Patriotism served with fear, loathing on the side


Depending on your worldview, Sean Hannity's "Freedom Concert" co-starring Ollie North probably sounds like A) a real patriotic good time, B) a crazy joke, or C) tiresome politics from either major party.

Hannity, the conservative Fox "News" star, was preaching to the choir at the  -- 3,100 mosOrleans Arenatly older people enjoying a Saturday night.

Hannity was their jester.

"Liberals can move into our neighborhoods -- if they can afford it," he scoffed.

He also thought it was funny to say liberals wish America would act nicer to al-Qaida.

Conservatives in the crowd could have been nicer to Republican nominee-in-waiting John McCain. When Hannity introduced a prerecorded video message from McCain, the crowd offered a sparse and polite golf clap. Pockets of people moaned.

They were happier watching Hannity do impressions of Bill Clinton coming on to women. He said the crowd must miss Bill. "Nooo," they jeered, and a man near the stage cracked that he did "miss" Bill, as a shooter would, but he wants to take "better aim" at the former president.

The bulk of the audience looked to be at retirement age or nearing it. This is not ageism, but it suggests: Where is the next generation of Republicans?

Once "Freedom" ended, a 40's-ish woman holding a sequel of a beer cup described herself as Catholic "pro-life" and told me she wished Hannity would quit "hammering" on Barack Obama and his controversial pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. She likes Obama and thought he handled himself well.

Otherwise, she was very impressed with "Freedom." Her favorite part wasn't politics but the finale, a Lee Greenwood concert. He's famous for singing that song that goes, "I'm proud to be an American ... "

She liked it that he sang "Please Come to Boston" and "Wind Beneath My Wings." "I didn't know he wrote 'Wing Beneath My Wings!'" she exclaimed. I explained Greenwood covered those songs written by others, but she insisted he penned them.

Earlier, the first time people booed McCain's name was when national radio host Mark Levin griped on stage that McCain supported the "phony global warming issue" and "citizenship for illegal aliens."

"We have our work cut out for us," Levin carped.

Hannity insisted McCain has recently flip-flopped -- sorry, I mean converted -- relevant stances to the right. This didn't appear to rev up McCain support.

During Hannity's 40 minutes, applause ranged from loud to little in this order: 1) a lesser diplomatic role for France and the United Nations; 2) border patrols; 3) "kids should place their hands over their hearts" to say the Pledge; 4) the right to bear arms; 5) the health care industry works just fine; 6) don't distribute condoms in schools; and 7) John McCain.

Hannity and Levin spent most of their time baiting the names of the Clintons, Jesse Jackson, "socialist nirvana," Harry Reid, Tim Russert, "these people" in the media, "Marxist" Democrats, Hannity's TV co-host Alan Colmes, James Carville and Howard Dean.

"The Red Chinese are on the move," Levin said. "The Red Chinese don't have Nancy Pelosi slowin' them down."

Hannity harked recollections of the biggest GOP hero by asking, "What would Reagan do?" -- an echo of the "What would Jesus do?" bracelet motto. And he reminisced that Ronald Reagan uplifted the nation with positivity.

But positivity was short on the supply side Saturday night. Hannity and Levin came across as scared of Democrats, taxes, illegal immigrants, judges and changes to health care. Usually, liberals label this as "fearmongering." But Hannity and Levin seemed more like scaredy cat Republicans: their fear sounded internal, not external.

This wasn't a political rally alone. Along with sponsor KXNT-AM, 840, "Freedom" raised many thousands of dollars (an unknown figure at press time) for a scholarship fund benefiting kids of wounded and slain U.S. soldiers.

Indeed, the star of the night was Lt. Col. North, who has turned his role in Reagan's Iran-Contra scandal into fame and a talk show. He signed hundreds of books in the hallway. He earned a standing ovation on stage.

He was also the man who didn't sound afraid. He cheered heroic, high-morale American soldiers who are viewed as "saviors" in the Middle East while families support them at home.

But even North issued a negative message to the newspaper he called "The Washington ComPost" and to journalists like me: "They fall off their egos and land on their IQs." The second I figure out how that put-down pertains to "Freedom," I'm sure I'll agree.