The Republican Party, which has defined modern-day negative politics, was back at it again, bashing Barack Obama and the news media in an ugly display that rivaled the old days of Nixon-Agnew – or George W. Bush’s last convention where GOP operatives passed out “Purple Heart Band-Aids” to mock John Kerry’s war wounds.
After a slow start because of Hurricane Gustav, the convention in St. Paul, Minnesota, has turned into an anti-Obama hate-fest with a nearly all-white gathering laughing at and mocking the nation’s first African-American presidential nominee of a major party.
However, beyond the pulsating contempt visible on the faces of the GOP delegates, many of the nasty attacks on Obama – as well as the effusive praise for the Republican ticket – were blatantly false, as if testing the depths of American gullibility and bigotry.
In speech after speech, Republicans didn’t so much as tell the Big Lie as they deployed Wholesale Lies.
The Associated Press, which mostly had been recycling the Republican spin about the supposedly “maverick” ticket of John McCain and Sarah Palin, was so struck by the litany of distortions that the AP produced a special fact-checking article describing how Republicans had “stretched the truth.”
For instance, Palin said about Obama, “it's easy to forget that this is a man who has authored two memoirs but not a single major law or reform - not even in the state senate."
However, as the AP noted, Obama “worked with Republicans to pass legislation that expanded efforts to intercept illegal shipments of weapons of mass destruction and to help destroy conventional weapons stockpiles. The legislation became law last year.”
Plus, the AP reported, “In Illinois, he was the leader on two big, contentious measures in Illinois: studying racial profiling by police and requiring recordings of interrogations in potential death penalty cases. He also successfully co-sponsored major ethics reform legislation.”
The AP’s fact-checking article noted, too, that former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s slap at Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden – that Palin "got more votes running for mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, than Joe Biden got running for president of the United States" – was a “whopper.”
The AP wrote that “Palin got 616 votes in the 1996 mayor's election, and got 909 in her 1999 re-election race, for a total of 1,525. Biden dropped out of the race after the Iowa caucuses, but he still got 76,165 votes in 23 states and the District of Columbia where he was on the ballot during the 2008 presidential primaries.”
The Republican National Convention also acted as if the Republicans had not controlled the White House for the past eight years and the Congress for most of that time.
"We need change, all right,” declared former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, “change from a liberal Washington to a conservative Washington! We have a prescription for every American who wants change in Washington - throw out the big-government liberals, and elect John McCain and Sarah Palin."
Beyond this parallel universe of who runs Washington, there was fanciful puffery about the GOP “reformer” ticket – dubbed “maverick squared” – that doesn’t square with reality at all.
For instance, the AP cited Palin’s claim that "I have protected the taxpayers by vetoing wasteful spending ... and championed reform to end the abuses of earmark spending by Congress. I told the Congress 'thanks but no thanks' for that Bridge to Nowhere."
The reality, of course, was much different.
As the AP noted. Palin, as mayor of the tiny town of Wasilla, hired a lobbyist and made annual treks to Washington seeking earmarked spending that totaled $27 million, and then as Alaska’s governor for less than two years, she sought nearly $750 million in special federal spending, “by far the largest per-capita request in the nation.”
And as for that $398 million bridge from Ketchikan to an island with 50 residents, the truth is that Palin enthusiastically supported the project before she reluctantly opposed it, rejecting the “Bridge to Nowhere” only after it had become politically indefensible.
The Los Angeles Times discovered that Sen. McCain had specifically cited several of Palin’s earmarks on his annual list of wasteful pork-barrel spending.
In 2001, for instance, McCain's list included a $500,000 earmark for a public transportation project in Wasilla, and in 2002, he criticized $1 million targeted for an emergency communications center that Palin sought but local law enforcement said was redundant and a source of confusion.
Now, however, Palin has been transformed into a maverick reformer. McCain’s campaign even cites her experience as an abuser of the earmark process as part of the reason she supposedly understands why it must be scrapped.
McCain spokesman Taylor Griffin said Palin’s successes in getting earmarked funds “was one of the formative experiences that led her toward the reform-oriented stance that she has taken as her career has progressed."
Nevertheless, Palin wrote in a newspaper column just this year that "the federal budget, in its various manifestations, is incredibly important to us, and congressional earmarks are one aspect of this relationship." [For more details, see Los Angeles Times, Sept. 3, 2008]
Beyond the GOP's reality-challenged speeches, there was the startling image of a nearly all-white convention – where only 36 of the 2,380 delegates were black, the smallest number in at least 40 years – rollicking in ridicule and bristling with animosity toward Obama, an African-American.
With their loud chants of “drill, baby, drill” regarding energy policy and boisterous shouts of “USA, USA” about “victory” in Iraq, there was a sense that St. Paul was hosting a convention of American Falangists, rather than that of a modern national party.
The whiff of authoritarianism extended to outside where demonstrators and journalists were swept off the streets in indiscriminate arrests.
What’s less clear about the GOP convention is whether the Republicans are on to something, that perhaps the United States has crossed over into a post-rational society that cares little about facts and reality or serious policy ideas and respectful debate, but rather is a nation moved by anger and ridicule, fear and nationalism.
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This story was published on September 4, 2008.