Confessions of a girlie man 

The best thing about Arnold Schwarzenegger is not that he is a comic book character, it is that he clearly knows that he is one. He was having a great time speaking to the National Convention of Mostly Nasty Middle-Aged Aryans last week, and I am sure that he would have done so bare-chested, with ammunition belts wrapped around his massive torso, if they’d have let him.

Frankly, to my surprise, I loved what I saw of the Republican National Convention. They were far more honest than four years ago, when they imported many Negroes and other colored people and had them cavort around the stage. Watching Bush’s speech, I noticed only one clearly black delegate in the audience. Condoleezza Rice, of course, was there giving him her adoring Nancy Reagan stare. If I had been next to her, I would have whispered, “Doesn’t Miz Scarlett look beautiful tonight?” — after which I would have been doused with pepper spray and arrested, which is why I don’t go to such things.

Turning regrettably serious, it is plain what their campaign is going to be about: Fear. They are attempting to wrap themselves in Sept. 11, and justify everything by it and make us believe only their dreadful policies can prevent another one. They need to engage in total character assassination of John Kerry, and are working hard at it, led by that sneering draft dodger Dick Cheney. They certainly cannot run on their record, which is a disaster from start to finish, unless you are rich, totally immoral and couldn’t care less about the rest of the world or the long-term future. They cannot really inspire hope.

George Bush’s speech, which he must have rehearsed carefully, did contain what appeared to be inspiring little nuggets of optimism that can be trotted out this fall to fool the stupid. He is going to create more college scholarships, and set up a learning center in every poor school district, etc.

What you heard if you really listened was the same old salami; yet more tax cuts for the rich, Bush’s solution to everything, and — disguised as health care reform — a proposal to make it hard or impossible to sue incompetent doctors who do things like cut your wrong leg off.

John Forbes Kerry hasn’t done a very good job fighting back so far. He needs to give this crap right back to them, with a touch of common humor. (I’d love to hear him say, “I am tired of hearing my patriotism questioned by those who were Vietnam War girlie men.”)

But even more importantly, he needs to make people believe in a better future. We need a concrete plan to get out of Iraq. We need to send a message to all the world that we won’t tolerate terror, and that if you mess with us, kill our people, we will come after you and ruin your lives.

Back when George Bush was dodging the draft, John Kerry actually chased down and killed an enemy soldier who tried to kill him. He has, if he would care to use it, street cred in fighting terror.

What we need even more, however, is a vision of a brighter future. The contrast couldn’t be clearer. Want to know which side you are on? Just compare the keynote speeches of both conventions.

The Democrats chose Barack Obama, a young, brilliant, mixed-race man who talked of building an America we will all be proud to live in, and who will be elected senator from Illinois this fall by a landslide. The Republicans selected Zell Miller, a nasty, bitter old man who delivered a speech full of hate.

Miller is a renegade Democrat who once attacked Lyndon Johnson for “selling his soul” to African-Americans, and that’s not the word he chose to describe them. This speech was far more significant than Pat Buchanan’s “cross-dressing” rant in 1992. Miller’s speech says who these people are.

They know they can’t honestly persuade a majority to vote for what they want, or probably, even for them. What they may be able to do, however, is fool enough of us into not getting involved and staying home.

What’s at stake? Only the future of the nation. Only what kind of country this will be to live in and whether we’ll be seen by the rest of the world as an imperialist bully or as a hope and inspiration to all mankind, as was intended.

Elephants I really like: One of the best things happening in this town during the last decade is the Detroit Zoo, which has improved enormously since Ron Kagan became director a dozen years ago. Kagan is that rarest of combinations: a thoughtful intellectual concerned about the ethical treatment of animals and a management wonk. The result has been the nation’s most-improved zoo.

Controversy has swirled this summer, however, after Kagan announced that the zoo is sending away its last two elephants. He is deeply convinced that their habitat here isn’t nearly good enough for these complicated animals physically or psychologically. This fall, Wanda and Winky, who are aging and arthritic (mostly from not having enough space to roam), are scheduled to go to a wildlife preserve, though there is some pressure from a zoo association to send them to the somewhat better-appointed Columbus zoo.

That was a difficult decision, since elephants always have been one of the most popular zoo exhibits. It was denounced by an especially moronic editorial in the Detroit News. But Kagan is standing his ground. Sometimes, he believes, the needs of other living beings take precedence over our own selfish desires. He’ll exhibit rhinos instead, which do better in this environment.

Here’s hoping sending elephants away is an idea that catches on … especially this November. And that Ron Kagan’s ethics become a national trend.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Send comments to

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