All Lipstick – No Pig…
by Martin Lewis
Written September 01, 2004

“Putting Lipstick On The Pig” was the phrase used last week by several GOP moderates and Log Cabin Republicans to describe their own forlorn attempt to insert a “Unity Plank” into the uber-right wing platform.

It didn’t matter that they didn’t get the plank. Karl Rove took the hint and decided to apply a veneer instead. What pre-conventioners got at this weekend’s limber-up parties was the soft fuzzy face of the Republicans. You couldn’t attend a party without running into Bloomberg, Guiliani & Pataki – a slick dog & pony show of smiling tolerance. And not a scowling neocon in sight. No nasty Senators or Representatives. Just the smile brigade. And even the blow-dried brigade if you include sunny California Rep. David Dreier. (The Capital Gang’s Kate O’Beirne obviously doesn’t include him. “I don’t trust him” she whispered to me “he has a foot in both camps…”)

The opening night media party held in the multi-level swanky shopping-mall at the new Time-Warner Center at Columbus Circle was undoubtedly a triumph. I hate to concede anything to the Republicans – but an annoying trait of honesty forces me to acknowledge that the party obliterated the dismal DNC media bash in Boston – held in a booming quasi-aircraft hangar. The classy mall milieu lent itself to the mix of politerati, glitterati and young men with pink-scrubbed faces and messianic smiles who are so peculiar to GOP conventions.

TV faces were much in evidence – including CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, John King – and Larry King (talking up Governor Pataki AND a friend on his cell phone at the same time.) I also spy lone Fox Sean Hannity – who strangely looks ten years younger than his blustering self on TV. He seems about the age of an apprentice who needs to study his subject before speaking about it. I guess he missed those years…

I run into lawyer-of-the-hour Ben Ginsberg – an old TV adversary from impeachment days. He is unapologetic about recent events. Concedes that the 527’s won’t be dealt with before the election. We get into a debate about whether it wouldn’t be better to drain all the money out of the system and have public financing of elections. “Who would want to give money to fucking politicians?” he asks me – with a triumphant smile. “Karl Rove’s friends apparently” I reply – but Ben is gone. Rather swiftly I thought…

Pataki and Guiliani are all expansive smiles and glad-handing. Guiliani catches my accent and tells me that he feels at home when in London. I guess the honorary knighthood flattered him.

Don King is a vision in denim and rhinestones. I make the mistake of asking him why a man as smart as he would want to endorse George Bush. I receive a stunning 10-minute dissertation about why the Republican Party has always been the best friend of the black community. He starts shortly before the Civil War – and gets up to the Civil Rights act when I make a bigger mistake of asking him about Al Sharpton’s Boston remark about not getting the 40 acres or the mule. King launches into another screed. I’m too frightened to leave. He is also vastly entertaining – even though borderline insane.

I spot a token neo-con John Fund – onetime Wall Street Journal op-ed writer and proud anti-Clinton conspirator. I tell him that I’m looking forward to seeing him on a panel of conservative writers on Monday afternoon and he looks at me blankly. I give him further details and he is still mystified. “If my publicist doesn’t tell me about it – I don’t know where to go” he explains. I offer to become his publicist “so I can tell you where to go...” He laughs and rewards me “two points.” His mixed-up diary is sufficient reward for me.

The party is a sleek, sophisticated success. The façade holds up well on Day One.

Day Two also has an array of glimpses of the Republican Party that Karl Rove wants swing voters to see. Inclusive, big tent, broad church, gay, moderate… all the things that 95% of the party detest.

I go to the Log Cabin Republicans brunch at the Bryant Park Grill. The Log Cabin-ners are the gays who are blessed with supreme optimism. They tolerate staying at a party that wants them to leave. Or at least wants them upstairs and in the closet. But now they are great window dressing. Pataki and Bloomberg speak – as does Arlen Specter. They all talk under a banner that says “Inclusion Wins.” Cheney having got his approbation from the TV pundits for last week’s “compassionate” statement doesn’t need to show up. The party is sassy and well-attended. All The Young Dudes meets Queer Eye. Odd man out at the bash is one-time Michael Jackson pal Rabbi Shmuley Boteach – now a right-wing radio host – perhaps there to save the sinners. He tries to explain to me the difference between a moral sin and a religious one. The main difference seems to be in the severity of the punishment. I leave Shmuley to scare the Log Cabin boys. Though if 4 years of Bush and Ashcroft haven’t scared them – I doubt that Shmuley can.

Aware that Bush and the GOP have raised $300 million to win the election – I decide that it’s my duty to try and eat and drink as much of that war-chest this week as possible. This is hard to do on the Atkins Diet. But there are sacrifices we liberals have to make if we really want to win in November.

As I leave I run into the towering figure of former Massachusetts Governor William Weld. I ask his take on the Kerry-Swift Boat imbroglio. “Well obviously I’m supporting George Bush for President – but I really like and respect John Kerry. I warned the Bush people not to go after him on this – but I guess they ignored me…” Hmmm…. Obviously he spoke to the wrong people. If only he’d spoken to someone at the Bush campaign who actually had CONNECTIONS to the Swift Boat Veterans – such as Karl Rove or Ben Ginsberg…

I am invited to cocktails by the Main Street Republicans – another group of optimists with token moderate senators such as Susan Collins on the letterhead. They have taken over the Sky Bar in the MetLife building – formerly the famous Pan Am building. It is a glorious time warp back to an era when the moderates ruled the party. The décor is 1957. So are the appetizers of shrimp cocktail and bread-crumbed chicken fingers. A lounge singer croons Broadway tunes… The men’s bathroom boasts a vintage shoe-shining machine. It is like Happy (Rockefeller) Hour. One Main Streeter confides in me that the only chance the moderates have in taking back their party is if the Republicans are “bitch-slapped” in the election. I leave the Eisenhower sanctum – aware that the Happy Days they seek are unlikely to be here again anytime soon.

Finally to the “Capital Gang” party which is an off-the-record affair – though I can say that it glittered. Barely a conservative in sight – except for Kate O’Beirne and Robert Novak – who both seem too nice off-camera. It’s disappointing. Rather like meeting a wrestling bad-guy who underneath the bluster is a softie. Something is afoot. Obviously they all got the Karl Rove memo…

I’m sure there must be some neocon nasties hiding in this town. My task is to flush them out before Thursday night. Enough with the lipstick. I want to see the pig!


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