Republican Convention: Day Two

[1 September 2004]

By Terry Sawyer

Day Two of the Republican Party that’s kinder, gentler, and won’t make you sleep in the wet spot.

This night, the women were out shilling for their man, George W. During the pre-speech chatter, one of the PBS talking heads noted that people like Laura Bush because she occasionally says things that place her at the left end of her party’s spectrum, such as her few choice pro-choicey comments. I find it baffling that a party would sell itself based on the fact that some people in it think quite a bit like the opposing party. If Republicans need to comfort themselves with sugarplum dreams of their powerless moderates, perhaps they should vote for John Kerry.

Elizabeth Dole likes to hold out her arms in a messianic bear hug, as if shafts of light might shoot out of her cuffs. Smiling as much as the botox would allow, she glided through a long list of things “Republicans didn’t invent,” but that they’ll defend against Democrats’ efforts to plunge our lives into decadent experimentation. A dance of veils, her speech proclaimed Republicans’ desires to protect the unborn without using the word “abortion,” to affirm marriage as a cornerstone of civilization, without directly referencing the homosexual barbarians storming the gates. She got her God on, highlighting those issues that resonate among the faithful: compulsory pledges to God in schools and God draped over every inch of our public interiors. “It’s freedom of religion, not freedom from religion,” she ominously reminded us heathens. Translation: nothing can save you from us.

The speech was vicious at its core, reframing our cultural disagreements as “war,” where only Republicans are defenders of virtue and right. She found ways to slip in every demon on the Right’s checklist, including an opening salvo aimed at Clinton, couched as a reference to George Bush’s 2000 campaign promise to “bring honor and dignity to the White House.” She used that most effective phrase, “despite what you might hear on the news,” to remind us of the media’s bias. Her address was the most obvious concession to religious fundamentalists I’ve seen at this Convention. Even her frosted halo of hair and the neckline (that said, “Republicans do it with their clothes on,” intimated the tacky consumerism that conservative Christians have embraced, revealing that this form of High-End Jesus Mall politics looks the same in Dallas as it does in North Carolina.

At this point, I realized that much of what is inspiring about rhetoric is alien to the Republican Party. When Democrats talk about equality, they’re referring to that romantic sweep of “everyone.” But implicit in every ideal announced by the Republican Party are allusions to dangerous Others. In Dole’s speech, these were the media, gays and lesbians, and those misguided people stalling the Christian government that’s central to Republicans’ definition of freedom. Such pronouncements lack seduction, asserting definitive right and wrong sides.

Senator Sam Brownback arrived at the podium to remind us that George Bush has done much (though not as much as he said he would) for AIDS in Africa, even while the Federal Government has slashed its assistance for poor people with AIDS at home. Bush is compassionate. Nearly every speaker mentioned that the Republican Party was the party of Abraham Lincoln and abolition, eliding the fact that it was much more recently the party of Jim Crow, segregation, and dogs unleashed on Civil Rights demonstrators. The crowd was murmuring during Brownback’s speech, barely applauding when he made a couple of references to abortion. Tough crowd. Millions of people dying of AIDS wasn’t their issue. He should have brought up the fact of God’s name on our cash.

Senator Bill Frist (a doctor, yes, we know) did an infomercial for the prescription drug card. He gave out the phone number to call if you have questions, like he was selling a fucking George Foreman grill that doubles as a defibrillator. And he interjected another anti-Kerry-Edwards campaign theme: lawyers are evil. They’re the only capitalists Republicans hate because they’re the only ones who stand between corporations and citizens and defend the rights of minorities from the tyranny of the majority. Damn them.

Arnold Schwarzenegger delivered his one-liners by c-section without anesthesia. The former gay icon and gang bang legend milked his immigrant past and, to my mind, revealed his shallow intellectual commitments. Richard Nixon, once the moral blight of the Party, was resurrected as Arnie’s hero, in contrast to the Democrats, who remind Schwarzenegger of socialists and communists. As he put it himself, the Governor of California embodies the immigrant’s dream, the make citizens. The worst part of Schwarzenegger’s speech was the sausage-fingered insertion of movie lines and skit quips. He wants to terminate terrorism and eliminate economic girly men. What a cheesemo. The future of the Republican Party is a collection of script scraps from TBS Fridays.

Laura Bush, by contrast, wants to sit down with us for coffee, to tell us all about her husband. She steered clear of making arguments about policy, and focused instead on folksy anecdotes read from a letter or stories about the President that might have been clipped from a Family Circle cover story. She talked about the big changes they’ve endured over the past four years, like losing their dog Spotty. If Democrats pulled something this treacly, we’d be subject to lectures on the Oprahfication of America and the loss of our masculine vigor. But the First Lady makes us feel “safe.”

She reminded us that her knowledge of the President is personal. She can offer insights into the drunk she met stuffing brisket into his craw before she licked a napkin, cleaned the corners of his mouth, and got him right with God. He didn’t really want to go to war (though he’d planned to even before September 11th). Her evidence? She watched him walk with furrowed brow, back and forth across the lawn. Oh, well, if he paced for a good 15 minutes, he’s got my vote. I actually remember very little of what she said. I could almost smell the perfume through the television screen. Will she come tuck me in?

Tuesday’s show felt like one long lull, a string of clichés tepidly delivered. I kept chugging Starbuck’s espresso-and-cream cans, wishing Jerry Falwell would come on to talk about how God hates fags and the ACLU. I like my hate honest and vibrant. Someone grab one of those Medicare cards and see if we can bring this Convention back to life.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/feature/040901-rnc2/