History repeats itself; the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. —Karl Marx
TAMPA, Fla.—The real truth in America is hard to come by these days; even the Paul Ryan Wikipedia entry has been whitewashed, omitting that he was voted the biggest brown-noser in his high school class.
As I do not believe, in contrast to most of the press corps here, that Orwellian double-speak is the highest form of human communication, I cannot attend a political convention and not feel the anxiety of Hunter S. Thompson’s influence. However much respect books like “The Making of the President” series merit, it’s the bourbon and crank-fueled honesty of “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72” that truly captures the zombie-like soullessness of the political lapdog class.
What to make of the 2012 Republican model?
It didn’t take long to realize this convention was dominated by the same country club set that’s been running this party for decades. Fears that some new monstrous tea party/Christian fundamentalist hybrid has seized the GOP’s helm were readily dispelled as the first busloads of late-night partyers arrived in downtown Tampa on Monday night. Anyone anticipating rabid creationists from the Wichita PTA was confronted with the bland secularism of Laura Ashley and Brooks Brothers.
“So you’re not a Santorum delegate?” I inquired.
She smiled in confirmation.
Ybor City, 1 a.m. Wednesday: The delegates hit the streets of this Tampa neighborhood. These folks hold no truck with international couture. Rome, Paris, London—forget it. They’re locked into the same look since the rebirth of the preppie in the early Reagan years. Printed dresses and pumps, summer suits and bad ties abound among these paragons of white suburban culture.
There’s a conspicuous alt-crowd too. All day long, Ron Paul supporters have been hitting the streets outside the convention center, protesting their exile from the floor, which the party pulled off through a series of procedural maneuvers adjudicated these past few months. As I’m barking my notes into my hideous Android phone, a few bright-eyed Paulites surround me and gleefully, drunkenly convey their tale of woe. I politely tell them that my focus is on the winners, explaining that a key part of my piece is the fact that Romney was able to capture the nomination and dominate the convention, despite the opposition of much of his party. The two most loquacious of the New Mexico Ron Paul contingent—one, a Sephardic and the other an Ashkenazi Jew—expect that I’ll respond to this outrageous perversion of democracy. Americans are disgusted with the status quo, they plead, before a near-naked woman makes her way through the throngs of GOP delegates. The two merry Paulites traipse after her.
Back to the hard work of revealing the cold heart of Romneyism.
I get up my gander and decide to approach some of the men. “So, are you guys Romney delegates?” I ask.
“Who are you?” they respond.
“A freelance blogger,” I say.
“You a liberal?” one asks.
“I’m an independent. So are you delegates for Romney?” I ask.
“Romney’s the nominee,” one says. I ask if they are with the tea party. Another simply asserts, “The party is unified behind Romney.”
The old-school elite Republicans have won; the degree to which the insurgents are represented in the platform is embodied in Paul Ryan, a relative latecomer to the tea party but a class warrior to the core. The Republican leaders can absorb the tea party line, and even if they have to implement it in order to obtain power, they know that none of its harshness will have any impact on their own lives. In the world that they are creating, full of gated communities and McMansions, they will be able to escape the worst effects of their policies. They can afford private health care; their daughters will have access to abortions on demand; their sons will continue to attend top colleges and ascend to the boardrooms without any threat of lower-class challenges to their primacy.
The vast majority of these folks will never send their kids to schools that teach creationism; the hustle to get into the Ivy League is just as pronounced in suburban Dallas as it is in Greenwich, Conn. All that other nonsense is for the proles. And sure, the women will wear pearls just like their mothers; their sons will be taught to love cigars and golf; and the joys of life are embodied in NFL luxury box seats on Sundays.
So, as globalization continues apace, weakening labor and sending millions screaming through the yawning gap between rich and poor, this cast of suburban oligarchs goes on shoveling the nation’s wealth into their pockets through their policies, largely unaccountable not only to the majority of the American people, but even to their own party’s base. What Thompson wrote about the “dark, venal and incurably violent side of the American character” has been absorbed into breadless circuses and a zombie-like disengagement with the politics that matter. Although Romney does not rival Nixon as a Hollywood villain out of central casting, the damage is just as grave. History comes again indeed as farce, but the tragedy never really left us.
My sense is that they would have been perfectly approachable had I asked them about the Patriots’ chances to get back to the Super Bowl. But Romney’s policies, and his relationship to the tea party, were forbidden territory. Their eyes narrowed suspiciously, or they simply looked away. There’s no accountability here. Over the next few minutes, I tried for substantive conversation, and was bombarded by a mix of disregard and howling assertions that Romney would crush Obama in the fall.
Thompson noted 40 years ago that “there is no potentially serious candidate in either major party ... who couldn’t pass for the executive vice president for mortgage loans in any hometown bank from Bangor to San Diego.” Nowadays, it’s best if the candidate is higher up the executive ladder.
The tea partyers are useful hucksters, but those barbarians are not yet at the gate. The real fear and loathing rest where they have always been, in the familiar guise of freshly tailored suits, cigar-chomping patriarchs with their women trailing five steps behind. These are the homegrown oligarchs from the Middle American metropolises—Cincinnati, St. Louis, Salt Lake City. They will readily appropriate the barbarians’ rhetoric in order to gain power, and ride this reactionary wave all the way to the bank. In this regard, the tea party fulfills a classic American political function, described by Thompson when he said: “The main problem in any democracy is that crowd-pleasers are generally brainless swine who can go out on a stage and whup their supporters into an orgiastic frenzy—then go back to the office and sell every one of the poor bastards down the tube for a nickel apiece.”
Alan Minsky is at the Republican National Convention, traveling with a production of the musical comedy “Mr. Satan Goes to Wall Street.” Researcher Meleiza Figueroa provided assistance from an undisclosed location.
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