Point Austin: Meet the Republicans

The party of sober experience parties hearty

Point Austin
Whatever you think of their politics, the Repub­licans generally find ways to be entertaining. So it is this week in St. Paul, Minn., where the Grand Old Party is hosting its disgraced standard-bearer only via satellite – incumbent President Bush being apparently just too busy to pay an actual visit to the Republican National Convention that will nominate his successor. (One can hear the faint prayer of the party faithful: "Oh Lord, let there be a little-bitty hurricane, just big enough to close Dulles Airport.") The flummoxed GOP strategists are also trying to figure out how to market their very peculiar vice presidential nominee, who would make a more likely candidate for an oil-field sitcom – Married (in Alaska) With Children. You've got to hand it to the party of family values: This crowd fervently prefers teenage pregnancy and shotgun marriages to sex education and birth control.

In a sensible culture, parents who would keep their children ignorant of basic sexual knowledge and then expect them to give birth on demand – by all accounts, sacred principles of the Palin tribe – would be considered guilty of child abuse. In the good old U.S. of A., especially its hinterland regions, such primitive practices are not only tolerated but celebrated – if you play your cards right, they could get you nominated for national office. The Sarah Palin Saga is only the latest, goofiest chapter in the ascendancy of the Sanctified Know-Nothing Party to titular Leadership of the Free World.

However blissfully innocent of world affairs Palin may actually be – and the available evidence is that she qualifies well to be the notoriously vindictive mayor of a small Alaskan town – she is certainly no less qualified to run a dying empire than the current White House occupant. Reporters from The Huffington Post discovered this tidbit from a Palin speech to members of her Assembly of God congregation: "[Pray] for this country, that our leaders, our national leaders, are sending [U.S. soldiers] out on a task that is from God. ... That's what we have to make sure that we're praying for, that there is a plan and that that plan is God's plan." Bush is nominally a Methodist but even less shy about proclaiming that his Iraq war decisions arrive directly from God Almighty.

Below the Radar

We can expect to hear several more shoes drop before the media tires of Le Affair Palin, and by Tuesday, the London bookies were reported to be steadily lowering the odds on an eventual Palin withdrawal (maybe hapless Joe Lieberman still has a shot). On the whole, the mainstream media were less assiduous about reporting the rather more virulent scandal going on outside the St. Paul convention, where local police in cooperation with federal authorities were first making pre-emptive arrests of potential protesters as well as independent reporters and then engaging in wholesale busts of hundreds of people on the streets. The pre-emptive charge, as early as Saturday – against such treacherous organizations as Food Not Bombs and I-Witness Video – was an all-purpose "suspicion of conspiracy to riot." By Monday, random reporters were getting caught up in the dragnet, among them the indispensable Amy Goodman and a couple of her colleagues from Democracy Now!

On Sunday, St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington appeared on C-SPAN to defend the pre-emptive arrests, and a glowing report in Tuesday's Minneapolis Star Tribune proclaimed that the authorities had learned from the 2004 New York RNC to avoid both the street chaos and the subsequent successful lawsuits for false arrest. Apparently, the official memo never reached the designated miscreants; on Tuesday, while 10,000 people marched peacefully, a few dozen renegades blocked streets and attacked cars and shops, and several hundred people were arrested in the ensuing police riot.

Other than the local alternative weekly, City Pages, and Salon's Glenn Greenwald online, there was little mainstream reporting of any of this until late Tuesday, and the Associated Press and most other sources led with predictable variations on the theme of "protests turn violent." There was nothing about police infiltration of peace organizations (reported months ago in City Pages) and virtually nothing about the visible militarization of public streets. (Goodman was arrested, roughly, for approaching a heavily armed police line to inquire after the status of her already bloodied colleagues.) Asked about the busts, Harrington declared, "If a reporter is committing crimes while they're under their credentials, I think they become regular citizens."

Translation: Don't ask us no questions, and we won't bust your heads.

Rounding Up Mavericks

The Republicans are now calling their ticket "Maverick Squared," to signify McCain's surprise selection of the Alaskan Spitfire. Reportedly, McCain had most wanted his Senate colleague Lieberman, while the Rovean cabal strongly preferred Mitt Romney – so McCain went looking for a wild card. In GOP circles, this is known as considered judgment, on a par with the candidate's reliance on the counsel of Phil "You're All a Bunch of Whiners" Gramm.

As I said, the Republicans can always be counted upon for amusement. But Texans should take loud exception to McCain's usurpation of the mantle of "Maverick." The late Maury Maverick Jr. was a friend of mine (virtually destitute after a life of pro bono lawyering and activism, he liked to give me financial advice) and, like all the Mavericks before him (especially his legendary father, who once faced down a right-wing lynch mob), was a truly independent thinker and politician who regularly defied entrenched corporate and political power, including his own Texas Democratic Party, in defense of minority rights, workers rights, anti-war activism, and the whole panoply of human rights. Next to the real Texas Mavericks, John McCain is a pampered milquetoast whose singular and overwhelming ambition to be president has clouded his every public action, and it would make him a true and loyal successor to George W. Bush.

Maury's niece Fontaine* wrote last week that her brother (yet another Maury, in a lengthy line) told her that "if he hears that John McCain is a Maverick ONE MORE TIME, he is going to shoot the TV. ... Every time we hear that use of our name, it is like fingernails on a blackboard times ten." Expect to feel that sensation a lot, this week and over the next couple of months – while you do everything you can to make certain it won't persist for the next four years.

*Correction: This passage originally referred to Maury's "sister" Fontaine, but I had inadvertently jumped a generation. Maury Jr.'s niece was writing about her very much alive brother Maury, who had the same reaction to McCain's "maverick" claim as his uncle did.

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national politics, Sarah Palin, John McCain, George W. Bush, Maury Maverick, Amy Goodman, Glenn Greenwald

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