Category Archives: Republican National Convention

Chatting Up the Right in Tampa

Friday, 31 August 2012 09:41 By Arun Gupta, Truthout | News Analysis

The author with Rep. Michele Bachmann.

The author with Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minnesota) prior to the screening of Citizens United Production’s documentary “Occupy Unmasked” in Tampa. (Photo: Arun Gupta) 

I put on my best right-wing drag for Michele Bachmann. She was going to introduce the late Andrew Breitbart’s “Occupy Unmasked” documentary at the Citizens United tent in Tampa. I was eager to ask her about the grave issues afflicting America.

Having taken a seat in the air-conditioned tent, after enjoying chicken sliders and BBQ pork courtesy of Breitbart, which led one reporter to wonder if we were being served his Eucharist, I missed Bachmann’s entrance. But there she was, fresh and zealous-eyed in an ivory jacket and skirt and purple lei. She nimbly pressed the flesh, drinking in the affection.

I nudged into her bubble and Travis, a “local, conservative lawyer,” kindly snapped a photo of our encounter. I was cleaned up, with a new outfit, Mitt Romney 2012 button and Citizens United Production press pass. “Rep. Bachmann, I respect everything you do,” I told her. “Oh, thank you,” she replied, her smile broadening, warmly pressing my hand.

She had moved on before my question tumbled out: “What can we do about the epidemic of pornography and masturbation in America?”

She turned, flashing a curdled face, but soldiered on. I didn’t get a chance to ask my follow-up, “Does life begin at ejaculation?”

My mission for the Republican National Convention was to chat up the right. Having attended Tea Party meetings, I knew I would scare off the faithful if they suspected I wrote for outlets such as Truthout and AlterNet. So, posing as a fellow red-state American or right-wing blogger, I managed to converse with a few of the ground troops and soak up some agit-prop.

Properly outfitted and with the right mindset, it’s not hard to draw out the toxin that lies beneath. Roger, an elderly RNC volunteer in the Citizens United tent, said, “If Obama loses and he’s going to lose, there’s gonna be violence.”

The right is obsessed with race war. “Occupy Unmasked” warned race war was on the left’s agenda, that and revolution, sex, drugs, violence and pooping in public.

Travis was more measured. He wants Romney and Ryan to “be real leaders. Rein in federal spending. Let the private sector run free, create more jobs, return prosperity to America.” At the top of his agenda was “repeal Obamacare. Rein in entitlement programs. Eventually privatize them. We need to get rid of departments that don’t do anything.”

Loosening up, Travis unfurled his Tea Party flag. “Mitt Romney loves America. Barack Obama was raised to change America. I heard on the radio that he didn’t celebrate July Fourth growing up. His mother raised him to worship his father who was a Communist.”

As Travis held forth, his colleague Jonathan stood by and smiled. I inquired about voting fraud in Florida. Neither thought illegal voting at the polls was an issue, but with a guffaw they agreed that Democrats stole elections. Travis said, “I just can’t see conservatives who love America commit voter fraud.” On a roll, he pressed the gas. “It’s Democrats and ACORN signing up dead people. And we know where ACORN comes from: community organizer Barack Hussein Obama.”

It’s not hard to find outlandish tales here. What’s more striking about the right is how cliché it is, down to the parade of Chino and Oxfords, fake pearls and peroxide blonds that have invaded Tampa. Its message is just as bland, but that makes it all the more dangerous. Everyone is on message: reduce entitlements and privatize what remains. Cut “useless” departments like labor and education.

Tom McClusky, senior vice president of Family Research Council Action, said social spending needs to be “greatly reduced” because “a lot of the nation is getting federal assistance that doesn’t need it.”

It’s regurgitated Reaganism. Travis envisioned a capitalist Shangri-La if “government would just get out of the way. Revenue would go up if we lowered taxes.” I didn’t mention supply-side economics has been the orthodoxy for more than 30 years, and Obama probably slashed more taxes in one term that Bush Junior did in two terms. The difference is Bush showered the gold upon the rich, so it boosted the economy less than Obama’s cuts, particularly the (short-sighted) payroll holiday.

The right is close enough to power to feel social programs writhing on the chopping block like unemployment and food stamps, which amounts to a much-needed, but miserly, $134 a month for the 44 million Americans who received it last year. No one with an ounce of reason believes eliminating these programs will do anything to reduce the deficits. As the poor are disproportionately Latino and African-American, it’s really an attack on these communities.

When the legions of the RNC say prosperity, they mean for “true” Americans. The Tea Party cries, “We the people” and “Take back America.” It is a white revolt against the dark, grasping hordes. Only fanatics claim that the Republican National Convention’s diversity that’s reminiscent of a 1950s country club is unrelated to leaders who cackle about suppressing the black and Latino vote and voters who more readily believe Obama is Muslim instead of Christian.

Hypnotized by a self-serving ideology, the right happily swallows a contradictory formulation like America will cut its deficit and return to greatness by letting plutocrats raid the federal treasury while swiping food, medicine and education from workers.

The culture wars beloved by fanatics like Bachmann are the medieval icing on their voodoo economic cake. Their policies wreak real damage on women and gays and lesbians and Muslims. I got a preview of their utopia at Christine O’Donnell’s “Troublemaker Fest.”

The day after Isaac side-swiped Tampa, I pushed through the swampy aftermath to the Troublemaker Fest at the Imax Theater near the convention center. Overheated, I collapsed in an empty, chilly theater showing “Troublemaker,” the film. In the future, religious expression is frowned upon, schoolchildren are forced to stage “alien-origin winter pageants” and sinister pinky-ring-wearing secularists sweep into town banning public displays of Christmas and Cross. The defiant patriarchal hero wonders out loud, “Did you ever notice how the mere mention of Jesus seems to rub everyone the wrong way these days?”

I sat there, sickened from the heat and humidity, pondering how the Christian right would celebrate the providence in an atheist socialist perishing as he watched small-town determinism and faith triumph over wicked liberals and faceless bureaucracies.

The movie rebooted Reagan’s fantasies about America. White people give us back Christmas – which “is for everyone” – because our boys and girls are dying fighting in countries where “people are killed” for trying to celebrate the birthday of Jesus. Black people are obedient stepin-fetchits, Latinos are nonexistent and the twisty-wristed, turtle-necked director of the winter pageant is tricked into a locked closet with a sign that reads, “If you borrow something from the closest please return it.” (Really.)

After recovering in body, if not quite in mind, I trudged back through the security zone. Police were everywhere – platoons of armored cops, lines of bicycle cops, formations of cops on horses. Humvees and SUVs cruised by, patrol boats skimmed the harbor and helicopters buzzed above. Layers of checkpoints, fencing and concrete barricades chopped up deserted streets. One of the few civilians in the security zone was a sun-crisped local. “It’s a military zone. Jesus,” he said looking disoriented, “It’s a war zone.” No amount was spared to protect against chimerical threats of terrorism, but the military muscle is useless against the global warming that dare not be named.

If you believe democracy can be tucked inside a racially purified gated community and martial law imposed outside, then you’re willing to accept any wild fantasy as reality.

It’s not that those on the left side of the spectrum are immune to irrational beliefs – many liberals are in denial about Obama’s horrendous right-wing record and many leftists indulge 9/11 truther mythology.

But the right has a unique capacity for believing the unbelievable. It’s allowed politicians like Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann, who would have made fine Neolithic shamans, to rise to positions where they can conduct their warped antediluvian experiments on an entire planet.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

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The 99% Take on the Republican National Convention

Despite mixed feelings about Obama, protesters fight Mitt Romney, the ‘King of the 1%’

August 28, 2012  | by Arun Gupta | Alternet

Politics is an elaborate chess match, and in St, Petersburg one small strike was staged against the Republican National convention on Aug. 26 that revealed the thrust of President Obama’s 2012 re-election strategy.

As panicky Republicans cancelled the first day of the convention on Monday because of Tropical Storm Isaac, the focus on Sunday was the “RNC Welcome Event” at Tropicana Field. These days no major convention event is complete without a counter-protest, and in downtown St. Petersburg nearly 500 people gathered Sunday to march to the sports stadium and voice their displeasure at what they derided as “the world’s largest cocktail party.”

Given the spitting rain and gusts, the turnout was better than expected. And given the months of police and press hype that a mob of mayhem-wreaking anarchists would crash the RNC, the protest rally around Mirror Lake seemed more like a festive Sunday in the park.

A couple of hundred people milled about as Dave Rovics belted out crowd pleasers like “I’m a Better Anarchist than You.” A handful of buses pulled up and disgorged more protesters who came from far away as Miami, New York city and Wisconsin. The rally and protest was organized by the Florida Consumer Action Network, a local grassroots organization focused on public policy issues.

Few anarchists were in evidence, apart from a scrum of fidgety black-clad youth who melted into the rally after drawing stares. It felt like an Occupy-related event with a giant puppet of Romney tagged with a “King of the 1%,” and chants of “We are the 99%.”

Grabbing attention with his preacher’s cadence, Rev. Manuel Sykes, president of the St. Petersburg NAACP, announced, “I’m here to stop the corporate takeover of America.” Sykes castigated “our leaders [who] want to privatize Social Security, Healthcare, Education and Prisons.” He blasted Mitt Romney for wanting “to enrich the 1%.” And he described the November presidential ballot in epic terms: “We’re not just fighting for the 2012 election. We’re fighting for the future of America as we know it.”

On the fringes off the rally, next to a pack of camouflage-clad sheriff’s deputies, a pungent, hippie-looking gentleman with a Ron Paul 2012 sign dangling around his neck and a video camera taped to his helmeted head, taunted the crowd. “Do any of these hippies here supporting Obama know that Obama has dropped two times as many bombs as Bush?”

His words stung one observer who yelled back that “Obama has to do the bidding of Washington.”

The exchange captured the conflicting mindset of the Democratic base. Romney, Ryan and the right are painted, not unfairly, as extremists who will hurtle America back to the dark ages. But Obama, despite sitting in the Oval Office, is seen as powerless.

The weather and fear mongering no doubt cut down on the turnout, but one community organizer clued me in to another factor. The organizer, who wished to remain anonymous, said “A lot of people I work with don’t have hope in national politics. There was an element of fear about the RNC, ‘Can I even go outside with all the street closures and restrictions?’ There is definitely animosity toward Republicans, a lot of ‘Fuck these guys,” but my members also questioned what was going to be accomplished by going out in front of the barricades. I heard a lot of ‘It’s not going to change nothing.’”

The anti-RNC event was labeled a “community vigil,” and it was strikingly diverse. There were anarchists, socialists, libertarians and unaffiliated radicals. Mostly it was white middle-class liberals, working-class African-Americans and a collage of poor people. There were numerous tee shirts and signs indicating support for Obama. What united the crowd was the 99% rhetoric.

That was by design. The community organizer said, “The word from on high was, ‘Don’t say working class, don’t say poor. Say middle class or 99%.’” Why 99%, I asked. “Because it polls well” the organizer explained.

The Occupy Wall Street movement lives on from student-debt campaigning and labor solidarity to home foreclosure defense and anti-fracking organizing. But as a national force Occupy has been reduced to a bogeyman police and politicians dangle in front of a lapdog media that dutifully report every outlandish allegation as stone-cold truth, and it exists as a mobilizing force for the Democratic Party.

You see, Obama is running a re-election campaign using Occupy Wall Street’s language. He won’t say the 99% or 1% outright. That would be too divisive, or so the media owned by the 1% say. But the attacks on Bain capital outsourcing and Romney’s secret tax returns are tapping into the volcano of anger that Occupy gave life to. Late last year an official in the AFL-CIO’s national office told me that Romney was their “dream candidate,” and in April Justin Ruben, executive director of MoveOn told me that Mitt Romney was “Mr. 1%.” Unions like SEIU and liberal groups such as MoveOn and Rebuild the Dream carry the water in flogging the message that Romney will be the president of the 1% who will turn the screws even harder on the rest of us.

That assessment is not untrue. The right would unleash a world of pain on most Americans. But the nature of our endless electoral process, which sucks all the oxygen out of the brain, blinds most Obama supporters to how the Democratic Party is complicit in pushing our politics to the right.

With close to one third of the population in or on the cusp of poverty, 46 million on food stamps51 million uninsured, a “real” unemployment rate stuck at 15 percent, millions of families doubled up and millions of homes still entering foreclosure, Obama can’t run on his economic record. Sure, much of the fault is the guy before him, but that excuse wears thin after four years. Particularly because Obama rode into office with a congressional super majority and a road paved with political capital.

But just as Clinton turned Reagan-era extremism into a bipartisan consensus, Obama doubled-down on the “war on terror,” and endorsed cutting Social Security and Medicare and enacting austerity policies within a year of taking office. Obama thus helped enable the next stage of right-wing extremism that he is now running against.

So it’s not really ironic that Obama has swiped the language of Occupy, even as his FBI and Homeland Security have made Occupy’s anarchists into Public Enemy #1. That’s how politics work.

Local organizers in Tampa know the deal. When I mentioned that liberal groups have co-opted Occupy by creating the 99% movement and are using the fury against the whole political system for partisan ends, two different activists agreed and went further. They said there was an astroturf element to the anti-RNC rally in St. Petersburg. One said of liberal groups and unions, “You see a lot of their tactics that amount to astroturfing. They see the Super PACs employ this strategy and they think they have to do the same thing. That’s what I find most troubling.”

The 99% are truly suffering. And it’s a no-brainer that they will suffer even more under Romney than under Obama. But under darkened skies sprinkling rain, no one at the rally spoke of brighter days ahead for the 99% if Obama does win.

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