Tampa—National political conventions are supposedly about building up a party’s nominee, to introduce him or her to the American public. Sure enough, as the Wall Street Journal reports, the Republican National Convention will try to enhance Romney’s likeability. “The Romney camp will turn to an unusually large circle of others who know him, including people he has helped through his church and business career, in an attempt to make the prospective nominee more approachable to voters who seem to respect him more than like him,” write Patrick O’Connor and Colleen McCain Nelson.
The official Republican National Convention might stick to that template, but the Tea Party Unity Rally on Sunday night made no such pretense. The event, headlined by former Republican presidential front-runners Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and Herman Cain, was not about building up Mitt Romney. It was all about tearing down Barack Obama and demonizing his supporters.
Held at a church in the suburban town of Brandon, about fifteen miles from downtown Tampa, attendance was hardly overwhelming. There were a few hundred folks, and the church’s huge parking lot was mostly, but not entirely, filled.
What they lacked in numbers they made up for in passion. But what incites their passion is not joy for what Romney proposes to do. Rather, it is hatred of liberals, anger over being out of power and fear of what will happen if Obama wins another term.
Neal Boortz, the popular conservative talk radio host who will retire and be replaced by Cain next year, offered the most unvarnished expression of this attitude. “It is not the Democratic Party, it’s the Democrat Party, if for no other reason than it makes them crazy,” said Boortz, 67, demonstrating his maturity to delighted laughter from the audience. “They are not public schools, they are government schools,” he continued. “It’s 100 years of government education that led us to the point where a man like Barack Obama could be sworn in as president.”
Boortz contends that there are two kinds of Americans—net taxpayers and net tax recipients. He treated it as a given that everyone in his largely elderly audience is in the former category, even though many of them have been receiving Social Security and Medicare benefits for at least twenty years. Therefore, expounding on the speakers’ theme for the evening, everyone in the audience must mobilize their friends to vote down the expropriators. “Barack Obama takes your money and gives it to someone more likely to vote for him,” said Boortz, who used to write speeches for Georgia’s segregationist Governor Lester Maddox. “The Democrats—the looters, the moochers, the parasites—know how they will vote, for access to your pocket.” Boortz did not specify who exactly these looters are, but his overwhelmingly Southern white audience could fill in the blank.
Between speakers the audience was treated to a trailer for 2016, the film based on Dinesh D’Souza’s book that spreads paranoid fantasies of Obama’s Kenyan anti-colonial agenda.
Like Boortz, the other main speakers barely acknowledged that there is a Republican ticket, and their praise for it, especially Romney, was very parsimonious. Bachmann had a negative frame for the election, defending America from radical government intervention. It was less divisive, but arguably more hysterical, than Boortz’s. “There’s only one option left for America to remain free, at the ballot box in November,” Bachmann declared. The only time Bachmann mentioned Romney was to note that he has promised to repeal healthcare reform. Bachmann ended on a slogan, joined by the entire audience, to “Take our country back!”