The Dems Fight Fire by Firing Back

Party bigwigs were out in force in the Big Apple to offset GOP attacks on John Kerry. Consumer fraud at Cheney's Halliburton?

By Alexandra Starr

Democrats are catching plenty of flak at the GOP Convention in New York this week, but they aren't taking the broadsides lying down. Prominent Democrats like New York Representative Charles Rangel and New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg have been firing off daily countersalvos. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) has deluged the air waves with new ads taking Bush to task for saying the war on terror may be unwinnable. And Vice-Presidential candidate John Edwards has kept up a rigorous campaign schedule -- a break with the tradition of taking a down week while the opposition conducts its convention.

In the hours before Vice-President Dick Cheney took the stage on Sept. 1 to lambaste John Kerry, the Dems fired first. The theme of the day was Halliburton (HAL ), where Cheney was once CEO. Accused of trading on its connections to the Bush Administration for contracts in Iraq and overcharging the U.S. government, the company has become synonymous in the Democratic lexicon with corporate graft.


  Playing off President George Bush's declaration last year that the war in Iraq was a "Mission Accomplished," Senator Lautenberg said at a New York press conference that "for Halliburton, it has been a mission accomplished alright." He pointed out that it has seen its stock price increase about threefold since 2002. New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer, who has vigorously prosecuted Wall Street firms for cheating shareholders, charged that Halliburton's actions amounted to a case of "consumer fraud."

Senator Zell Miller (D-Ga.), who took the stage before Cheney inside Madison Square Garden, was the target of verbal assaults, too. Miller delivered the keynote address at the Democratic convention in this same hall 12 years ago, electrifying the audience when he declared the matchup of George Bush, Ross Perot, and Bill Clinton as a showdown between "an aristocrat, an autocrat, and a Democrat." This time, DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe dismissed the senator as "Zig Zag Zell...he crossed over to the dark side long ago," McAuliffe scoffed.

Perhaps the most effective speaker at the Democratic event wasn't a politician at all, but a military man. Retired General Tony McPeak, former U.S. Air Force chief of staff, pointed out that Kerry had been surrounded by his fellow boat veterans at the Democratic convention.

"Tonight we're going to hear from a guy who obtained five deferments [from military service]," McPeak said, referring to Cheney. Attorney General John Ashcroft obtained seven deferments, McPeak added. "That's about a dozen between the two of them," McPeak said. "Where are the 12 guys who went to Vietnam in their place? Maybe some of them didn't come back." Red meat, anyone?

Starr is a correspondent in BusinessWeek's Washington bureau

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.