From the pages of
Well it's been a very exciting week. As an Englishman living in the USA I've always wanted to attend a political convention. This week I found myself on assignment in Philadelphia. Several organizations - including Britain's hallowed BBC - invited me to cover the Republicans at work and at play. I found it fascinating.
First of all I can refute all those jibes by Democrats that the Republican Party isn't sincere when it presents itself as being newly inclusive. I am a first-hand witness to the great inclusion of minorities at the convention. Practically all of the catering and security staff were African-American - and certainly anyone with black skin who could sing, dance or smile was thrown on to the convention stage to demonstrate the GOP's new open policy.
And lest the cynical think that this was only for the TV cameras covering the convention - that is not true. This same affirmative action was in evidence at many of the parties thrown by state delegations around Philadelphia. It was practically impossible to attend a bash that didn't feature a performance by a leading black group - from such recent decades as the 1960's and 1970's. In one evening I saw the Four Tops entertain admirers of Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, the Temptations performing for conservatives from Ohio, and Earth, Wind & Fire performing for anyone who didn't like Al Gore.
Of course the guests at these parties were predominantly white - but I figure that that was probably because those artists haven't had many hits in the last 30 or 40 years and most African-Americans of my acquaintance prefer something slightly more contemporary in their music.
Which is a shame - because they missed some wonderful fun. If you've never seen white Republicans in their 50's from Mississippi dancing to "Sugar Pie Honey Bunch" you have not experienced choreography on the outer limits of ingenuity. A very proud Haley Barbour (the former GOP chairman) was doing what looked like a Mick Jagger strut. Not so much the "Harlem Shuffle" as the "Haley Shuffle."
Though Trent Lott has been known to befriend the KKK-successor organization - the CCC - there was no evidence of their attendance at this party - though again they just may not be fans of the Motown sound. But it must have been fun to be Levi Stubbs (famed lead singer of the Four Tops) gazing at the crowd of nearly 1,000 in Philadelphia's 33rd Street Armory - most of whom bitterly oppose affirmative action (except as Colin Powell pointed out - affirmative action for lobbyists) "It's The Same Old Song" sang Levi at the top of his gravelly voice. Quite.
On Monday evening, I decided to attend a party at the Downtown Marriott Hotel honoring two bulwarks of the congressional conservative movement - Representative Dan Burton of Indiana and Representative Bob Barr of Georgia.
The congressional conservatives incidentally have been very conspicuous by their absence on the convention platform - and consequently on the nation's TV screens. Now of course some have muttered that this was a conspiracy to prevent American TV viewers being reminded of the faces of the angry white men who were at such great pains to try and remove the nation's twice-elected President (for apparently NOT doing to ONE woman what Richard Nixon HAD done to 250 million Americans 26 years earlier). This is absurd. The Bush team had simply divined that Americans had already heard the repertoire of that band known affectionately as Henry Hyde & The House Managers.
But the conservative faithful - including a group that calls itself Citizens United (presumably to distinguish themselves from disunited citizens who hold differing views) decided to honor Burton & Barr by giving them a plaque lauding their selfless sacrifices in assailing the corrupt Clinton-Gore team.
I was especially keen to meet Rep. Dan Burton - Chairman of the Government Oversight Committee. He has a reputation for being so open-minded. Especially to theories about how that no-good baby-boomer Bill Clinton jes' plain done the American people wrong.
One of his most famous exploits was his theory on the death of Vince Foster. While everyone in the country - including such Clinton detractors as Ken Starr finally acknowledged what had been said all along about the death being a tragic suicide - Burton persisted with his theories. Discounting the ballistic experts of such liberal organizations as the F.B.I. - the relentless Burton conducted his own entry and exit wound tests in his back yard - using his trusty gun and a plethora or watermelons as stand-ins for the head of the hapless (and departed) Mr. Foster.
Whether or not Burton actually believes in the existence of a Clinton-hired gunman perched behind some DC grassy knoll I don't know - but the tests of the 'watermelon man' fueled several years of conspiracy frothing by some of the brightest minds of the far right.
So as I ambled into the reception - it was only natural that I had watermelons on my mind. I spotted the Chairman being toasted and welcomed by a goodly assortment of the new, old Republicans. Women whose hair had been teased, moussed and sprayed within an inch of its follicular life. (If George W. is elected - DC will be awash in Nancy Reagan coiffeurs again - vulcanized hairdos for the new era) Old men with shiny blue sports coats - festooned with anti-Bill buttons. And everywhere - the young men. Pink, shiny scrubbed faces. Hair clipped and brillantined into Tom DeLay-style black headcoverings - like hairpieces created with jet-black Sharpies. And those medium blue shirts. A nation of "Leave It To Beaver" clones - for whom Woodstocks I,II and III never happened. Eisenhower boys for the new Georgian era.
I noticed that Dan Burton was so busy being feted that the poor chap had scarcely had anything to eat! I resolved to help this hero of our times. I hastened to the nearest buffet table and scooped up a large plate of Dan's most cherished produce. Watermelon.
Acting as nonchalantly as I dared - I sauntered over to the genial Burton. "Mr. Chairman!" I exclaimed "You've been too busy to eat! So I've brought you some of you favorite fruit!" Burton smiled eagerly and laughed uncomprehendingly." "Why thank you that's great!" he responded. Just then - his faithful apparatchek Dave Bossie (the Dick Tracy of the Burton office) spotted what was going on. Bossie maybe brutal - but he's not stupid. He rushed forward to spirit away the offending fruit - before anyone could see what was happening. Alas he arrived a fraction too late - and a photographer recorded the moment for posterity.
Invigorated by this brush with the high and mighty of the GOP - I proceeded to the next ballroom - where RNC Chairman Jim Nicholson was feting the ambivalent James Hoffa - who is still withholding the teamsters' endorsement of Al Gore.
I congratulated Jim Nicholson on his coup in seducing the first visit by a union boss to an RNC convention in twenty years. "What do you think his father would have thought of this?" I asked Jim. "He was an independent man" said Jim. He would have been proud."
You don't think he's turning in his ditch?" I asked. Nicholson looked puzzled. I elaborated. "You know.... part of the New Jersey Turnpike..." I tried not to look suspicious. "Jim pondered for a second - then gave the perfect politician's answer. "You'd have to ask Mr. Hoffa about that." It was good advice - but I felt that Mr. Hoffa Jr. might not be so charitable in his response. I made my excuses - and left.
Finally, I made my way to a reception being held for the Missouri delegation in the Grand Hall of the Philadelphia Convention Center. Proudly hosted by the Daimler/Chrysler Corporation - which apparently constitutes 1% of the American economy. I saw a huge array of pies being served. Everything from savory dishes such as Chicken Pot Pie and Shepherd's Pie to dessert delicacies such as Key Lime Pie and Lemon Meringue Pie.
I was impressed by the beauty of these pies - and while admiring them an eager-beaver publicist from the Daimler-Chrysler company offered to introduce me to the chef. Out came a charming executive chef by the name of Royer Smith. He happened to have in his hand a copy of the delegation's banquet instructions. I asked him if I could peruse this culinary platform - and perhaps gain an understanding of how a chef had to prepare for 500 Missouri mouths.
And there it was. Encapsulated in a curt instruction. The words which somehow seemed to summarize this entire week.
"All pies must appear to be home-made."
Seven simple words. Appearance was the supreme aim. No matter that no one could expect pies suffice to feed 500 to be individually created. The key was that they should at least emanate the aura of something homespun. A Disney version of the old American values.
So THIS was the meaning of the new kind of Republican. Not homemade. But an incredible facsimile.
For some reason - the words of the old Pete Townshend song from the "Who's Next" album fluttered across my mind. "Meet the new Bush. Same as the old Bush. Get on your knees and pray. We Won't Get Fooled Again."