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Chatting Up the Right in Tampa

The author with Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minnesota) prior to the screening of Citizen United Production's documentary "Occupy Unmasked" in Tampa. (Photo: Arun Gupta)

I put on my best right-wing drag for Michele Bachmann. She was going to introduce the late Andrew Breitbart’s “Occupy Unmasked” documentary at the Citizens United tent in Tampa. I was eager to ask her about the grave issues afflicting America.

Having taken a seat in the air-conditioned tent, after enjoying chicken sliders and BBQ pork courtesy of Breitbart, which led one reporter to wonder if we were being served his Eucharist, I missed Bachmann’s entrance. But there she was, fresh and zealous-eyed in an ivory jacket and skirt and purple lei. She nimbly pressed the flesh, drinking in the affection.

I nudged into her bubble and Travis, a “local, conservative lawyer,” kindly snapped a photo of our encounter. I was cleaned up, with a new outfit, Mitt Romney 2012 button and Citizens United Production press pass. “Rep. Bachmann, I respect everything you do,” I told her. “Oh, thank you,” she replied, her smile broadening, warmly pressing my hand.

She had moved on before my question tumbled out: “What can we do about the epidemic of pornography and masturbation in America?”

She turned, flashing a curdled face, but soldiered on. I didn’t get a chance to ask my follow-up, “Does life begin at ejaculation?”

My mission for the Republican National Convention was to chat up the right. Having attended Tea Party meetings, I knew I would scare off the faithful if they suspected I wrote for outlets such as Truthout and AlterNet. So, posing as a fellow red-state American or right-wing blogger, I managed to converse with a few of the ground troops and soak up some agit-prop.

Properly outfitted and with the right mindset, it’s not hard to draw out the toxin that lies beneath. Roger, an elderly RNC volunteer in the Citizens United tent, said, “If Obama loses and he’s going to lose, there’s gonna be violence.”

The right is obsessed with race war. “Occupy Unmasked” warned race war was on the left’s agenda, that and revolution, sex, drugs, violence and pooping in public.

Travis was more measured. He wants Romney and Ryan to “be real leaders. Rein in federal spending. Let the private sector run free, create more jobs, return prosperity to America.” At the top of his agenda was “repeal Obamacare. Rein in entitlement programs. Eventually privatize them. We need to get rid of departments that don’t do anything.”

Loosening up, Travis unfurled his Tea Party flag. “Mitt Romney loves America. Barack Obama was raised to change America. I heard on the radio that he didn’t celebrate July Fourth growing up. His mother raised him to worship his father who was a Communist.”

As Travis held forth, his colleague Jonathan stood by and smiled. I inquired about voting fraud in Florida. Neither thought illegal voting at the polls was an issue, but with a guffaw they agreed that Democrats stole elections. Travis said, “I just can’t see conservatives who love America commit voter fraud.” On a roll, he pressed the gas. “It’s Democrats and ACORN signing up dead people. And we know where ACORN comes from: community organizer Barack Hussein Obama.”

It’s not hard to find outlandish tales here. What’s more striking about the right is how cliché it is, down to the parade of Chino and Oxfords, fake pearls and peroxide blonds that have invaded Tampa. Its message is just as bland, but that makes it all the more dangerous. Everyone is on message: reduce entitlements and privatize what remains. Cut “useless” departments like labor and education.

Tom McClusky, senior vice president of Family Research Council Action, said social spending needs to be “greatly reduced” because “a lot of the nation is getting federal assistance that doesn’t need it.”

It’s regurgitated Reaganism. Travis envisioned a capitalist Shangri-La if “government would just get out of the way. Revenue would go up if we lowered taxes.” I didn’t mention supply-side economics has been the orthodoxy for more than 30 years, and Obama probably slashed more taxes in one term that Bush Junior did in two terms. The difference is Bush showered the gold upon the rich, so it boosted the economy less than Obama’s cuts, particularly the (short-sighted) payroll holiday.

The right is close enough to power to feel social programs writhing on the chopping block like unemployment and food stamps, which amounts to a much-needed, but miserly, $134 a month for the 44 million Americans who received it last year. No one with an ounce of reason believes eliminating these programs will do anything to reduce the deficits. As the poor are disproportionately Latino and African-American, it’s really an attack on these communities.

When the legions of the RNC say prosperity, they mean for “true” Americans. The Tea Party cries, “We the people” and “Take back America.” It is a white revolt against the dark, grasping hordes. Only fanatics claim that the Republican National Convention’s diversity that’s reminiscent of a 1950s country club is unrelated to leaders who cackle about suppressing the black and Latino vote and voters who more readily believe Obama is Muslim instead of Christian.

Hypnotized by a self-serving ideology, the right happily swallows a contradictory formulation like America will cut its deficit and return to greatness by letting plutocrats raid the federal treasury while swiping food, medicine and education from workers.

The culture wars beloved by fanatics like Bachmann are the medieval icing on their voodoo economic cake. Their policies wreak real damage on women and gays and lesbians and Muslims. I got a preview of their utopia at Christine O’Donnell’s “Troublemaker Fest.”

The day after Isaac side-swiped Tampa, I pushed through the swampy aftermath to the Troublemaker Fest at the Imax Theater near the convention center. Overheated, I collapsed in an empty, chilly theater showing “Troublemaker,” the film. In the future, religious expression is frowned upon, schoolchildren are forced to stage “alien-origin winter pageants” and sinister pinky-ring-wearing secularists sweep into town banning public displays of Christmas and Cross. The defiant patriarchal hero wonders out loud, “Did you ever notice how the mere mention of Jesus seems to rub everyone the wrong way these days?”

I sat there, sickened from the heat and humidity, pondering how the Christian right would celebrate the providence in an atheist socialist perishing as he watched small-town determinism and faith triumph over wicked liberals and faceless bureaucracies.

The movie rebooted Reagan’s fantasies about America. White people give us back Christmas – which “is for everyone” – because our boys and girls are dying fighting in countries where “people are killed” for trying to celebrate the birthday of Jesus. Black people are obedient stepin-fetchits, Latinos are nonexistent and the twisty-wristed, turtle-necked director of the winter pageant is tricked into a locked closet with a sign that reads, “If you borrow something from the closest please return it.” (Really.)

After recovering in body, if not quite in mind, I trudged back through the security zone. Police were everywhere – platoons of armored cops, lines of bicycle cops, formations of cops on horses. Humvees and SUVs cruised by, patrol boats skimmed the harbor and helicopters buzzed above. Layers of checkpoints, fencing and concrete barricades chopped up deserted streets. One of the few civilians in the security zone was a sun-crisped local. “It’s a military zone. Jesus,” he said looking disoriented, “It’s a war zone.” No amount was spared to protect against chimerical threats of terrorism, but the military muscle is useless against the global warming that dare not be named.

If you believe democracy can be tucked inside a racially purified gated community and martial law imposed outside, then you’re willing to accept any wild fantasy as reality.

It’s not that those on the left side of the spectrum are immune to irrational beliefs – many liberals are in denial about Obama’s horrendous right-wing record and many leftists indulge 9/11 truther mythology.

But the right has a unique capacity for believing the unbelievable. It’s allowed politicians like Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann, who would have made fine Neolithic shamans, to rise to positions where they can conduct their warped antediluvian experiments on an entire planet.

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