Lying is done with words, and also with silence.
– Adrienne Rich
If you happened to wonder why nothing under my name appeared in print during the long debacle that was the Republican National Convention, the reason is simple: I didn’t have very much to say. The reality of it all was so astonishing that proper words just didn’t come. Better writers than I did a masterful job at detailing the minute-to-minute outrages that poured out of Tampa in a riptide of swill, slander and brazen deceit – the Welfare to Work lies, the “We Built It” lies, the Medicare lies, the tax lies, the lies about jobs from House Republicans who have refused to vote on any jobs bills, the 42-year-old trickle-down-economics-works lies – and all I could do was lean back and try to take it all in.
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A lot of good words were deployed to describe what happened in Tampa, but at the end of it all, I could only come up with one.
The right-wing reavers, slowly empowered over these last decades by the GOP, have finally slipped the leash and are running wild. They have no reservations whatsoever about making the core of their campaign about swatting the wasp’s nest of racism as a means of turning out the only constituency they have left: angry white people. The truth is not in them, for they know too well that the voters will reject them out of hand if they speak their intentions out loud. So they lied with their bare faces hanging out, in a manner unprecedented in modern politics, doubling down on the bet that all their Citizens United campaign money can overcome and subsume the truth.
The racial angle is perhaps the most disturbing piece of this. Racism in America is a subterranean volcano, and when it erupts, fire and destruction rains down on us all. The consequences of playing the racist tune in this election, or in any election, can be deadly. If Mitt Romney should be successful in using race hatred to win, he will have set America back to the Jim Crow days. If he should fall short with his use of racism, the fury of those racists he incited with lies and hatred could well explode. If that happens, blood will run in the gutters.
Just as dangerous as what was said, and how it was said, was what was left unsaid. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were not welcome in Tampa, but their shades hung low and deep over the assembly. Mitt Romney’s foreign policy team is almost completely comprised of former Bush administration officials, the ones who brought us Afghanistan, Iraq, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, torture, and the moral and financial collapse that followed. Again, they couldn’t talk about it, because the American people would recoil in horror at the idea of returning so many demonstrable fools, failures and fiends to positions of power.
They lacked even the courage to pay a bare minimum of lip service to the men and women who have sacrificed so much in the twelve years of war the GOP sent them off to fight, and talking up the troops has been a GOP specialty for a long time now. When they are too worried about the questions that would come from just thanking soldiers, it is because they want no discussion whatsoever about their record to date.
The only person in Tampa who approached a discussion of foreign policy was John McCain, who took the stage with the theme song from “Top Gun” blaring from the speakers, and went on to deliver a hyper-belligerent speech advocating war against pretty much anyone who pisses us off.
If you need a bellweather for how utterly beyond the pale this Republican convention was, look no further than the “mainstream” media. For a full generation now, the “news” has made it a policy to approach the demented, deadly policies of the GOP with an eye towards “balance,” i.e. they treat both sides of the argument as if they have equal merit, when time after time that has proven to be demonstrably false. The garbage being peddled in Tampa, however, proved too much for even them, as evidenced by none other than Chris Matthews, who shredded RNC Chair Reince Priebus root and branch for the GOP’s use of racism as a campaign tactic .
Chris Matthews is a weathervane, the perfect avatar of modern journalism. During the Bush years, he gave that administration long, luxurious backrubs when the political winds were blowing in their favor (remember “The women love this war!” and his “man-crush” on Bush? I do), but when those winds changed, he went with the flow to become an acerbic critic…many years too late to actually make a difference. When someone like Chris Matthews can summon enough outrage to – gasp – actually be a journalist on television, you know a Rubicon has been crossed.
Mr. Obama and the Democrats have plenty of explaining to do this week about their own questionable policies to date, and my judgment on their performance will depend heavily upon the degree to which they rely on substance over flash during their show in Charlotte. But I have never seen anything quite like what I saw in Tampa last week, and it frightens me deeply. If a party can win by lying with no remorse, by stoking people’s racial resentments until they are blazing bright and fearsome, and can do it for no other reason than they have enough money and enough “news” people on their pad, we are all gone as a nation.