To watch America's most treasured political theater play out firsthand is to come to understand that this is not about real things that happen in the world outside of television boxes and the mouths of anointed leaders. This is a mass indulgence of the faithful in the collective ecstasy of their faith. As an act of cognitive dissonance, the speeches of the Republican convention were breathtaking in their boldness.
But as an act of faith-based religious fervor, they were quite a success.
To see John McCain declaring that America, a proud and professed torturer over the past decade, must stand up "when long-suffering people demand reparations from their torturers," and to then witness the crowd of thousands erupt in cheers, is to know that none of this is real. McCain, in the same breath, could have just as easily called for more torture, and received the same cheers. The crowd inside the forum last night was primed as if by hypnotist: God. Party. Country. Reality complicated things, things that related to the knotty issues that affect the lives of the majority of people here and abroad—those things are handled quietly, without speeches, by the leaders we pick here, long after these public spectacles are over. These speeches, this mass celebration, is just a soothing balm for the voters. There, there. We are good and right and strong. Give me that vote, and join the team.
The Texas delegation had all donned matching cowboy hats and blue shirts and many of them sported fat silver belt buckles and cowboy boots that clicked sharply as they climbed the stairs next to me. The same sounds a cattle thief or wayward Injun hears, just before he's hanged. G.E. Smith, selected as the RNC bandleader because he has the same perfect constellation of eye wrinkles as Mitt Romney, jammed in his own desiccated way. In a just world, G.E. Smith would never be spoken to again by anyone in rock and roll. Bandleader for the Republican National Convention. Take a look in the soul mirror, G.E.
It didn't take long for the procession of speakers to melt into one another, as they almost uniformly refused to speak above a fourth grade reading level. The babying process is treasured by convention delegates, I presume. It makes them feel safe in the party's womb. State attorneys general Sam Olens and Pam Bondi shared a single microphone, a dubious tandem, Jon Lovitz and a Spongebob character warning children to look both ways before crossing the street and to avoid OBAMACARE. South Dakota's John Thune, a tan with a mouth, told a painfully predictable "always goes to his left" joke about Obama and basketball, delivered with all the panache of an airline safety video.
Do the party faithful not even deserve good jokes?
Occasionally, the speeches paused, and they cut to a Romney functionary on the convention floor, playing reporter by interviewing a delegate. Fake reporter Tara Wall did her part to jazz up the crowd: black woman, white top, visible nipple. The next fake interview featured a small businesswoman explaining that banks would not give her business a loan because of the Obama administration's regulations. Huh. Not because of the recent total financial collapse of the nation's credit markets precipitated by lack of government regulation; but because of some unnamed regulation instituted even more recently, by Barack Obama. Huh. Assertions like these are called, simply, "lies." I will personally give that woman a loan if she can name a single banking regulation.
The convention's bizarro-land version of reality wears you down until you accept that, if you have to be here, it's easier to just give in than to struggle with its contradictions. "We need new leadership?" Yes, that sounds like an amazing applause line. "It's not every day that someone comes along that has the courage to set high goals?" Yes, makes perfect sense. Tim Pawlenty, a third-rate standup comic who appears to be constantly trying to shrug hard enough to conceal his own neck? Yes, serious vice presidential material. The lengthy lineup of clowns had the effect of making Mike Huckabee, a competent speaker, sound as deft as Martin Luther King Jr., and Condoleeza Rice—who is, I hasten to point out, just as ideologically despicable as her white male colleagues—sound like something approaching Noam Chomsky, merely for mentioning other countries without calling for them to be obliterated or insinuating that Obama was born there, or both.
The word "gun" from the next speaker brought wild cheers. And, in Paul Ryan's finale, the words "heath care" brought boos. As Ryan spoke, a lone protester, a youngish female, stood up on the side of the arena, unveiled a banner, and started chanting. She was quickly hustled away by security, and the crowd screamed "USA" as if it was an anti-witchcraft spell.
The old man sitting next to me, unable to leap to his feet, craned his neck. "What did she say?"
"She said, 'health care, not warfare,'" I replied.
"'Health care... not warfare?'" He repeated each word slowly, with a puzzled look on his face. Then he turned around and sat silently for the rest of the night.