RNC Day 4: Spare some Change?


from the bowels of the RNC
, day

By Ben Westhoff


What do John Mellencamp, Bruce Springsteen and Heart have in
common? They all want the Republicans to stop using their goddamn songs at
rallies. Ann and Nancy Wilson reportedly sent a cease and desist letter to the
McCain campaign after the RNC rocked “Barracuda” at the Xcel center last night.
Depriving the candidate of this associate will hurt; after all, like your
typical barracuda McCain is a little less than six feet long, not very nimble, hunts
via ambush and possesses powerful jaws. (Another problem is that “All I Want To
Do Is Make Love To You,” while a powerful pro-life statement, just doesn’t get folks
fired up.)


So, ‘70s and ‘80s rockers don’t like McCain, but does anyone
else? No one hanging around the Minnesota State Capitol for the RNC final-day protests,
that’s for sure. Lacking the numbers of earlier rallies, they nonetheless
gamely fired themselves up around mid-afternoon, using songs, factually-inaccurate
diatribes, and free crumbly cookies and bananas, the latter of which came in
small, gooey segments. I ate one, and then twenty minutes later became
convinced I’d been dosed with LSD. Briefly I contemplated an alternate universe
tea party featuring Michele Bachman and that female protester over there (the
one calling the surrounding riot cops “cowards”); the ladies ate cucumber
sandwiches and discussed clean coal and wind power. (Matter of fact T. Boone
Pickens was there too!)


I soon realized my dizziness was probably due to lingering
tear gas in the atmosphere and not acid, and followed the now-moving protesters
towards downtown. The group was redirected almost immediately, however, by a
line of police aiming (tear gas?) guns directly at our brains. The mass swung
west and walked along St. Anthony
Avenue, before being cut off again by a dozen or
so cops on horses. The now-flummoxed protesters decided to plant their rear
ends in the road and wait the situation out. I wasn’t exactly clear to their
aims; perhaps this was a sit-in to protest Piper Palin’s spit-shining her
little brother’s hair?


Eventually the tear gas and concussion bombs came out again,
and everyone scattered. (You can read a more detailed account of the clash here,
which also reports on the assault of a pair of City Pages reporters.) That meant it was time those of us with
press passes — approximately 1/3 of the crowd — to head back to the
convention center, where Cindy McCain was holding court. She made it clear why
so many people are in awe of her husband; not because he was able to withstand
torture in a Vietnamese prison camp for five and a half years, but because he
was able to trade his old wife in for a new one who was not only much younger
and blonder, but whose pops hooked him up with a VP job at his mammoth beer
distributorship to boot.


I really dug the video montage introducing McCain, which
detailed his time spent in the camp and included a black and white video of him
smoking a cigarette with one of his broken arms. One of the main themes of the intro
and his speech was how his time in capture made him a less selfish person. When
Victor Charlie offered him early release because his father was an admiral he
said, “Hell no. I want four more years of torture!”


Although this, like many aspects of his story, is hard to
believe, it’s fair to say his reputation as a political iconoclast is well
deserved. He has succeeded in politics not despite, but because of, his ability
to piss off people in his own party and occasionally buck popular opinion. In
2000 he nearly captured the Republican nomination by dissing Christian
conservatives and championing campaign finance reform. In 2008 he won despite
being against drilling in ANWR. Once sympathetic to him, Democrats now complain
he’s fallen in line with the Bush tax cuts and taken on a real barracuda, I
mean pit bull, of a right-wing running mate, but it seems unlikely a McCain
presidency would resemble a Bush presidency. Schwarzenegger’s terms as governor
come more to mind; like Arnold, McCain would inherit a Democrat-controlled
congress, and, with his desire to be remembered trumping an already nebulous
party affiliation, would likely set his sites on historic change.


Ah, “change.” The key word in this election cycle, espoused
by everyone from dogmatic leftists (Barack Obama) to reactionary Mormons (Mitt
Romney) to members of the most powerful political families in America (Hillary
Clinton). McCain used the word repeatedly in his acceptance speech, though since
he was attempting to play to the crowd his proposed policies sounded like
Republican business as usual – school choice, loosening trade restrictions and strengthening
private health care. On the last issue McCain is surely on the wrong side of
history; Americans think the current system sucks, and unless you’re planning
to blow it up, no one really cares about your plans to tweak it.


Only when he looked the right-wing faithful in the eye and
told them things they didn’t want to hear – about campaign finance reform, about
environmentalism, about how the “Contract for America” Republicans lost their
way (“We let Washington change us”) — did he give hints as to why he’s been so
successful. But it was too little, too late. John McCain’s shtick plays best
when he’s ruffling feathers, but this speech felt like a Heart concert. Not like
an ass-kicking 1977 show where the Wilson
sisters get all “Crazy on You” at a small club, but like a sell-out, cash-in comeback
show decades later, where they play “Barracuda” for the thousandth time, before
a crowd that knows all the words.



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