Watching the Republican convention is like something out of It Can’t Happen Here, the prescient novel by Sinclair Lewis, of how authoritarianism could come to this country in the name of “Americanism”. With Orson Swindle — truly a Sinclair-ish moniker – the exemplar of cornpone populism, leading off the festivities, what we saw was panoply of militarism as a political and aesthetic ideal. I kept expecting Berzelius Windrip to take the podium.
Notice how the prelude was a carefully orchestrated paean to various military figures, softened only by Laura Bush’s melodious Donna Reedishness. Hailing the identity politics the GOP has adopted, the First Lady hailed Sarah Palin as “the first woman vice president.” The leaders of the women’s auxialliary of the Red State Fascist party are named and honored: she stumbled, slightly, but noticeably, when she got to the part about her husband. She promised “straight talk” — ok, I thought, go for it, Laura. “The most important educational reforms in a generation” … blah blah blah. She’s so glossy and bright, she might be an advertisement for floor wax. “Love your neighbor.” Yeah, tell it to the Iraqis, Laura. “Faith-based initiatives.” Here’s a faith-based initiative for you: I have such faith in the American people that I believe they’ll reject this Nuremberg rally of warmongers, whose “USA USA USA” mantra is low and ominous, like the beating of war drums. People in the audience are holding up signs that say, simply, “Service.” What they mean is: service to the State.
Speaking of which, next up was hubby G. W. Bush, via satellite, who spoke so quickly that one imagined someone offstage with a hook ready to yank him out of there if he went over by so much as a minute. He talked about the hurricane in the Gulf Coast, underscoring his Katrina failure once again. What a numbskull. A shout out to his “Mom and Dad.” And then this not-very-reassuring endorsement: Dubya said that he reads all the intelligence, the daily briefing, he knows all about what it’s like to be President, and he knows — he just knows — that John McCain is the One. McCain’s military record is the first qualification: he’s all about “service above self.”
There’s that word again: you know, like in selective service. John McCain, War Hero. War is the unifying theme of this convention: the glory of it, the honor it automatically generates, like a halo. The “angry left” doesn’t understand this: the crowd roars. Red meat. But these guys are indistinguishable from leftists in their studied political correctness, their Soviet-style monolithism, the worship of the Leader.
The mixture of religious and militaristic imagery is the overarching vision of this convention, and of Bush’s speech: only McCain had “faith” in the surge, and bore witness to his own courage in championing it before its ostensible success. The best defense is a good offense — he’ll give you more wars, in which your children will likely not fight. Sarah Palin is mentioned. The obligatory cheer.
We were treated to a parable about the sunrise on the mountain, which has somehting to do with optimism, and the Prez segues effortlessly into talk about God: does McCain have a divine endorsement? Well, not quite: but this is the subtext of every carefully chosen word. God bless you, and God bless America.
Only an “angry leftist” would take umbrage at this sacrilegious mumbo jumbo.
Laura Bush is back, talking about how Cindy McCain is working to undo and prevent the damage done by unexploded cluster bombs — like the very ones left in South Ossetia by the US-backed Georgian invaders, who admitted to dropping them in their war of “liberation” in that breakaway province. A war her husband valorizes as a struggle for “freedom.”
Now we are being treated to a video about … Ronald Reagan. There they go again — with that Soviet-lke iconography, the Great Helmsman’s visage displayed on the screen like an emblem of the Old Ideology, the one no one pays any attention to anymore. “Get government off our backs” exclaims Dutch, and the words ring hollow as the theme of the video, which is that McCain is the real inheritor of the Reaganite mantle. Just as Lenin’s successors, from Stalin to Gorbachev, claimed the mantle of an orthodox Marxism that was all form and no substance.
Red meat time: it’s Fred Thompson, the actor — another Reaganite trope — who was brought out to replace Rudy “the Loser” Giuliani, whose complete and utter disaster of a campaign is something that McCain’s handlers would rather not remind the public of.
Sarah Palin, a “breath of fresh air,” says Fred. Small town, with small town values. But that’s not good enough, for some of the people out there, media bigshots and liberal media are out to get her. Washington cocktail partiers hate her. Everyone is in a state of panic, because the totally unknown non-Buchananite non-entity is about to take the national stage. Can he really believe this? She knows how to properly field dress a moose — and that’s good enough for Freddy. The neocons will run everything, anyway: so she really doesn’t have to know anything.
Then comes “the remarkable story of John McCain,” “he comes from a military family,” that’s his big qualification, and nothing else needs to be said. He wasn’t just a troublemaker, he was the leader of the troublemakers. John was “rebellious” — and rebelliousness, oddly enough, is being celebrated in this panegyric, at this convention where there is not a single sign of dissension. (They didn’t even allow Ron Paul on the convention floor, never mind have him speak).
The stories of military heroism are told, by Fred, and the television focuses on an army vet delegate in pseudo-military regalia. A woman is crying from the ritualized recitation of the shooting down of McCain’s plane over North Vietnam, a modern Icarus. Seized by an angry mob, his martrydom is lavished on the rapt absolutely silent delegates, like the statons of the cross.
The McCain Mythos is here presented in all its glory: strength, wisdom, humility, says Fred. Humility? The question is: who is this man, and can we trust this man with the presidency? That’s what Fred says. But what is the answer to this question as it applies to McCain — the infamously tempermental McCain? As former senator Bob Smith, a New Hampshire Republican, put it:
“His temper would place this country at risk in international affairs, and the world perhaps in danger. In my mind, it should disqualify him.”
This McCainiac craziness is exemplified by the Orwellian nonsense peddled at this convention — McCain was right about Iraq, “and now we’re winning! — is followed by another ominous war-beat of USA-USA-USA. It’s Bizarro-conservatism in full bloom: up is down, left is right, and the greatest strategic disaster in history is a “victory.”
Thompson’s actorly sitcommish imitation of down home ordinariness has an ideological side. McCain doesn’t appease “our critics abroad.” I got news for Fred: our government has more critics at home than abroad. After all, they’re getting the foreign aid and we’re getting the tax bill.
Now the weak assault on Obama, railing against “liberalism,” attacking the Congress as “the most unpopular” in our history. Unpopular, yes, mostly because they haven’t ended the war as they promised they would — the war McCain (and Thompson) both hail as a noble cause. Thompson rails against taxes, and yet, as Ron Paul points ouit, the three trillion dollar war we’re fighting is the reason that higher taxes are even on the agenda of the possible. The anti-abortion crowd gets their moment in the sun, when Fred takes out after the “above my pay grade” remark from Obama on the subject.
Stand up, step up for John McCain — and the Lord, is the clear implication.
Now it’s Joe Lieberman time, the Old Menshevik who the neocons almost foisted off on the party as the vice presidential nominee. My theory is that Palin was the Anybody But Lieberman candidate in the McCain inner circle: his nomination, after all, would have split the party badly, and violated the Soviet spirit of the Party Congress, with demonstrations on the floor and a possible challenge.
He dares to raise Washington’s farewell address and its warning against partisanship: of course he’d rather die than mention the Founder’s warning against unnatural attachments or antipathies to other nations. “Country matters more than party.” The clear implication: the Democrats are traitors, they’ve betrayed the country. Militaristic nationalism trumps party loyalty. USA USA USA!!!
Now we are hearing him praise McCain for “rising above the smallness of politics’ — this about a man whose campaign runs ads featuring images of Britney Spears and what’s-her-name.
If anybody ever deserved a pie in the face, it is this sour old pickle of a politician.
John mcCain had the heroism to sound the alarm when we were making mistakes, and come out for the surge. Traitors like Obama wanted to “cut off the funds for the troops on the battlefield,” but McCain soldiered on. USA USA USA!!!! War, war, all the time: our enemies will fear him. And that’s the kind of President we need in today’s world: Atilla the Hun. That old bastard, will he never stop talkings?
Now he’s talking “directly” to those who “would never vote for a Republican candidate.” Gee, who is he talking about? He’s not a real Republican, anyway, that’s the undercurrent of what he’s saying: McCain’s a “maverick,” i.e. not really a conservative. So don’t worry, all you Democrats: especially you Clinton Democrats. He’s better than the schvartzer.