NEW YORK — “The panty lines have been drawn! Which side are you on?!”
That may, upon reflection, not make much sense, but neither did many of the slogans chanted at the “Mass Flash” organized by Axis of Eve, in which politically conscious young women — and the occasional not-so-young woman or, in several cases, man — bared their “protest panties” emblazoned with more sexually graphic variations on the slogans that my pro-Dukakis friends invented in 1988 — more graphic because, as eight-year-olds, my friends still had a fairly limited idea of what they were talking about.
Puns on the president’s name, and the vice president’s, have been part of the standard repertoire of protesters all over the city this week, flexing their elementary school level cleverness; the Mass Flash was the reductio ad absurdum of the trope. A woman with a crown of flowers blew a whistle and shouted like a drill sergeant for roughly a hundred protesters to “Expose Bush,” at which point they marched about fifty yards, chanting their various slogans, and then, if they weren’t already wearing them in plain sight, revealed their panties. As few of these women were in any danger of being mistaken for a pin-up model, most prudently wore tights beneath their panties; on all but the genetically blessed, this makes for a distinctly unsexy get-up. Indeed, whatever your political persuasion, surely the claim on the group’s website that a “truth-flashing” campaign would be “titillating” must ring a bit hollow. The intersections between political debate and sexual arousal are few and far between. I know that at least when I’m asked to talk about politics in bed, it means my girlfriend has insomnia. (She finds the particulars of local races in distant states to be particularly effective cure.)
IF THE BARBS THROWN AT the President in the street fell flat, the shots flying in the other direction, from inside Madison Square Garden, were rather better-aimed. Having seen him before, I knew what an effective speaker Zell Miller can be, but his bludgeoning of the Kerry record was a special treat. “This is the man who wants to be the Commander in Chief of our U.S. Armed Forces?” he thundered, referring to Kerry’s votes against military funding. “U.S. forces armed with what? Spitballs?” Zell Miller has done Bush a big favor by remaining a Democrat; if a Republican delivered this speech, we’d be subjected to yet another round of “Why are Republicans so darn mean?” (We may still be, but at least the riposte that Miller is not a Republican is available.)
Dick Cheney’s lower-key assault struck nearly as hard, with the vice president flatly declaring that Kerry “does not seem to understand the first obligation of a commander in chief, and that is to support American troops in combat.” The last time John Kerry took this much flak he was in a Southeast Asian country (there seems to be some confusion as to which one).
Cheney’s speech also contained a passage on foreign policy successes — the Taliban out of power, Saddam in prison, Libya disarmed — but precious little on strategy in the future. The president’s speech today must return to those arguments, as John McCain and Rudy Giuliani did on Monday. For last night though, the strongly negative tone was probably smart, part of a strategy to woo undecideds who are lukewarm about the President. If it works, those undecideds will conclude that a Kerry presidency would be an unacceptable alternative.
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