A part of me recoils at the thought of adding even a syllable to the ocean of pontifical sludge emanating from the Republican confab in Philadelphia, so mind-numbingly inane and diligently deceptive were both its intent and execution.
Yet we ignore the Republicans at our peril; not merely because Bush the Younger has a surprisingly strong chance to win in November but also because what we saw in Philadelphia–however disheartening–is clearly a harbinger of things to come. It was a politics for a people who are not paying attention; a democratic show for a nation entertaining itself into somnolence; a “democracy,” in Robert Entman’s phrase, “without citizens.”
The thousands of pages of analysis the elite media offered while the convention’s speeches, parties and golf tournaments were still rolling were surprisingly substantial. All of the nation’s major newspapers and newsweeklies paid considerable attention to the fundamental disconnect between how the Republicans sought to present themselves and who they really are; to how many corporations were paying how much to buy legislative influence; and to how many genuine right-wingers were kept quiet, on the floor and in the skyboxes, but out of the official proceedings. We learned, for instance:
§ Despite the prevalence of black gospel singers, r&b artists, rappers, breakdancers and gay white congressmen on the convention stage, damn few delegates fell into any one of these categories. (The ratio, studies show, is approximately equivalent to the percentage of black gospel singers, r&b artists, rappers, breakdancers and gay anythings who are also Republicans.)
§ While chairman Jim Nicholson claims that his is the “party of small donors who represent grassroots America,” two-thirds of the party’s $137 million in unrestricted “soft” money has been provided by just 739 contributors, many using disguised identities. Delivering at least $250,000 each were 150 Republican “Regents”–about a hundred individuals and fifty corporations. “We’re raising money left and right,” bragged Tom DeLay, who does a better job of keeping his donor list secret than Los Alamos does with the family jewels. He has to, he told the Washington Post, because rich guys don’t like “Dan Rather calling up and saying, ‘What are you getting for the money you’re giving?'”
Not to worry, Mr. Exterminator. While the media always note the presence of moneyed interests at political conventions, they do not generally make the explicit connection between X company and Y piece of legislation–even though they are spoon-fed this information by various money and politics watchdogs. So we discovered, for instance, that GM provided a million bucks’ worth of cars, trucks and minivans. Microsoft gave $900,000 in software and $100,000 in cash. AIG, the New York-based insurance firm, ponied up $500,000 to the Republicans (with another $2 million for the Democrats). All of it is tax-deductible.
DeLay excuses the closed-door fire sale of public resources, saying it is “cynical for the media to make like it’s bad.” He notes, “It’s better to raise money than to have the government pay for elections.” Alas, this nonsensical point went virtually unchallenged all week. Public financing of campaigns was discussed only by nose-pierced radicals while getting themselves arrested, good-government automatons likely to vote for Ralph Nader and the world-champion self-reinventionist, Arianna Huffington.