If you, like me, are a voracious political junkie, then you know that there is no sweeter hit than the televised National Conventions of our two major political parties. This is not to say that it is nourishing; junkies don’t seek nourishment, they seek highs. And if you want to see the art of politics (which is to say, the art of the sale) practiced on a level of concentrated Jedi magnitude, you have to see what happens when the party of Small Government and the party of We Actually Kind of Give a Shit present their unified fronts.
All politics is, in a sense, theater. But only once every four years do you get to see the forces that dictate policy in our great nation put on the equivalent of an insanely well-funded school play. Sure, the debates and election night itself are required viewing. The debates are stage managed to be great television, and the built-in tension (to say nothing of real-life stakes) of election night keep you up into the wee hours, red eyes glued to the screen, begging for that last district in Ohio to just FUCKING GET ON WITH IT. But the Conventions are different. The Conventions are where we most clearly get to see what the parties present rub up against what they’re actually offering, and the friction is magnificent.
Katy Waldman of Slate wrote a wonderfully lucid explanation of why Conventions no longer fulfill the function for which they were invented (http://tinyurl.com/c3svr8c). I say, thank fuck they don’t. If this year’s RNC had really been about selecting a candidate, we’d have been spared a cavalcade of righteous bullshit spun around the endlessly amusing spectacle of a bunch of angry religious people punching themselves in the face and trying to get psyched about a candidate who couldn’t find a foot-long clitoris with night vision goggles. The 2012 RNC was not about Mitt Romney, not really (and if it ever was, Clint Eastwood put an end to that). It was about smacking a hive of bees with an oar and, as they swarmed in attack formation, pointing at the Black guy and saying, “He did it.”
The word “birther” was never uttered, of course. Nor “birth certificate,” nor “Kenya,” nor any of the obvious buzzwords tossed around by the Tea Party’s most noxious subset. Still, the message was so obvious that calling any of it subtext seems like a joke: Barack Obama wants to transform America, because he does not love it the way you do. No, sir, he couldn’t possibly love it the way a hard-working American from America does. And if you think we’re racist, think again! Look, all these wonderful minority figures from our party have been given a chance to speak! Why, some of our best friends are…you know…ethnic.
It was the kind of manic overcompensating that a loudmouth drunk does at a party when he realizes he’s gone too far. The Republicans know that they have no support among Blacks. Among Hispanics, they are flatlining. And they know why. You don’t spend four years condoning insidious race-baiting (the birth certificate nonsense, the often insane anti-immigrant fervor) without consequences. The most tragic programming flail was Marco Rubio’s speech on the final night of the convention. An impassioned, articulate orator, Rubio spent 18 minutes spewing platitudes and soothing the consciences of a bunch of delegates who would never have allowed a story like his to occur in the first place. The son of two Cuban immigrants, Rubio would be the cherubic face of job-theft in a modern campaign commercial. And yet there he was, telling a bunch of people who want to keep America pure that anything is possible if you just BELIEVE.
The official party position on immigration boils down to, “Get out and stay out.” This is not an exaggeration. The platform encourages welcoming “highly educated immigrants,” while in the case of your garden variety Brown person, “self-deportation” is the ultimate goal. (Here’s the document in full: http://www.gop.com/2012-republican-platform_home/)
It was riveting viewing all around. Plenty of women were doing PR work for a party that opposes equal pay for equal work. Ann Romney and Governer Nikki Haley (Indian American AND a woman? SCORE!) made beautiful work of their speeches. One a housewife who seems genuinely confused that a woman would want a job outside the house, the other Governer of a state where not meeting the rigorous standards of a “legal abortion” can get a gal a $10,000 fine and 3 years imprisonment. Girl power!
Paul Ryan gave a speech notable for his creepy resemblance to a marionette, but the real story is his cotton-mouthed inability to make an honest sale. Watch the speech and you’ll see what I mean. It’s been fact-checked to death by many (The Times did a customarily nice job of it: http://nyti.ms/UdRfOZ), largely because he’s a massive fucking liar.
Just look at the little prick squirm. He makes misleading assertions, criticizes policies he voted for, and cannot for the life of him tell us what he might actually DO as Mitt Romney’s VP. But watch the shortness of breath. The way his voice trails off. His intense, unnerving stare. This is a kid who hasn’t done a lick of fucking research giving his end-of-term presentation. No, it’s that kid in front of his teacher trying to EXPLAIN. The RNC was full of these sorts of speeches, flop sweaty declarations that were received as red meat by a bunch of delegates who really, REALLY want to believe. They cheered louder the less specific and more agitated things got.
Nowhere was this clearer than the speech given by Clint Eastwood, whose utterly insane performance art dominated the news cycle the next day. If you haven’t seen it, here it is:
Let me make this perfectly clear: one of America’s greatest movie stars and filmmakers spent about 11 minutes talking to a fucking chair. Setting aside the monumental hypocrisy of Republicans who usually think that actors ought to stay out of politics cheering on Clint just because they AGREE on some stuff (though not, notably, on marriage equality and abortion), this was the perfect metaphor for the modern GOP. An old white man putting words in the mouth of an imaginary Black man. I don’t think, as many do, that Eastwood was displaying signs of senility. I think he was doing a bit off the cuff that just wasn’t playing. You can tell by the long stretches of oxygen-free silence and the forced applause and laughter when he lands a “zinger.” Some people can improv and some cannot. UCB is always holding classes, so Eastwood may wish to sign up.
Mitt Romney also spoke, but who gives a shit about him? It was the usual bunch of calorie-free American exceptionalist claptrap, punctuated by a bunch of near-offensive pandering. And, of course, the usual policy-free yammering about how HE WILL GIVE US ALL JOBS AND A PONY. Exactly the speech you’d expect from a guy who looks like he’s auditioning for the Hall of Presidents.
What all of these speeches added up to was the character assassination of a President who only exists in the minds of a dying race, the sick white fantasy of a Black Socialist Kenyan who will drive us all to destruction out of some desire to redress historical wrongs. Having failed utterly to convince us that one of the most vetted presidents in modern history is hiding something, the GOP has resorted to simply telling us that he CANNOT be a true American because of…I don’t know…something about him. Something.
There were others, but the overall impression was that the seams had begun to split. The genteel, fresh-scrubbed face of Conservatism has begun to rot, and the content no longer matches the presentation (Chris Christie was the only speaker who set the merciless social Darwinism of his words to a bracingly mean-spirited delivery). The RNC was Marat Sade for morons. Equal parts inane and insane.
Pass the popcorn.
But let’s talk about abortion. Sorry, no. THE SANCTITY OF LIFE, the GOP calls it. Ever notice how when grown-ups try and explain things to children, they use nicer words? Mommy didn’t die, she went to a better place. Uncle Jack isn’t drunk, he just had a little too much juice. We don’t think queers are entitled to fewer rights, we just believe in TRADITIONAL MARRIAGE. They think we’re children, and they talk to us like we are. If Conventions are theater, the RNC is one of those pantomimes pitched to babies who like flashy colors and reassuring noises.
The abortion debate (which, unless I’m very much mistaken, was settled by Roe v. Wade) has opened up a can of worms that the GOP cannot easily close up again. Todd Akin did the unforgivable with his “illegitimate rape” comments. He spoke the truth about the near-psychotic attitude that modern social conservatives hold toward women and their insides. These days, a gaffe is not misspeaking, it is saying exactly what you mean out loud.
Many called the abortion issue a “distraction.” John Boehner, the world’s only orange rectum, said that everyone’s biggest question was, “Where are the jobs?” And this is true. But as long as Republicans refuse to cooperate on a simple jobs bill, they’ll be vulnerable to questions that reach into the dark, weird heart of their poisonous fascinations. The splendid irony of it all is that, while the GOP seems unable to give any specifics on exactly how they’ll boost the economy, they get pretty fucking detailed about why abortions should be illegal and queers shouldn’t marry.
These hooligans have the audacity to build into their party platform specific provisions about marriage equality and reproductive rights and then tell anyone who calls them on it that they’re just “distractions.” It’s the worst kind of passive-aggressive horseshit. Because a cursory glance at the last few years of GOP activity reveal a throbbing ulcer of sick desire. The number of anti-choice initiatives that have sprung up since the Tea Party sprang to prominence have been dazzling in both number and grossness (the invasive ultrasounds business is something out of a horror story).
If women consent to sex, then they consent to shaming, is the basic gist of it. The GOP, having now strangled the last of Goldwater’s reasonable Conservatism and leapt full-bore into bible-thumping madness, think that if you’re not fucking to make children, you’re violating the American contract. The contract between God and His favorite country. But who tries to remedy that by sticking a rod up some poor woman’s hole? A pervert who cannot satisfy his desires within the social construct to which he has committed and thus turns them into punishment for someone else, is who.
But what of the rape victims? The incest survivors? Those who did NOT consent to sex? Well, apparently, if you get pregnant by rape or incest, you’re no longer a victim but blessed with the joyous gift of life. The fact that any women can vote for these apes is terrifying. That any women can shill for them is ghastly. They are beyond hope, and the best we can do is to let them die.
Religious Conservatives have a skewed notion of consent. Because they hold so much privilege, they assume that they are entitled to live in a society that reflects their interests and no one else’s. Here’s where I’ll leave it, because this has become longer and more wide-ranging than I’d intended: Queers getting married when you do not wish them to is NOT a violation of your consent. Women getting abortions when you feel they shouldn’t is NOT a violation of consent. A government that reaches out to help the disadvantaged when you feel like you ought to pay less in taxes (at a time when you are paying less in taxes than EVER BEFORE) is not violating your consent. No matter how much these shit-for-brains scream about it, THEY ARE NOT UNDER ATTACK.
Women are under attack when they cannot safely be in public or private without the specter of assault. When a teenage girl can be fucked against her will and forced to carry the resulting pregnancy to term. When elected officials care so little about her well-being that they would rather LET HER DIE than allow an abortion.
People of color are under attack when they can be pulled over and carded because they might be immigrants. When they are treated as unwelcome guests in the poor house AND the White House. When they are used as pawns by white power. When they drown and the government does nothing.
Queers are under attack when they are derided as sick and unwanted by politicians, many of whom are secretly queer themselves. When they are bullied until suicide seems the happier option. When they are denied one of America’s most important rights: The Pursuit of Happiness.
The entire point of Conservatism was, really, that the populace was only governed by its own consent. By narrowing the focus of the party to the interests of white, heteronormative, Christian males, the movement has become draconian.
In the GOP, anyone is welcome. As long as they don’t publicly disagree (and aren’t Clint Fucking Eastwood). This is in stark opposition to the main problem of the Democrats. But we’ll tackle that next time.