Elephant Walk: Swamping the GOP

Written by Current Events, Political Culture

It’s hard to know exactly what to write in this space today, because as of this writing it’s difficult to know what form this week’s Republican National Convention will take. To begin with, news reports Sunday night suggested that Monday’s activities in St. Paul would be severely curtailed by the landfall of Hurricane Gustav, perhaps limited to formalities including an official opening, report from the credentials committee and adoption of the party’s platform.

Birthday greetings on Katrina day 2005These GOP moves certainly are prudent, from both a governing perspective (George Bush and Dick Cheney have no business abandoning their posts during such a crisis, a lesson they’ve thankfully learned by now) and a political perspective (a slate of right-wing hits on Barack Obama would be profoundly inappropriate on a night when the homes and livelihoods of millions are endangered, as would the sight of Bush and John McCain partying through another Category 4 hurricane).

Anita BryantThe net impact of such a throttling-back of the usual partisan festivities is unknown. On the one hand, Republicans will be unable to get started with what should be the main point of this convention, to introduce to the nation the almost completely unknown VP selection Anita Bryant – excuse me, Sarah Palin. On the other hand, McCain and other GOP operatives are not-so-quietly thanking their lucky stars that they won’t have to spend an evening “celebrating” the Bush/Cheney administration on national TV.

Depending on Gustav’s strength and the extent of devastation it wreaks, the second night of the convention also may be pared down. Tuesday, unofficially, was Hatchet Night, the evening during which the long knives were most likely to be drawn on the Obama/Biden ticket; scheduled speakers include keynoter Rudy Giuliani as well as Mike Huckabee, Fred Thompson and Tom Ridge (each of whom, notably, is without steady employment at the moment). This is the evening on which Gustav might inflict the greatest damage on the Republicans, because this lineup of speakers was the most likely to fling large, lying chunks of fetid meat into the baying, rabid audience. That task, under less somber circumstances, would doubtless be the second-most important of the entire confab.

Phyllis SchlaflyAll of this increases exponentially the pressure on Phyllis Schlafly – excuse me, Palin – on Wednesday, as well as McCain himself on Thursday, to explain themselves to the country in short order. The populace is, understandably, still quite flummoxed by the Palin selection, because we still know practically nothing about her beyond her thin resume and her family photos. Democrats and mainstream pundits have been tiptoeing around her for the most part, unsure how to respond to such a peculiar choice and waiting for some measure of the public’s reaction. Republicans, meanwhile, are making absolute fools of themselves in their efforts to defend the selection, claiming ludicrously that her experience compares favorably to Obama’s and refusing to answer directly any question about her utter lack of foreign policy credentials or stature on the national scene.

Part of the reticence to criticize Kathie Lee Gifford – excuse me, Palin – of course relates directly to her gender and family life. The genius (if there is any) in McCain’s bizarre display of judgment is that Palin has done so little politically, yet so much personally, that initial responses to her must inevitably be weighted more toward her beauty-queen-turned-PTA-mom persona than toward her radical-right politics or (meager) achievements as a politician.

Of particular interest is her 4-month-old son, an infant with Down’s Syndrome whom she nonetheless brought all the way from Juneau to Dayton for purposes of introducing her entire family to the nation on Friday. To the Christian right, little Trig is evidence that Palin courageously walks the pro-life walk, and they’re slap-happy about her. The rest of the country likely hasn’t yet figured out how it feels about the unknown mother of a severely challenged infant putting her parental responsibilities on hold for 10 weeks to run for Vice President, or for four years to be Vice President.

Elisabeth HasselbeckRepublicans this weekend were quick to accuse anyone who questions Elisabeth Hasselbeck’s – excuse me, Palin’s – work-life balance of being anti-feminist. At the risk of playing into their hands, I would suggest that it’s entirely legitimate to call into question the “family values” (as opposed to the evangelical-Christian “values”) of a woman who prioritizes the 18-hour-a-day slog of a presidential campaign over the care and feeding of a very needy infant whom she (yes, goddammit) chose to bring into the world. I would also suggest that, once the dust settles, the nation’s pro-choice majority may come to view Palin’s choices as reinforcing the old saw that pro-lifers care about children only from the moment of conception until the moment of birth.

Marilyn QuayleThere will be much more to say about Marilyn Quayle – excuse me, Palin – as this week, and the rest of the campaign, progress: for example, a dissection of her full-throated support for Creationism, a look into the investigations and rumors already swirling around her (some involving Trig himself), etc. For now, it’s worth considering that by selecting her as his running mate, McCain has crystallized the gut check for Hillary Clinton’s female and working-class supporters. The key questions are twofold: Are you actually supporters of Hillary’s agenda? and, Will any woman do?

As for continuing Popdose coverage of the Republican Convention, that depends in some part on the procession of events in St. Paul. Have faith that your Popdose bathrobe bloggers, Ted Asredagoo, Dw. Dunphy and myself, will closely monitor the proceedings (emphasis on monitor, as in television monitor, since we have failed to travel to the Twin Cities just as we failed to jet to Denver last week). Should anything newsworthy transpire, we’ll decide, then report. ’Til then, godspeed to the people of the Gulf Coast; our thoughts and best wishes are with you.