NEW YORK — Hollywood stars at a Democratic fund-raiser in New York late Thursday night ripped President Bush as a liar, “another cheap thug” and a killer in a night of Bush bashing that put the Kerry team on the defensive and provoked widespread criticism.

Both Sens. John Kerry and John Edwards were on stage at Radio City Music Hall as the stars uttered their remarks. Neither one rebuked them. Kerry, in fact, said that every performer “conveyed the heart and soul of America.”

On Friday, Republicans called on the Kerry campaign to repudiate the remarks and to release a videotape of the concert so people can judge for themselves. Kerry aides reacted by saying that the stars’ attacks didn’t represent the candidate’s thinking.

“If John Kerry is going to praise last night’s star-studded hate-fest and characterize it as the “heart and soul’ of America, he should share these values with voters everywhere,” said Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman.

Even a song written for the fund-raiser captured the vehemence of the night. In a song called “Texas Bandido,” John Mellencamp wrote, “He’s just another cheap thug that sacrifices our young. … You’re going to get us killed with your little white lies.”

In a statement Friday, Sen. Zell Miller, D-Ga., said he was saddened, but not surprised that Kerry didn’t challenge the commentary. “Last night John Kerry held a fund-raiser in New York that featured performers in a time of war calling the president of the United States a killer, a cheap thug and a liar. John Kerry just sat there, grinning like a mule eating briars,” Miller said.

The controversy came as the struggle to define the mainstream values at the center of the campaign intensified. Bush was in Pennsylvania on Friday to counter Kerry’s claim last week that he represented the “conservative values” of the heartland. Kerry and Edwards have argued that fighting for the middle class is a truer measure of moral values than what they call the divisive social issues used by Republicans.

But at the gala concert, attended by 6,000 people, many of the stars of political Hollywood weren’t so diplomatic.

Actress Meryl Streep attacked Bush’s frequent references to his religious faith.

“I wondered to myself through the shock and awe, I wondered which of the mega-ton bombs Jesus, our president’s personal savior, would have personally dropped on the sleeping families in Baghdad,” Streep said.

Actress Jessica Lange called the Bush regime a “self-serving regime of hypocrisy and belligerence.”

Comedian Whoopi Goldberg caused nervous laughter, and uncomfortable looks from Kerry and Edwards, when she repeatedly referred to the new vice presidential candidate as “kid” – and made off-color sexual puns on the president’s name.

Comedian Chevy Chase, dangling handcuffs representing the indictment of former Enron executive Kenneth Lay, mocked Bush’s insistence that he’s optimistic and that the Democrats are pessimistic about America.

“This presidential race appears to have become a contest between optimism and pessimism,” Chase said. “To be cheerful about 1,000 young Americans having been killed after the war in Iraq has been declared over … a war started just so he could be called a wartime president, seems to be off the mark.” At least, Chase said, “He does have a real fighter pilot suit and helmet and everything.”

Kerry campaign officials said they wouldn’t release a videotape of the concert, but they also sought to distance themselves from the spicier remarks and tone of the event, while defending the First Amendment rights of the performers. Much of a telephone news conference on campaign strategy was devoted to questions about the concert.

“The performers last night were speaking for themselves,” said Kerry campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill. “He (Kerry) does not approve of some of the remarks, and he has made that clear.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.