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By Bill Gallagher

DETROIT -- George W. Bush performed his acceptance speech on the floor of Madison Square Garden, converted into a theater in the round providing the perfect final act for the Republican Convention that was truly a play from the theater of the absurd. But unlike the great plays of Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco and Harold Pinter, which brought us lyrical truths and profound insights into the human plight, the GOP tried to use the absurd to cloak the truth and create a mythology with no relevance to reality. The Republicans pursued image over substance from the opening scene and that surreal theme -- "People of Compassion" -- that defies common sense and is flatly opposed to the manifest truth.

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Dr. Jan Culik, a Czech literary scholar, has an ear for that technique and it does achieve something. "Absurd drama uses conventionalized speech, cliches, slogans, and technical jargon, which it distorts, parodies and breaks down," Culik notes.

We are still hearing the echoes of four days of Republican rhetoric and rants filled with the incomprehensible, the illogical and wholesale gobbledygook. The boldness of the absurdity was stunning.

Rudy Giuliani was supposed to be a voice of moderation and his role was to show us how inclusive the Republicans are, since he rejects the party's script on abortion and gay marriage. But the former New York City mayor sounded like a hoarse carnival barker when he said, "Thank God that George W. Bush is our president," and he tipped his hat of gratitude to the deity for Dick Cheney, too. Silly me, I thought Cheney was God or maybe he just sounds like the Lord. Then Giuliani repeated Bush's infamous line: "Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists." How's that for inclusion? The millions of Americans and people around the word who think the war in Iraq was a monstrously bad move are -- in the black-and-white world of Bush and Giuliani -- "with the terrorists." That is absurd.

Giuliani reached the extreme in verbal nonsense when he said Bush "already has earned a place in history as a great American president," and then compared him to Winston Churchill. It's hard to so thoroughly twist logic and history to come up with that one. Maybe it's because Rudy finally abandoned that silly comb-over and the sun is scorching his scalp and the brain cells underneath.

Along with the absurdity, the GOP gathering sounded like a convention of revisionist historians. Churchill sounded the alarm over the threat of Nazi Germany to Parliament, the British people and the world. His experience and understanding showed him there was a growing menace and threat to Western democracies. At the time, Hitler insisted he was only doing God's will, proclaiming, "I would like to thank Providence and the Almighty for choosing me of all people to be allowed to wage this battle for Germany." Religious rhetoric scared Churchill, who could see the elected German leader was plotting war in Europe.

George W. Bush got specific warnings that Osama bin Laden planned to attack the United States using airplanes. Bush sounded no alarms and did nothing, but when the attacks did come he used them to bolster his sagging political fortunes. Then he morphed the al-Qaida attacks into a pre-emptive war with Iraq -- a nation that had nothing to do with Sept. 11 but had plenty of oil and would help Bush carry out the Almighty's will in the Middle East.

Churchill wrote more books than Bush has probably read. Churchill was not the "optimist" Giuliani claimed, but a man who suffered serious depression for most of his life, and was a lush, although enormously talented and productive even when he was half in the bag. Bush is an untreated dry drunk, filled with Messianic delusions and obsessions, and convinced of his own greatness and righteousness. That's really scary.

The GOP theater of the absurd offered at least one professional: Arnold Schwarzenegger. California's governor loves his new role and played it to the hilt. He was supposed to be another moderate but he came off as the flippant reactionary he really is. The former professional body builder and porn movie star said listening to Richard Nixon, of all people, brought him to the Republican side. It was during the 1968 presidential race and Arnold said that hearing Nixon speak of lowering taxes and strengthening the military sounded "like a breath of fresh air." Bear in mind that Nixon did not lower taxes, he weakened the military in the quagmire in Vietnam, and that Arnold was once jailed for deserting the Austrian army. That's what absurdity is all about.

Arnold also said, "I'm proud to belong to the party of Abraham Lincoln, the party of Teddy Roosevelt." He should be forgiven for not learning a few salient facts about U.S. political history certainly not in the syllabus in Austrian grammar schools. The Republican Party of George W. Bush would have no place for the likes of Abe Lincoln. His tolerance, compassion and sensitivity would have gotten him booed off the stage at the convention. Teddy Roosevelt's passionate protection of the environment and his crusade to regulate the abuses and excesses of big business would have gotten him tarred and feathered in George W.'s Republican world.

Arnold lashed out at those who are worried about the economy. "Don't be economic girlie men," he bellowed. Bush's economic "manly men" have brought us millions of lost jobs, 13 million children living in poverty, a decline in median income, unconscionable debt for the middle class to pay for the tax cuts for the rich, and 45 million Americans without health insurance.

Laura Bush made her Stepford First Lady speech, comparing her hubby to Abe Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt -- presidents forced into wars they did not choose, providing us with another distasteful dose of revisionist history. The Civil War and World War II were in no way like George W.'s war of choice in Iraq. She claimed, "My husband didn't want to go to war, but he knew the safety and security of America and the world depend on it." She forgets her husband's warmongering pals -- Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and brother Jeb -- were all members of the Project for the New American Century, a group committed to regime change in Iraq long before Sept. 11. They saw oil and the United States gaining a strategic position in the Middle East and wanted to go to war for those reasons.

Sen. Zell Miller's performance was as memorable as it was crazy. He sounded like a mean-spirited Billy Graham on speed. Miller, who still claims he's a Democrat, gave the Republican keynote speech. Can it get any more absurd? He offered one shrill invective after another and the crowd loved it, hooting in rapture like a "Jerry Springer Show" audience in heat. He crowed with contempt that the Democratic candidate was "unfit for the presidency," and that "Kerry would let Paris decide when America needs defending. I want Bush to decide."

Old Zell, just three years ago, praised John Kerry as "one of this nation's most authentic heroes, one of the party's best-known and greatest leaders and a good friend."

I'm proposing to the French Academy of Science that ZELL become an international medical code word meaning "person off their medications." You know. "ZELL alert! Nurse to room 502."

After his stage performance, Miller went into a physical and mental meltdown during an interview with Chris Matthews on MSNBC. Matthews was asking Miller some questions about his attacks on Kerry and the tone of his rhetoric, and the Georgia senator became even more unhinged. Sputtering and spewing, Miller screamed at Matthews, "Get out of my face." Then the face of the 2004 Republican Party exploded: "I wish we lived in the day when you could challenge a person to a duel."

Zell from hell wants to be a modern-day Aaron Burr gunning down any Alexander Hamiltons who dare to question his political views.

Miller won"t do the sensible thing and simply become a Republican. He clings to the absurd position that his Democratic Party label is "like a birthmark." The voice of Republican rage should visit a psychiatrist and a dermatologist, in that order.

Dick Cheney played the heavy, his favorite role, and used his acceptance speech to lash out at John Kerry, especially on protecting the nation. The man whose battle experiences will be featured in a new documentary, "Dances with Deferments," said that, "time and time again, Senator Kerry has made the wrong call on national security." Lord Halliburton then praised his understudy as "a president we can count on to get it right."

Cheney and Bush are so wrong in their world view that it will take at least a generation to clean up the mistakes they've made and the messes they've created. As true absurdists, they are oblivious to the truth of their failures. They used phony intelligence to create the imminent "threat" of Saddam Hussein's Iraq, and now 20,000 Iraqis and nearly 1,000 Americans are dead. The occupied nation remains in chaotic insurrection. The Iraq war bill will hit $200 billion within a year and we're not one bit more secure as a result. We are more despised than ever in the Arab-Muslim world and the State Department reports terrorism and the number of victims has risen sharply.

But George W. will not let the fantasy die. In his acceptance speech, he promised that his recipe of war, machismo and unilateralism will "build a safer world." Bush knows our enemies, what's right and what's wrong, and his decisive leadership is beyond criticism or question. Marching a Christian army into the heart of Islam and building military bases for an indefinite occupation to protect the raid on Iraqi oil, and then saying that will help spread the seeds of democracy in the Middle East is, well, absurd. George W. insists we must stick with him and his imperial designs, ask for God's blessing and -- presto! -- this "will be liberty's century."

Our resolute leader says he resists "going on the couch" to examine his decisions and actions in waging war in Iraq.

According to Dr. Kerry J. Sulkowitz, this attitude shows George W. "disclaims any interest in learning from his mistakes." The professor of clinical psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine offered an insightful take on Bush's scorn of self-reflection in a letter to the editor in The New York Times. Dr. Sulkowitz writes that George W.'s lack of empathy and curiosity makes him unsuitable for analysis. "But his apparent incapacity for even the slightest degree of self-awareness and self-inquiry is his most troubling and dangerous quality."

That same quality does, however, make him an ideal character in a theater of the absurd play. Tragically for our nation and the world, George W. Bush and the rest of the cast of characters in his administration brought their delusions and deceptions to a real stage. I don't want to see the second act.

Bill Gallagher, a Peabody Award winner, is a former Niagara Falls city councilman who now covers Detroit for Fox2 News. His e-mail address is gallaghernewsman@aol.com.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Sept. 7 2004