Wednesday, August 29
A bunch of things happened on Wednesday! We're not going to talk about most of them. This is in part due to the fact that I can't psychologically and emotionally handle covering McCain, Pawlenty, Huckabee, Condoleezza Rice, Jindal, and Rand Paul all at the same time. Just write yourself some Mad Libs and fill in "family," "economy," "the little man," "Jesus," and "personhood" and I think we're largely done here. Because also we're already at like 2500 words and we haven't even talked about Paul Ryan or Mitt Romney. I know! Make yourself a snack and let's buckle down and talk about Ryan.
What is there to say that hasn't already been said? There are a lot of factual errors in this speech. There are any number of people on the internet who have taken up the task of explaining these errors (and by errors I mean, less generously, "lies") but sure, this is a fine place to start. If you are even vaguely familiar with Paul Ryan's impressive oeuvre of attempted radical Republican restructurings of the American experience, this should tip you off:
The greatest threat to Medicare is Obamacare, and we’re going to stop it. In Congress, when they take out the heavy books and wall charts about Medicare, my thoughts go back to a house on Garfield Street in Janesville. My wonderful grandma, Janet, had Alzheimer’s and moved in with Mom and me. Though she felt lost at times, we did all the little things that made her feel loved. We had help from Medicare, and it was there, just like it’s there for my Mom today. Medicare is a promise, and we will honor it. A Romney-Ryan administration will protect and strengthen Medicare, for my Mom’s generation, for my generation, and for my kids and yours.
You guys? You guys. Paul Ryan wants to end Medicare. Like, for every moment up until and almost including this very moment, Paul Ryan's whole thing has been replacing Medicare with a bizarre voucher system because he believes (as does his party! That is why he is nominated for VP!) that the cost of healthcare should be shouldered by citizens, not the government. Like this is not just a lie, it is some straight up Magical Fantasy Unicorn Land Opposite Day shit. If Medicare looked the way Paul Ryan wanted it to look, his granny on Garfield Street in Janesville would be selling her doilies on Etsy to try to keep her home and also pay for her Alzheimer's medication, and invoking her memory in such a blatantly dishonest way is honestly horrifying. Not to mention Ryan's self-serious pretense at solidarity with un- or underemployed college graduates who are "in their childhood bedrooms, staring up at fading Obama posters and wondering when they can move out and get going with life" when Ryan wants to eliminate over 1 million Pell Grants. Really! This is a thing he feels comfortable saying in front of thousands of people!
Look at his weird rubbery face that looks sort of like a Nixon Halloween mask that someone left in their attic and was nested inside of by a squirrel, and know that this is a person who feels totally at ease lying to a group of people who have gathered here because they already support him, as well as the entire rest of the nation. The people at the Republican National Convention have been following Ryan's career for years as he's grown up as a sort of half-crazed well-coiffed Republican ideologue wunderkind -- and he expects that even they will swallow a total reversal of several of his positions with pleasure?
Allow me to backtrack a little and also wallow in some conspiracy-theory thinking (that I think is totally justified). Almost exactly a year ago in 2011, a Republican staffer named Mike Lofgren left the party because while he still believed in the tenets of conservatism, he had grown so disgusted with the party's tactics that he couldn't take it anymore. Upon leaving, he wrote an essay which exposed some of his more shocking observations about Republican strategy to anyone who was willing to listen (we were, and wrote about it). Here's what he had to say about the Republican feeling on voters' knowledge, or "low-information voters:"
There are tens of millions of low-information voters who hardly know which party controls which branch of government, let alone which party is pursuing a particular legislative tactic. These voters' confusion over who did what allows them to form the conclusion that "they are all crooks," and that "government is no good," further leading them to think, "a plague on both your houses" and "the parties are like two kids in a school yard." This ill-informed public cynicism, in its turn, further intensifies the long-term decline in public trust in government that has been taking place since the early 1960s - a distrust that has been stoked by Republican rhetoric at every turn ("Government is the problem," declared Ronald Reagan in 1980).
If it seems like the Republican strategy is to lie through their teeth and hope that no one notices, that's because it is. And it's not just for the election -- it's a real, concrete plan that they've been working on for literally years. If voters' ideas about who to vote for are based not upon any kind of real understanding of an issue and are instead based on emotional connection and trust of a candidate's personality and purported background, then you can win them over by spouting a bunch of bullshit about how poor your parents were and how you had to figure out how to make Hamburger Helper once, while glibly pointing to the other guy and claiming he's responsible for everything you did, confident that no one will even head to Wikipedia to get the full story. Then you can remind voters that no one has ever asked you for your birth certificate, and trust that that will count more than the fact that your policies hurt and endanger women, a full 50% of the voting public. Because hey, you know what? As Ryan said, "The man who will accept your nomination tomorrow is prayerful and faithful and honorable... not only a fine businessman, he’s a fine man, worthy of leading this optimistic and good-hearted country." Aw, what a stand-up guy. Who needs to waste the time necessary to look up his platform or voting record? After all, I have to rush if I'm going to get to my second job on time. Now that we can't unionize anymore, they've been firing people for the smallest things. I sure wish someone would come along and do something about this economy!
I'll let this go, and we can move on and talk about things other than how awful Ryan is and how neatly he exemplifies so much of what is awful about his party, but it just seems important to say -- the voters aren't stupid. Americans aren't stupid. This isn't even about turning up a nose at people who are voting Republican. This is about classic strategies for manipulation - convincing your victim that you're the only one who can be trusted, and then telling them whatever is necessary to get what you need out of them. We should be angry, yes, that there are so many people willing to not only buy into and perpetuate this rhetoric, but we should also feel angry about the lies that have been told to them well before this speech in order for that to happen. Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney are a pretty perfect example of everything that's wrong with everything, but also, they didn't start the fire, yannow? They were just given a heads up to leave the building while the rest of us burn.
Thursday, August 30
If the RNC were a video game, Thursday would feature the final boss battle: Romney's speech. (Taking suggestions for who the princess in the castle should be. Nancy Pelosi? Rachel Maddow? All the women in Arizona who now have pregnancy legally defined as beginning retroactively at their last period?) Both Callista and Newt Gingrich also spoke on Thursday, along with Jeb Bush (remember him?) and also there was a color guard. I know! They all told you your ability to twirl a flag around your head was useless in the real world; little did they know that you could one day rub shoulders with such greats as former Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey; Olympians Michael Eruzione, Derek Parra and Kim Rhode; and "Reagan Legacy Video." Again, we are not going to recap those things, although I'm sure the color guard was stunning.
Before the convention, there was a certain amount of buzz about a surprise celebrity speaker. Who could it be??? Rumors included Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, or even Tim Tebow, the quarterback that baby Jesus loves most in the whole wide world. (This is where, had I started this recap three days ago, I would have made Grace create some who's-at-the-door graphics. REGRETS.) Instead, it was announced that the mystery speaker was in fact Clint Eastwood, Professional Old White Man.
If you have somehow, by some chance, not yet heard about Clint's bizarre performance, I'm not really sure what to tell you. Well, I mean, I can tell you that Eastwood pulled an empty chair next to it and pretended Obama was sitting in it, and performed a routine of lambasting and also fending off silent interruptions from Pretend Obama in a scene that would probably almost definitely have earned him a passing grade in an improv class for geriatric patients in the local community center. Really though you should just watch it. (Note the helpful stills of Clint Eastwood in his films, in case attendees were unsure of his identity and were tempted to throw peanuts at him in a panic until he produced a birth certificate or proof of European ancestry.) (Also, I think my favorite part of this entire Clint Eastwood Experience is that "Clint Eastwood" wasn't trending on Twitter, but "Gran Turino" was for some reason? #racistoldwhitemen)
Reactions to this performance have been varied. Actually, just kidding, they've been totally unanimous:
Rachel Maddow calls it “the weirdest thing I've ever seen at a political convention in my entire life … and it will be the weirdest thing I've ever seen if I live to be a hundred.”
I honestly don't have much to add. Mostly I hope that there isn't an announcement on Monday that Clint Eastwood actually has dementia, because I don't think I'd be able to forgive myself for making fun of him.
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, the #1 living human who looks most like a Ken doll, took the stage immediately after Eastwood, and had the unlucky task of trying to make a funny opening remark that would smooth over how insane that was while also transitioning back into America Talk. Unfortunately for Rubio, he is one of the less naturally gifted speakers at the convention, and so the best he could come up with was "I think I just drank Clint Eastwood's water. Thank you." Was this a joke about there being something in the water? Was this a weird fanboy thing about how now he'll never wash his esophagus again? Perhaps worst of all, was it just a panicked attempt to change the subject by making the first observation that came to mind, like when you run into your ex and find yourself saying "I accidentally fell asleep on the couch without doing my laundry last night so today I had to turn a pair of dirty underwear inside out?" We may never know. But let's all take a moment and really bask in how smooth and silky Marco Rubio's face looks. Do you think he uses baby oil?
Here's the thing about Marco Rubio and what he has to say: America is really special, you guys. And we're special for being a part of it. Or as you would say in Spanish, "especial." Because take that, all you people who thought the GOP was essentially a country club! Rubio is Latino! Obviously Rubio's ethnicity in no way legitimizes or delegitimizes his work as a legislator, but the fact that the GOP is so clearly trotting him out to try to make a point about how despite their horrendous stance on immigration, and being the party that's responsible for Arizona's SB-1070 and Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the perennial English Only campaigns and oh everything else awful in the world, the GOP still cares about Latinos, and the party is a good place for them. The Latino vote is growing very fast and the Republican party needs to figure out a way to tap it if they're going to continue to exist, so please wait patiently while we pause briefly for everyone in the convention center to change their pants after hearing Rubio tell us about how his dad used to say "En este pais, ustedes van a poder lograr todas las cosas que nosotros no pudimos." Congratulations, GOP, you did it. What racism and xenophobia? Those problems can be solved by just Loving America Enough!
For real though, Rubio's speech is one of the saddest moments for me of the whole RNC, because it's not particularly well-written and he's not a speaker like Christie, who seems so convincing in believing what he's saying that you want to believe it too. Rubio's speech just comes off as clumsy rhetoric, because it is. He says the word "special" 11 times in about 15 minutes. Some highlights:
+ "For those of us who were born and raised in this country, it's easy to forget how special America is."
+ "But instead of inspiring us by reminding us of what makes us special, [Obama] divides us against each other."
+ "As we prepare to make this choice, we should remember what made us special."
+ "We are special because we've been united not by a common race or ethnicity. We're bound together by common values."
+ "Special, because we've never made the mistake of believing that we are so smart that we can rely solely on our leaders or our government." (Ed. note: He means God. He means that we also rely on God for our government.)
+ "We're special because dreams that are impossible anywhere else, come true here."
+ "We chose a special man to lead us in a special time."
Yes, Rubio, we did. He was a top pick to potentially be Romney's running mate, so I imagine he was thinking that it could have stood to be even a little more special, but he closed it out with class and grace, including a reference to the "American Miracle" (the third movie in the trilogy, after American Identity and American Supremacy). Which brings us to the main event! It's Romney O'Clock!
The thing about Romney's speech is that I actually watched it when it occurred. I found a TV and everything! But I don't remember any of it? And I wasn't even drinking? (My self-destructive consumption this election cycle appears to be centered around stress eating instead.) Which I think means I repressed it, which doesn't bode well for the last 1000 words of this.
So, first of all, the context for Romney's speech is technically that he's accepting the GOP's nomination for presidential candidate. This is a little contrived because it's been clear for months now that Romney is going to be the candidate, it's kind of like Regina George accepting the homecoming crown and exclaiming "Really, you picked meeeeeee?", but it's how these things go. (Sidenote, which Mean Girl do you think Romney is? I think he's a Gretchen Wiener all the way. Stop trying to make "I'm relatable because I'm sort of from Michigan and was 'poor' once" happen.)
But when you get past the acceptance stuff and move into the spin he's going for, it really is essentially like a big boss version of what everyone else has said up until now. The plan, it would seem, is to acknowledge all of the struggles that Americans have been facing for years -- unemployment, job loss, lack of access to affordable healthcare, a drought of even entry-level and minimum wage jobs for college graduates -- but pretend that they are someone else's fault! It's insane to think that the credit crisis or the housing bubble bursting or joblessness are solely Obama's responsibility. All of them -- as are most major economic trends! -- are the result of years and even decades of economic decisions, many of which are attributable to the Bush presidency and even Reagan. Saying this is Obama's fault is like having the entire party run out the back door as soon as they hear the garage door opening and just leaving one poor shmuck holding a Solo cup in the middle of the trashed living room to take the heat for it. Yes, that guy did in fact attend the party, and Obama has been part of our nation's government while these now-clearly-disastrous decisions took place, but come on, guys. You don't have to be dicks about it. Also, Obama has in fact created on the whole more jobs than Bush did, the auto industry is seeing major improvements, and he's at least working on ways to keep loans from being even more unmanageable for students. Way to be a giant jerk to the guy cleaning up after you and all your friends!
Regardless, though, have to give the man some bonus points for managing to work Neil Armstrong's recent death in there. Very classy! Also, somebody send an Edible Arrangement to the speechwriter who thought up "The soles of Neil Armstrong's boots on the moon made permanent impressions on OUR souls and in our national psyche." They sure deserve... something. Actually though, I have some questions about this speechwriter, because this speech is all over the place. Some of my best friends are women, look how many I've worked with! God bless Neil Armstrong! Did I mention how much I love my wife! Also I love cars! (That wasn't a joke. That part is really in there.)
The thing is, there's nothing really here. No recommendations for policy, no explanations of what he thinks is wrong and how he'll fix it. There's some weird personal stuff about Mitt that's designed to make us feel like he's not a space robot (including but not limited to the embarrassing dad jokes about what he and Paul Ryan respectively have on their iPods), but mostly a lot of rhetoric about how this isn't what "you deserve."
This was the hope and change America voted for.
It’s not just what we wanted. It’s not just what we expected.
It’s what Americans deserved.
You deserved it because during these years, you worked harder than ever before. You deserved it because when it cost more to fill up your car, you cut out movie nights and put in longer hours. Or when you lost that job that paid $22.50 an hour with benefits, you took two jobs at 9 bucks an hour and fewer benefits. You did it because your family depended on you. You did it because you’re an American and you don’t quit. You did it because it was what you had to do. But driving home late from that second job, or standing there watching the gas pump hit 50 dollars and still going, when the realtor told you that to sell your house you’d have to take a big loss, in those moments you knew that this just wasn’t right.
I mean... well. Okay. Yes! Sure! I mostly think that we do all deserve to have healthcare benefits at work and to be able to take care of our families and to live in shelters with roofs and running water. So that's a good place to start! But that's not really what Mittsy is talking about. He's talking about being comfortably middle class and having disposable income as a right; as something that is correlated to human worth. There are a number of problems with this. The thing is, what most of the speeches at this convention have ignored is that poverty is not something Barack Obama invented. Even before the recession, people were still poor! They were disproportionately people of color and single parents and people without access to the level of education they might like to acquire in an ideal world, just like they are now. What's happened as a result of the recession is that people who were formerly 'middle class' -- who are more likely to be white, married, and highly educated than their poor counterparts -- are now also experiencing economic hardship.
So when Romney and his friends talk about how unfair and undeserved it is that someone might now have to work a job that doesn't give them benefits, they're really saying that it's not fair that formerly privileged people should have to now be less privileged in one specific respect. Because that's what (racial, educational, class) privilege really means, right? That you don't deserve to have anything bad happen to you or to ever struggle? Which means that, by the same token, people who are underprivileged do deserve those things. What about the people who have always been filling their gas tanks up halfway because spending more than $15 at one go isn't feasible, and who have always been working two or more jobs if they can get work at all, and for whom it always just hasn't been right? It seems like they can expect to keep on keepin' on. Patting someone on the back for "just not quitting" is hilarious, because only someone who's privileged enough to think quitting, either literally or metaphorically, is an option would think it makes sense to say that. Did you know that Romney has zero percent of the black vote in the polls? Just throwing it out there, that might be because black and Hispanic workers are the most underemployed demographics in America, and Romney genuinely thinks he's speaking to the working class by talking about having a full time job at $22.50/hr and then dropping down to two jobs that pay $9/hr as a real hardship. He sounds like a fucking idiot, because Romney has specially trained staff who are paid to tackle anyone who makes under $55,000/yr and attempts to make eye contact with him, and has no concept whatsoever of what working, being poor, or being the working poor is actually like. Just a friendly reminder!
But as dumb and insulting as this is, it's also classic GOP, and for many Americans, this speech was probably very appealing. Meritocracy tells us that good things come to us if we are hardworking and good people, and while a dizzying array of intersecting patterns of marginalization and institutionalized oppression make that hard to swallow, there are many people to whom it is a very meaningful idea. Not because they're dumb or bad -- mostly just because they really are hardworking and really are pretty good people, and accepting that terrible things can happen to you in spite of that is really scary. And ultimately, that's what we can take away from both Romney's speech and the convention as a whole -- that more than anything else, the GOP is still building their platform around fear. The fear of not being able to take care of your family, of not having enough, of having the little that you have taken away from you, the fear of other groups and communities, the fear of change, the fear of not being able to guarantee stability for yourself or your loved ones. And yeah, honestly, those are all things that are worth being afraid of (minus #4). But the fact of the matter is that the people in charge of this party and this campaign are never going to have to be afraid of those things in the same way that 90% of the voting public is, because they have pool noodles and swimmies made of privilege to carry them over whatever tides of change may come.
This won't be the last we hear from any of these people, but especially from Ryan and Romney, right up until November. The Democratic National Convention will run from September 3rd to September 6th in Charlotte, North Carolina, and will probably feature less patriotism chic and among the attendees. Stay tuned for that, and also debate season, when Community Managerette Lemon and I are going to drink and gchat about the debates.
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