Three Cheers For Free Speech!

Finally, some stars came out at the Republican National Convention in New York on Tuesday night. No supernovas, but they emitted enough collective luminosity to make it seem as if the Spirit nightclub were in Hollywood rather than Chelsea. They gathered to support a safely nonpartisan issue: free speech. They quoted Thomas Jefferson, John Milton and even Madonna to rally support for the First Amendment at a gala hosted by the Creative Coalition, a nonprofit arts advocacy group.

"Madonna said, 'Free speech is as good as sex,' " Giancarlo Esposito, an actor on "Homicide" and other TV series, told several hundred GOP revelers. They responded with light applause and subdued laughter. But when George Wendt of "Cheers" took his turn at the mike, they chanted, "Norm! Norm! Norm!" (Everyone knows his crowd-pleasing character's name.) Wendt quoted the immortal words of eccentric film director John Waters: "To me, bad taste is what entertainment is all about."

Perhaps that isn't an adage conservatives live by. But as Creative Coalition co-president Joe Pantoliano, a veteran actor perhaps best known as Ralphie on "The Sopranos," reminded everyone, "The First Amendment is not an amendment of convenience."

Among the freedom-loving actors: Joe Piscopo (surely you remember him from "Saturday Night Live"), Tim Blake Nelson (recently in "The Good Girl") and Richard Kind ("Spin City"). Arnold Schwarzenegger, who once had himself a little career in Hollywood, didn't show at this party, attending his own bash in Central Park.

In from Los Angeles, KABC-AM radio talk show host Kim Serafin shared a VIP lounge booth with Fox News Channel's Rita Cosby and conservative film critic Michael Medved. Serafin regaled us with a story about the Chinese character tattooed on the small of her back: "It's Chinese for 'angel,' which is what my last name means. . . . But it's not so original. Every girl in L.A. has one there."

Cosby laughed and told us earnestly, "For the record, I have no tattoos." We didn't think so.

And as Abe Lincoln Didn't Say . . .

* When Ronald Reagan made his last appearance before a Republican convention, in Houston in 1992, he got into hot water by errantly attributing a string of shopworn maxims to Abraham Lincoln. The adages made an encore performance Tuesday night -- this time courtesy of Maebell Turner, mother of Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele.

Steele told convention delegates that she raised him to live by these principles:

"You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift. You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong. You cannot help the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer. You cannot further the brotherhood of man by encouraging class hatred. You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich. . . . And you cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they should do for themselves."

If these words rang familiar, that's because they've been clanging around for decades. Often they were attributed to the Great Emancipator -- as indeed they were in the advance text of Steele's address. But his camp noticed the well-roasted chestnut just before it was served, and cut the attribution to Lincoln. The actual author of these Chamber of Commerce cliches was William J.H. Boetcker, an early 20th-century pro-business pamphleteer, reports The Post's John F. Harris.

Keyes, Convening Trouble

* Alan Keyes, the Republican candidate for a Senate seat from Illinois, has managed to outrage both the left and the right wing of the GOP by describing Vice President Cheney's lesbian daughter, Mary, as a sinner and practitioner of "selfish hedonism."

The Log Cabin Republicans yesterday called his remarks "a new low for Alan Keyes" and "beyond the pale," while Mary's sister, Liz, told a CNN interviewer: "I guess I'm surprised, frankly, that you would even repeat the quote, and I'm not going to dignify it with a comment."

Keyes says the media have distorted comments he made Monday night in an interview with Sirius OutQ, a satellite radio station that provides gay programming. But the Associated Press reports that after labeling homosexuality "selfish hedonism," Keyes was asked if that made Mary Cheney "a selfish hedonist."

"That goes by definition," he replied. "Of course she is."

SQUIBS

* Thomas Frampton, a 21-year-old Yale junior and Sidwell Friends grad who masqueraded at the GOP convention as a volunteer, was released on $50,000 bail Tuesday; he was jailed Monday after screaming anti-Bush sentiments about 10 feet away from Vice President Cheney's box in Madison Square Garden.

Frampton is charged with assaulting federal officers and impeding the operation of the Secret Service. His attorney, Henry E. Mazurek, told us yesterday: "I expect he'll be totally exonerated of these frivolous charges. All he tried to do is express himself and instead he finds himself charged with a criminal offense. Freedom of speech should be permitted on the floor of the Republican National Convention."

* When gossips attack: At a party at the tony New York Yacht Club on Tuesday night, where media swells such as Fred Barnes, Brit Hume and Morton Kondracke soaked in the hospitality of the Distilled Spirits Council, something very untoward happened. Chris Wilson, a legman for New York Post "Page Six" columnist Richard Johnson, was ejected after allegedly spitting whiskey in the face of Hudson Morgan, a legman for New York Daily News columnist Lloyd Grove. Neither the gossip-mongers nor their minions would comment, but a New York Post spokesman told us: "Chris Wilson says he merely sneezed on the guy, and the other guy must have been allergic."

With Anne Schroeder