Within the Grand Old Party, Contradictions Abound

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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