Anyone who has ever read an Ayn Rand novel or George Orwell's 1984 is familiar with the lifeless patterning of the propaganda state, where the big lie is repeated so steadily that it is eventually mistaken for truth. As speaker after speaker on the opening night of the Republican National Convention took their turns at spinning a "We Built It" fantasy -- based not on what President Obama said or intended to say about small business but on an imagining of what might turn the maximum number of voters against the president -- the Grand Old Party opted for repetition over revelation.
Aside from Ann Romney's assurance that what she has with her husband of 43 years is a "real marriage," the only compelling speeches and storylines of the night came from the candidates the Republican Party rejected. Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum and, even more consequentially, the absent Ron Paul.
Santorum got a prime-time speaking spot, in return for agreeing to pretend to be happy about endorsing the candidate he once blasted as the "worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama."
Despite his awkward circumstance, Santorum brought the crowd to its feet with a speech so rhetorically rich that delegates were instantly reminded that it was Mitt Romney's money -- not his personal appeal or his message -- that won him the nomination. Santorum, the Anyone-But-Romney candidate who came closest to stopping Romney, tried to connect not just with the base but with a broader electorate that actually works for a living.
Paul backers had enough delegates and support in the states to have their candidate's name put in nomination . But that didn't count in the Priebus party. As the New York Times noted: "Delegates from Nevada tried to nominate Mr. Paul from the floor, submitting petitions from their own state as well as Minnesota, Maine, Iowa, Oregon, Alaska and the Virgin Islands. That should have done the trick: Rules require signatures from just five states. But the party changed the rules on the spot. Henceforth, delegates must gather petitions from eight states."
But Priebus did not just rewrite the rules of 2012. More ominously, he and the Romney team rewrote the rules of 2016. The party brass engineered a fundamental change in the next nominating process in order to assure that neither Paul -- nor anyone else as interesting, or dissenting -- will ever again be able to beat the establishment at its own game and win substantial numbers of delegates. The Paul delegates, many Tea Party conservatives and a number of renegade Romney delegates objected, creating the only real drama of the day, and the convention.
As Priebus and his allies gaveled objections down, the Paul delegates shouted their disapproval from the back-of-the-hall seats to which states with substantial Paul contingents had been relegated. "It's a coronation," said David Aiello, a medical student from Rhode who, like many Paul delegates, complained that "the party leaders, the people in charge, they don't want a real debate. That's obvious this week."
Aiello, 25 years old, savvy, smart and highly engaged, is precisely the sort of young person the Grand Old Party needs to bring into its ranks. "That's what I thought," said Aiello. "But I'm not getting that vibe."