NEW YORK -- At the outset, my mission seemed like a tough one. Walking into the Republican National Convention on the very evening that George W. Bush would accept his party's nomination to occupy the saddle for 'Four more years,' I didn't expect to find contradictions and dissent seeping from within the bowels of the party into Madison Square Garden after a week of unified messages.
But there they were around every corner. In the Bell South Media Hospitality Lounge in the basement of the Farley Building, where journalists devoured their fill of hot dogs, chips, cookies, beer, and soda all week, I pointed out to a Republican Party official the brand of ketchup lurking in the condiment tray. HEINZ Tomato Ketchup! 'How did this get past security?' I asked incredulously. Fronting my best Texan dialect, I yelled, 'Don't you know that you are supporting Teresa Heinz Kerry's cash cow?' I reminded him that the woman in question is married to the man whose manhood is being questioned by the politicians upstairs. The Republican returned a blank stair. 'It's just business as usual, sir,' he said.
Yes, indeed. I spent the rest of the evening jotting down names of corporations that helped foot the bill for both the Democratic and the Republican National Conventions.
Later, upstairs, I took advantage of free haircuts and manicures paid for by the Republican Party. Let's see if I can rehash this, prose style:
'A matre'de offered me a Stella Artois as I waited my turn in the barber stool. Ten minutes later the hairdresser (who requested to remain anonymous) gently chided me, and all the other out-of-town journalists, for my uncouth appearance. She told me I wouldn't get far with a lady in Manhattan, or in Europe, looking like that. I thought, 'Can this really be the Republican National Convention?'
I apologized, pulled myself into interview form, and asked what she thought of the hairstyles of America's leading politicians. 'George Bush, he's got to do something about that fuzzy thing he's got on his head,' was her initial reply. 'How about John Kerry?' I prodded. 'For an old man, he's got a good looking hairstyle,' she answered. Later I would learn that, from the hairdressers perspective, Dick Cheney was 'hopeless,' John Edwards was 'gorgeous,' and Donald Rumsfeld was 'definitely not sexy.' I didn't ask about Paul Wolfowitz applying his own hair spit in Fahrenheit 911.
Onwards, in search of the truth.
Just as they were at the DNC in Boston, the bloggers offer intelligent and sincere perspectives, regardless of their political affiliation. Josh Trevino, who writes the conservative online diary RedState.org, admitted that he and his colleagues wouldn't have been invited to the RNC had the Democratic Party not beaten the Republicans to the chase. There was one glaring difference, though. The Democrats accepted credential applications from hundreds of bloggers, eventually inviting more than 35 to their gala in Boston in late July. The Republicans then handpicked 15, based on the political sway of their content. Needless to say, I didn't expect Trevino to offer any criticisms of the Bush administration. I was wrong, though it's no secret whom he'll vote for in November.
'Shocking as it may seem to Utne's readership, I don't think Bush is actually conservative enough,' Trevino said. 'The critique that he has grown government far too much without finding a way to pay for it is entirely valid.
'Socially and foreign policy-wise he's pretty good. However, I would not say that the administration's justification for [invading Iraq] is the same as my justification. When the Saddam-Bin Laden link is invoked, it's certainly invoked in the context that Saddam had something to do with 9-11. And that's not true.
'There needs to be a proper reorganization of what's going on in the Middle East. [This war needs to be] properly executed, with maybe three times as many troops.'
I asked several Republican delegates about the decision to invade Iraq given what information we have now, and most of their answers always seemed incredibly rehearsed, as if they had recited them each morning upon waking up ... or heard them rehearsed on Fox News. Nowadays, most delegates paid as much attention to the question of the Weapons of Mass Destruction as they would a tip jar at a caf?.
'So what if we didn't find the WMD's. Freeing 25 million people is justification alone,' said Bruce Motheral, a delegate from Texas. Helen LaRue, an alternate delegate from New Jersey, said she didn't want to get into a discussion over the war in Iraq, just seconds after admitting to me that, 'we do lack debate here' at the convention. 'Iraq is a tough topic,' she said. 'I don't want to discuss it because I know that not everyone agrees with me, and I don't like to debate. But I do have my personal feelings.' She followed that with, 'I'm not saying we shouldn't talk about it, but my personal opinion is that we have very good elected officials who know all the ins and outs of this situation. They're the ones who should be on top of it. I believe in George W. Bush.'
Huh? Who's the flip-flopper now?
Other issues that created rifts, though subtle, especially among female delegates, were abortion, gay marriage, and children's education. A delegate from Utah, who spoke to me on the subway under the condition that she remained anonymous, told me she has definite issues with the administration's No Child Left Behind act.
Kerry Brownson, a young delegate from Idaho, offered a poignant criticism of the nature of the convention. 'I personally think I might like a little more debate,' she said while getting out of her tour bus at Madison Square Garden. 'You kind of hear the same things over and over again. They attack the other party over and over again without stating differences between the two.
'Specifically, I have mixed opinions on the abortion issue. And I do support gay marriage, whereas the Republican Party doesn't. I would like more debate about those issues, because I think if I was more informed [at the convention] I might be able to understand where the party is coming from. Also, I think that [the invasion of Iraq] needed to be done, but not under the pretenses that were used.'
Debbie Turner, another Texan, also admitted that she 'has trouble with the pro-life stance.'
What also baffled many Republican delegates were the protestors all over New York City. To many, they apparently seemed like unwashed, uneducated anarchists just released from the zoo who exalted a common platform of primal ignorance. Brownson said the protestors 'provided for great entertainment' and called them 'the highlight of my week.'
Turner didn't think that many of the protestors were from New York in the first place. When told that many of the protest organizations that marched last week were based in New York and that more than 80 percent of New Yorkers registered with a political party are Democrats, Turner answered that, 'Just because you're a Democrat doesn't mean you are going to be a protestor,' adding that she didn't pay much attention to them because, 'most have no idea what they are protesting about, They were just protesting.'
Though I didn't agree with his politics or his perspectives, my heart went out to Johnny Horn, who I found staring toward the arena of Madison Square Garden with tears streaming down his cheeks. Horn is an African American, a Vietnam veteran, and a candidate for state representative in Chattanooga, Tennessee on the Republican platform.
'My emotions were set off out watching the protestors,' he said candidly. 'I'm perplexed that we're not all one accord like in every other war we've fought except for maybe Vietnam. The Republicans are saying we have to proactively fight terrorism. The others are saying we have to take a softer approach. But what happens to the guy in the middle? Many people have no idea how ruthless our enemies really are.'
Horn vehemently disagreed with the scenario I described in Fahrenheit 911 in which blacks in Florida were victimized as their votes were disproportionately nullified during the 2000 election. And he applauded Bush for going into Iraq because now the terrorists 'are busy defending their home turf in Iraq, so they can't focus on us in New York.' Horn is convinced that if John Kerry wins the election in November, 'they' will strike within six months.
Amidst all this doomsday talk, I listened eagerly for Bush to drop hints as to the whereabouts of the big fish, Osama bin Laden, during his acceptance speech. I was left wanting. I hadn't learned the location of the terrorists, but I did know where the dissent and contradictions were. Right here at home.
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