2012 Republican Convention


This past week my wife and I attended the Texas State Republican Convention in Fort Worth.  All the hoopla one might expect to find at a political convention was there – long-winded speeches by political personalities with giant-sized egos, a deluge of campaign propaganda such as caps, tee-shirts, badges, and banners.  And of course a $3.00 cup of coffee for the bleary-eyed delegate. 

 The convention highlighted the reality that democracy at its best is a messy and often inefficient process.  During the general sessions and caucuses in which delegates  transacted business, numerous points of order and of inquiry were called and addressed. The plodding procedural rules governing discussions were tiresome, although not without humor. Once a delegate stood to ask whether her understanding of a pending motion was correct. The response from the chair was an abrupt “No.” I wanted to cheer! Believe me, a terse, straightforward answer to a point of inquiry is a breath of fresh air in a discussion mired in parliamentary procedure.  The meetings grew increasingly laborious.  During the last morning of the convention, our caucus spent five hours taking only seven votes!  I mused to myself, “There’s got to be a better way.”

But all this was superficial.  It’s a part of any political convention. In thinking below the surface about the events that transpired there, one has to take stock of the delegates’ impatience with government in general and their anger toward the Obama administration in particular. Governor Rick Perry and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson each addressed the Convention during its first general session and tried playing upon these emotions.  The strategy worked to a point, but both politicians were roundly booed during their speeches.  That’s right, a Republican Governor and a Republican U.S. Senator were both BOOED at the State Republican Convention!  It shocked me.  Perhaps career politicians should think twice about their anti-government rhetoric.

Those who booed cannot be summarily written off as “Ron Paul supporters.”  Affirmative references to Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus were met with contempt just as calls of support for Mitt Romney were.  There was little thought given to sparing the feelings of the most notable of Texas Republican politicians.  I am still not quite sure how to evaluate this.

It does suggest, I believe, that there is a growing number of people who, while participating in the system, feel alienated from it.  As one woman in my caucus privately expressed to me, “I don’t have a voice here.”  Who can blame her for feeling that way?  The clearly visible hand of establishment politics excluded both Ron Paul and Ted Cruz – both of whom she supports -- from speaking during the general sessions of the convention.  A delegate sitting next to me in one of the general sessions admitted that he does not “care about getting Mitt Romney into office as much as booting the incumbent out.”  There was enormous frustration and disaffection in each of these delegates’ words.

What does it say about the current state of America when countless citizens feel powerless and without a voice, and are more united in what they are against than in what they are for?  It was my sense that many who were present at this year’s convention detest all politicians, period -- not just those who are Democrats. 

I recently read An Empire Wilderness: Travels into America’s Future, written by Robert D. Kaplan, pictured at left.  He quoted from a UCLA sociologist that “being American simply means buying a house with a mortgage and getting ahead.  There is no agreement anymore on culture, only on economics.”  This point resonates well with much of what I witnessed at the convention.  The communal ties that once bound the people of this nation together are breaking.  All that most Americans seem able to do now is to rally in opposition to what they hate. I wonder whether this is a sufficient basis on which to sustain republican governance. I doubt it.

 Kaplan further reminds us that “Western democracy has existed within a rather thin band of social and economic conditions: high literacy, an established bourgeoisie, and a flexible hierarchy in which people move up and down an economic ladder, most of them bunched in the middle, instead of vast and rigidly separated classes. . . .”  These conditions have drastically changed over the course of the last forty years.  The nation has been importing tons of illiteracy and poverty from south of the border, while the rich are becoming richer and the poor poorer.  The middle class is slowly disappearing.  I mention these facts because the Texas Republican Convention struck me, in general, as a wistful groaning for the past. What resonated best with delegates was the cry to “take back America” and to “restore” it to its previous grandeur.  Yet, ironically, the platform adopted by the convention did not call for stiff penalties against corporations, which are profoundly complicit in the immigration mess.  Republicans, it appears, don’t wish to punish business under any circumstances. Never mind what massive immigration, legal and illegal, is doing to the prosperity and culture of the country.  Like most contradictions, this one points to a lack of coherent thought.

Every meeting I attended at the convention began with the Pledge of Allegiance and a prayer offered “in Jesus’ name.” I saw several delegates wearing yarmulkes and wondered how the prayers rested on their conscience.  Although traditional American culture is pervaded by Christianity, the fact is that Jesus Christ has never been a central fixture in  America’s public faith. I don't think that those who organized the convention gave much thought to this matter one way or the other. For this reason, so many of the religious gestures seemed almost like an empty nod to convention rather than a set of meaningful observances stirred by bedrock convictions and an appreciation of America's public faith.  I hope that I am mistaken about this, but don’t believe that I am.   

Most of the faces I saw were those of well-to-do WASPs creased by wrinkles.  The luxurious hotels in the immediate vicinity of the convention were filled to capacity.  Could it be that the Republican Party of Texas includes more than its share of rich oldies, who wish to harken back to days gone by? Might it be that these Republicans are reacting to America’s unraveling, a development that has been fermenting for decades?  Could it be that they came to Fort Worth in order to celebrate the America they once knew and now want to restore, although most are doubtful that even their own elected officials are sufficiently loyal and resolute to do it? 

In my opinion, the most credible speech of the convention was Congressman Paul Ryan’s.  He’s a no-nonsense guy, who’s a numbers-cruncher as well.  He says what he means and means what he says.  That’s the popular impression of him anyway.  During his address, he spoke of the nation’s financial peril and criticized the proliferating entitlement mentality. He refrained, however, from advocating for Mitt Romney. Interesting, isn't it?  I can’t remember Ryan so much as invoking the name of the putative nominee. Nor, with all the Congressman’s fretting over finances, did he mention the outrage of Congressional pensions and perks. I guess that some issues are out of bounds even for him.

Overall, I appreciated the convention.  I am not convinced that it was much more than a vaguely defined protest against Barack Obama. But that’s okay.  This protest will be more than enough to defeat “King Barack” in Texas.  Yet the party faithful will have to think more clearly and deeply than that in order to address the long-term survival of the nation.  This is their greatest challenge, and every other American's as well.

                                                                                                                                                              June 13, 2012