As the Campaign for His Re-Election Gets under Way, Boy George Is Raising So Much Money That the Democrats Could Be Certain Losers before They Even Have a Candidate

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Never mind sexing up intelligence on both sides of the Atlantic, never mind an increasing number of American deaths in Iraq and the ever-elusive Saddam and Osama Bin Laden, never mind rising unemployment: Boy George now has his mind firmly set on filling his political coffers with a record amount of loot. In the last two weeks of of June, he set off on a coast-to-coast blitz of fundraising that, by the end of this month, will have helped put $34.4m into the Bush-Cheney 2004 account. Before the Republican convention in New York in September next year, he will have raised at least $170m, if not more than $200m. That means he will have no less than $426,640 to spend on political campaigning every day, seven days a week, from now until election time. Not even those great old fundraisers Ronald Reagan, in 1984, and Bill Clinton, in 1996, came close to raising that amount (even allowing for inflation).

What I find astonishing is that Bush is being given a completely free rein to do this and to deliver the most partisan of political speeches, untouched by Democrat politicians or the media. His two-week blitz started off with a $2,000-a-plate dinner of hamburgers, hot dogs and nachos at a hotel in Washington--you get to be in the same hotel ballroom as the president, but not to meet him, for that amount--where he stayed just 90 minutes. But those 90 minutes raised $3.5m for his campaign organisation and it has been much the same in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami and other cities: the bucks just keep rolling in.

And these days, Bush's stump speech is highly effective for a man who could read an autocue only with difficulty three years ago, and is much the same wherever he goes--though his speechwriters are careful to interlace his speeches with local details and statistics. If he touches for a minute or so on domestic woes, he now always says "we inherited an economy in recession", as though, if he repeats it enough, it will become true. In fact, the National Bureau of Economic Research dates the beginning of the recession to March 2001, two months after Bush took office. But then he goes on assiduously to avoid the word "recession", preferring "economic slowdown".

But here is a more typical part of what he told the 1,400 lobbyists and supporters in Washington, empty in meaning but stirring in rhetoric: "We seek to lift whole nations by spreading freedom. And at home we seek to lift up lives by spreading opportunity to every corner, to every person of this great country. That is the work that history has set before us. We welcome it. And we know that, for our country, better days lie ahead." That is the pattern: painting a picture of dire times for America, of unnamed but dark forces trying to undermine it--followed by stirring rhetoric: to the effect that only the Bush administration, with God's help, can save the country from such a terrible, if mysterious, fate. Even Ronald Reagan was not so audacious; so far, Bush's effrontery has worked wonders in raking in the dough.

How does he get away with it? The sad fact is that the atrocities of 11 September 2001 rendered him immune from political criticism, bestowing on him an unquestioned mantle of righteousness: after all, he is still the commander-in-chief battling the menace of Osama Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and other unseen forces on behalf of the nation. Bush's poll ratings were dire before 11 September 2001--but his political guru, Karl Rove, then cleverly and subliminally combined the role of heroic commander-in-chief with those of Republican leader and chief fundraiser. It is a clever if iniquitous dual role, and leaves the Democrats literally speechless, as though they are collectively transfixed by the glare of the Bush headlights.

So far, nine declared Democrat candidates want to take on Bush next year, and between them they raised a meagre $25m in the first quarter of this year; running TV ads for a week in New York alone can account for at least $5m. …