Monday, August 30, 2004

RNC: Monday: Myth of a Nation

Scott and I threaded our way past the patient cops on the avenue, one of whom was alternately dealing with a nicely dressed older woman making good use of the word “fuck,” and a younger woman, possibly a college student, claiming that the sidewalk blockades were “just like the Nazis.” Once the Gestapo-like cops had finished giving us useful directions and wishing us well, we were on our way to the big time. Almost immediately, the welcome-wagon convention volunteers—pimpled youth in baggy green polo shirts—began waving us forward. They engaged us in brief, earnest conversations as we were herded toward the delegate entrance.

45 minutes later, we had been redirected, with considerably less fanfare, to the press entrance, where the greeters were a lot less excited to see us.
Once inside, Scott was immediately beset by a nearly unbearable wave of horniness for the young Republicanettes who twirled and giggled around the halls in Lily Pulitzer sundresses. Many of the boys were equally dashing, with carefully bed-rumpled hair and low-buttoned oxford shirts. With this many fine young things prancing around, there was only one thing to do: drink free beer.

After asking a dozen volunteers, guards, secret service and NYPD where to find our press oasis, the Media Hospitality Lounge, and getting just as many different sets of directions, Scott noted loudly to anyone who would listen “I’ve been to Knicks games run better than this.” I was reminded of my experience on the previous day, and the Fear began to creep back in. Not only was there no consensus as to where things were located, Scott and I had been crawling around the lower arena levels without the proper passes for hours. Finally, as a hungry volunteer led us to the lounge in exchange for hot dogs, I glanced around the maze of tarps and temporary walls that obscured any number of nooks and hiding places below the Garden. My paranoia was getting worse.

Which was nothing a little beer couldn’t fix. After we’d had our fill of decidedly un-American Amstel Light and Heineken, Scott went down to the floor while I sat in the stands to watch the prime-time speeches. With all the talk of 9/11, Iraq and our would-be conquerors, the terrorists, the GOP kicked off with great fanfare what I predict (as I write this on Tuesday morning) will be a four-day war tribunal—a mythologization of our Tragic Hero, George W, who stood witness to the havoc wreaked downtown by the barbarians, and who (Rudy Giuliani reminds us) is so very much like that first George W, the one who took the oath of office in our nations’ original capital, New York City.

The crowds of uniformed Texans in denim button-downs and white Stetsons led the war cries as John McCain and Guiliani named the enemies. The invocation of Michael Moore was met with the most terrible gnashing of teeth. The terrorists were a close second, with John Kerry coming in as Public Enemy #3, a rather embarrassing show for the man who would be Chief.

Every great warrior tribe must define its protectorate, and the distinctions made between us and them were useful in helping to separate the real Americans from the fakers who would be left behind.

“We are Americans first, Americans last and Americans always,” said McCain, leaving some of the immigrant attendees to shift uncomfortably in their seats. Giuliani spoke fondly of his hero, the “warmongering gadfly” Winston Churchill. While the audience was trying to figure out what the fuck he was talking about, Giuliani moved smoothly into his comparison of Churchill and W, and finished by quoting the latter: “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists,” declared Giuliani, causing some of the non-Republicans in attendance to shift uncomfortably in our seats.

Of course, to sustain all this admitted warmongering, you need fear. McCain reminded us of the torture and murder in old-regime Iraq; the 9/11 widows spoke of the last terrifying moments of their husbands’ lives; and Rudy trumped them all with his oddly poetic and proprietary account of watching people leap out of the burning towers of the World Trade Center, struck with horror as their bodies fell for “5 to 6 seconds” to an unimaginable death.

But perhaps the most chilling moment of the evening came during the last speech given by a 9/11 widow. She spoke of her husband, an FDNY firefighter who was killed in the World Trade Center attacks. As she finished, her voice wavered, and with a noticeable lack of conviction, she said, "I'm glad to share [my husband] with you, just as I am glad to share my oldest son, Kevin, who is headed to Iraq in December with his Navy unit." The crowd applauded heartily, but it seemed to me there was an uneasy, breathless moment at the end of her speech, as the realization hit us that this woman was offering something akin to a blood sacrifice to the state in the form of her son.

The Monday night prime-time speeches were so focused on 9/11 that I couldn’t help but be reminded of the two things I became very involved with after the attacks, namely drinking and screwing. As the dirty Dallas debs and their fresh-faced frat boys followed their leaders, the Bush daughters, into the New York night, it occurred to me that there would be plenty of both going on this evening, but not for us. Exhausted, we deferred to our day jobs and packed it in, but we weren’t worried. We’d be there to hear all about it tomorrow…


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