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Election Wasteland Part II: The Republican National Convention

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National Conventions Drop Like Nukes: Examining the Fallout and Election Wasteland, Part II

The election landscape has suffered a dramatic change after the Republican National Convention, as I was able to predict when Sarah Palin was chosen as John McCain’s running mate. The Palin strategy has worked, so far, without a single setback, turning the poll numbers sideways and shifting the focus of this election from Barack Obama’s crusade to take back the nation from the Republican war machine to McCain, the old soldier who has managed to woo the press into eating up his image as a maverick candidate, despite the fact that he has no policy disagreements with his party or its financial backers and that he chose a truly frightening vice presidential candidate just to spread his numbers and build support in the conservative base.

The Palin story is huge. An extremely divisive and controversial figure, she has become an instant media star. I don’t get a lot of traffic on my blog, but the two articles I’ve written on Palin have put a huge spike in my numbers. I don’t know how many people are actually reading this stuff, but I’ve gotten twice as many hits in the last week from my analysis of the strategic reasons Palin was likely chosen than from my previous top post, my analysis of marriage rights following the California decision in May that banning same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.

What follows will be an analysis of both conventions followed by the impact they’ve had in the public dialogue and on reshaping the political landscape at the beginning of the conclusion of this election cycle. This is the second of three parts.

Part I: The Democratic National Convention

Part III: Media Fallout and the New Election Landscape

Part II: The Republican National Convention

The DNC was surprisingly well organized this year. They seemed to have a clear message and everyone stayed in focus in the same set of issues and talking points. The Republican National Convention, on the other hand, was a well-oiled machine, as usual. The pageantry of this convention was typical of the kind of show the Republican Party likes to put on, a huge production, very little substance, and a consistent, uniform, yet self-contradicting message. They are the giant and the underdog at the same time, and they are proud to be Americans, proud to promote the priveleges of the wealthy (“I want everyone to get rich.”) proud to be at war, and proud to be afraid of the spread of liberalism and terrorism in the world.

The theme of this convention, in addition to the usual reinforcement of family values, the war on terror, and the Reagan model of economics where theoretically if the rich get rich enough, something has to fall through the cracks and into the hands of the poor, was to denounce partisan politics and negative campaigning and promote McCain as a uniter, able to break party lines and make things happen, and then on the other hand to make completely sarcastic, unfounded, and offensive claims about the Democratic ticket. Many speakers switched from one tone to the other in seconds within the very same speech.

Former Democrat Joe Lieberman showed up to make the case that McCain was a unifying force above party politics, and called both McCain and Palin “mavericks”, the buzzword they are hoping will stick. He went on to appeal directly to undecided voters and tried to capture a few votes from the Democrat side, specifically addressing “Reagan Democrats” and “Clinton Democrats”.

Rudy Giuliani spoke to the more paranoid conservatives, denouncing Hollywood and the left-wing media. It’s amazing people still believe this. He proceeded to pound the lack of experience attack, and I know you may be thinking, how can they keep using the same attack when the VP candidate is Palin? They’re trying to get around it by saying she has more experience, and they only need a weak argument, considering the fact that the conservative base Palin appeals to is very forgiving of hypocrisy and corruption as long as they are offered a candidate who claims to be on their side. He denounced Obama’s experience in community organizing, as did Palin, and the present votes in the Illinois legislature, as did Palin. He referred to an Obama presidency as “on the job training”, while Palin said it would be a “journey of personal discovery”. The speech in general was remarkably similar to that of Palin.

He went on to denounce the DNC because nobody said the specific words “Islamic terrorism”. Strong words were spoken at the DNC about combating terrorism, especially in Afghanistan, by many speakers including Biden and Obama. Giuliani said the Democrats were afraid of offending terrorists, simultaneously making them seem weak on defense and promoting the image of the politically correct liberal elite. Going on about Islamic terrorism specifically is good for the superconservative base, but it makes you look prejudiced or foolishly ignorant at best, and doesn’t help solve any of the world’s problems. Turning this conflict into a holy war is the perfect way to lead us into the century of war McCain so casually said may be our future. The ones who would be insulted are the ones who know that the conflict is more complicated than this. We have the power to put this conflict in perspective. For them it may be a jihad, but that doesn’t mean it needs to become a crusade for us.

The main event at the RNC was not McCain’s acceptance speech, but Sarah Palin’s acceptance speech. There is a lot of analysis of this out there and I’m not sure what I could add in this section, before I go on to the section on the media coverage and impact on the election of the conventions. I will say that some bloggers are saying that she really laid it on thick with the family, and that is true, she spent more time talking about and introducing her family than other candidates, but not by that much. The wives of both candidates spoke, and both VP candidates did spend some time talking about their families. All candidates are the same in this respect, their families are fair game for showing their integrity or values or resolve or humanity, but when there is a problem in the family that may put their values in question, they are off limits. It doesn’t bother me that much, but some candidates do use their families more than others to leverage votes.

Her speech was basically an introduction and a rewording of Giuliani’s speech, the side of the Republican coin which attacks the opposition, while the other reaches out across the aisle. With a few obscure and largely misleading policy statements and claims of personal integrity and experience mixed in, Palin’s main purpose being to court the hardcore conservatives, she took on the role of attack dog, while McCain was extremely careful to avoid negative campaigning and emphasized his bipartisanship. This may speak to the fact that the fiscally conservative crowd is probably quite tired of Bush, and the McCain/Palin ticket is engineered to reach both the middle and the extreme right as much as possible. The actual substance of Palin’s speech was mostly crude sarcasm and snide, unfounded, and childish comments. I believe the proper word for how she spoke is “smarmy”, but I’m open to suggestions.

John McCain’s acceptance speech was difficult to listen to. It was a reaffirmation of Republican values, expressed in the same backward rhetoric crafted by experts to convince people to sign away their wellbeing and the wellbeing of the nation in exchange for the unfulfilled promise to reinforce empty and meaningless ideals. It’s like they say, when you’re making a sale, you appeal to the prospective client’s emotions, not their needs or the advantages of your product. The accepted ratio in the sales world is 20 percent convenience and 80 percent emotional connection.

The way in which McCain spoke was reminiscent of a combination of salesman and condescending teacher. McCain spoke to the American people as if we were stupid, not only for the tone in which he spoke but for the way in which he made his case. He spoke as if the ideas he stood for were simple and unquestionably true, as though only a person whose judgment was so clouded by their pretentious elitism that they couldn’t see how good things could be if the government would just let us grow.

It’s a convoluted message, and with very little change in the strategy which has worked so well for Republicans in the past. Since the days of Reagan they’ve been telling us that taxes are too high, and that government is doing too much to try to help us, and through their total incompetence, hurting us, and strangling us economically. Rather than attempting to improve the quality of government, their proposal is to reduce its “size” and therefore how much of a nuisance our naturally substandard government can be.

Republicans always want the size of government reduced when it comes to the government’s ability to help us, but not when it comes to the government’s ability to control us. And it’s completely inaccurate to claim that the reason we have hard economic times is because of taxation. Taxation is annoying to those who have their needs met, and those who don’t pay less, or nothing. If we had a competent government working toward a real working economy, the taxation necessary to pay for it would be a fair price to pay – although there will always be people who complain when they have to do their part.

McCain refers in his rhetoric to lowering taxes on small businesses, allowing them to hire more workers and invest. This may be partially true, and I would support a reduced tax burden on businesses which pay a living wage to their workers, but McCain and his party will always give the lion’s share to the largest businesses and corporations, without setting any ground rules. They will be allowed, as they have been for far too long, to do whatever they want, take jobs wherever they want, cheat their investors, pay as low a wage as possible, and threaten to take jobs overseas if not offered special deals, deregulation, and disproportionate tax breaks. And yet we still see the Republican Party fully supporting all deregulation efforts.

McCain was careful to not attack the other side during this speech, at least not in strong words. That was Palin’s job. While she makes snide comments about their political rivals, McCain takes the high road, trying to separate himself from a party which is so interested in the wellbeing of the rich that they are creating a precarious situation for themselves in that they are having a harder time selling the misconceptions they’ve so effectively spread that wealth placed in the hands of the few will trickle through their fingers and provide prosperity to the many.

There are smart people who fall for this fallacy, because they try to make their argument as convincing as possible and they have experts in building faulty logic structures, but when the middle class is collapsing, and we can no longer survive on hard work and ambition alone, it becomes apparent that we need an intelligent structure of business regulation in order to maintain the dignity of the American majority. The rules are simple: Pay your workers a living wage. As much as McCain tries to separate himself from the Republican image, he will never call for a living wage. Then again, Obama isn’t really either.

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