are banned from Madison Square Garden, as well as the old Manhattan Post Office across Eighth Avenue, where the press is quartered, along with all other snacks and drinks, even bottled water, in the name of "security." Nobody believes the explanation, of course. If delegates, alternates, guests and "attendees" were allowed to bring in food, nobody would buy the catered stuff at prices the hustlers in the wake of Hurricane Charley might envy. Agents of the Food and Drug Administration stand beside Secret Service agents to make sure that all catered food is delivered at 135 degrees and refrigerated food is delivered at below 41 degrees. Why such food is more "secure" at these temperatures is one of the many unanswered "security" questions. (Boiled sheep's eyes, which could presumably hide a tiny explosive, are usually served at room temperature at food stalls in Beirut, Damascus and Riyadh).

Delegates and other "attendees" are warned in writing that prohibited items will be confiscated and nothing will be returned, and the host committee adds, with an unintended touch of irony, "by working together, we can help create an environment that is safe and secure, while ensuring a productive and enjoyable experience for everyone." Fearless Fosdick has lots of help: There looks to be enough cops on the streets to furnish every "attendee" his very own pork and beans monitor.

But if you're a large cheese and move through town in a motorcade, it's not so bad. The spirits of the president's men, all finally in place, are brighter now than they've been in weeks. The president's poll numbers are up, not dramatically, but the fact that he could put low single-digit distance between himself and John Kerry, even if temporarily, is dramatic enough.

The Rasmussen daily tracking poll, which measures the state-by-state popular vote with overnight telephone surveys, gives the president a slight edge in the Electoral College for the first time in weeks. Summer numbers are often unreliable, but we're moving headlong toward Labor Day, the traditional demarcation for the real, actual campaign. From now on, everything can be taken without salt.

An unobservant "attendee" at the Garden might imagine that he had wandered into the wrong hall and was watching the remnants of a Democratic session. With nudges and winks, the speakers are serving up a lot of Democratic carin' and compassion, designed to show George W.'s soft and sensitive side — much like the Democrats in Boston set out to show a rough and tough John Kerry. New York is not in a mood to listen, but it doesn't matter. Nobody's talking to New York.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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