Country Club First: Walking Around in the RNC's Wonderland

Election '08

Somewhere between the eight-foot metal fence surrounding the Xcel Energy Center, the armed Secret Service agents scrutinizing all credentialed entrants, the bomb-sniffing dogs, the metal detectors and the arena's front door, the reality that normally governs our world -- the one built on coherence, logic and reason -- gets thrown out the window. Replacing it is an alternate reality, an insularity that is distinctly Republican, inside of which there exists a type of magical thinking seen only when large groups of Republicans gather together.

Heading into this week's Republican National Convention, the Party faithful were prepared for a more subdued event, especially compared to the exuberance of Denver. After all, numerous Republican politicians had declined to attend the convention. And the GOP, we were told, was in crisis: minority status in House and Senate, abysmal approval ratings for the Republican president and party leaders comparing the Republican brand to bad dog food and watching ruefully as today's young generation of voters flocked to Obama and the Democratic Party.

Yet once in St. Paul and Minneapolis, that mentality changed. Out went the glumness, and in came the back-patting, reassurances and Republicans magical thinking. Take, for instance, the convention's theme: "Country First." It's been a rallying cry for politicians, organizers and fundraisers the entire week -- both inside the convention hall and outside its fortified walls. But what "Country" is that? And who exactly lives there? Certainly not the people of St. Paul. Republican big names here operate in their own separate worlds, in which swanky downtown hotels, the convention center and invitation-only, corporate-sponsored parties populate their daily schedule, with luxury cars whisking them from place to place. Looking out their blacked-out windows, St. Paul might just as well be Chicago, St. Louis or Cleveland. And as for their theme, "Country Club First" would be more apt.

Here on Planet RNC, Republican candidates John McCain and Sarah Palin are, regardless of all evidence to the contrary, reformers who we're told will vanquish the special interests of Washington. In her acceptance speech, Palin lauded McCain's "record of actual achievement and reform" which "helps explain why so many special interests, lobbyists, and comfortable committee chairmen in Congress have fought the prospect of a McCain presidency." Never mind that those very same lobbyists run the Arizona senator's campaign. And that most corrupt of politicians, Rudy Giuliani, extolled Palin's record of reform in his keynote speech, claiming, "That's the kind of reformer we need -- she shook up Alaska. She'll shake up Washington." Never mind that Palin first supported the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere," nor that with each day her record of fighting special interests looks less and less impressive.

Not that any of that matters, however. On Planet RNC, truth is merely a matter of repetition: Say something often enough, and it magically becomes fact. Like when Republicans claim Palin's two years of experience as Alaska's governor mean more than Joe Biden's 35 years in the Senate or his chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Only the most magical of thinkers can believe that; yet, here in the halls of Xcel and the barricaded streets of St. Paul, this is accepted truth.

Those wanting to expose the lunacy of this thinking face a hopeless challenge. This week in St. Paul, the First Amendment hardly exists. Free speech is not a right but rather a privilege subject to approval. To use the convention's free speech zones (an oh-so-Republican contradiction in itself), individuals and groups had to apply with RNC organizers long before the convention. Not that anyone would hear them even if they did get a slot, as the small corner of parking lot set aside for "free" speech is tucked between two sets of barricades behind the convention center where there's absolutely zero chance of being heard.

And for those protesters instead hitting the streets (those whose homes weren't raided and who weren't detained before the convention started), marching alongside them are Minneapolis-St. Paul's very own "Dialogue Officers." These armed officers with the fascist sounding titles are present, one such officer guardedly told me, to monitor the chants, signs and all other messages conveyed by dissenters, and to ensure that protesters "weren't crossing the line."

But no matter how violent the protests out in the streets may turn, the RNC will end on a high note tonight with John McCain's acceptance speech. For Republicans here, it will be the closest they ever get to nirvana. They'll lavish their maverick with ample, uproarious applause. They'll hug and kiss their fellow Republicans in celebration as the balloons fall over their heads. They'll proclaim -- if they haven't already -- McCain's candidacy to be the rebirth of their once struggling party. And tonight, they'll sleep peacefully with the knowledge that, no matter what transpires out in the real world of you and I, all is right on Planet RNC.

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