Call it creative self-destruction, maybe.
How surreal it’s been this week to watch the Republicans reap a small portion of the divine comeuppance due them, first from a hurricane, then from a pregnant teen-ager. Surely more of the same is on its way, but no one wins, because what is lying in a shambles around the McCain campaign is a harvest of suffering.
The bad ideas of the Republican right, or rather the consequences of those ideas — from pre-emptive war to abstinence-only sex education to the merger of church and state to let’s-drown-government-in-the-bathtub — started taking over the Republican National Convention, bursting the levees of managed news and disciplined hypocrisy. Suddenly eight years of extreme cynicism began generating (it’s a miracle) . . . bad press.
But before we go down to the convention floor, let’s take a moment to revisit the worst of neocon Republicanism — militarized paranoia, First Amendment shredding parties and pre-emptive war — as it manifested itself in the Twin Cities as the convention was getting under way. This got almost no press at all, but it’s crucial to our understanding of the context in which the party that inflicted George W. Bush on America is choosing his eerily unstable would-be successor. Republicans just can’t get their clean, fresh, smiley-face message across to the nation without squashing protest and making arrests.
“Protesters here in Minneapolis have been targeted by a series of highly intimidating, sweeping police raids across the city,” Glenn Greenwald wrote for Salon, “involving teams of 25-30 officers in riot gear, with semi-automatic weapons drawn, entering homes of those suspected of planning protests, handcuffing and forcing them to lay on the floor, while law enforcement officers searched the homes, seizing computers, journals, and political pamphlets.”
When you believe in war, sooner or later you bring it home. This is called a police state. The agents of the state, in the name of security, fight words and ideas with guns and teargas. On the first day of the convention, 280 people were arrested, including a number of journalists. One of them was Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!, who had tried to intervene when two producers for the show, Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar, were arrested as they filmed an antiwar protest.
“We were in a parking lot,” Salazar told Goodman when interviewed afterward. “And, you know, I was telling them that ‘I’m press. I’m press.’ . . . And I tried to move in between . . . two cars, and instead of, you know, letting me pass and following the crowd, they instead came right after me and slammed me into the car, at which point I think my camera came back and hit me in the face. And two cops were also behind me, and they pushed me through that row of cars into the next area of the parking lot and slammed me to the ground and said, ‘Get your face on the ground! Get your face on the ground!’”
Salazar was dragged along the ground for a while, and eventually police removed the battery from her camera so she couldn’t undermine national security with further filming. There were other such incidents this week. For instance, members of the New York-based I-Witness Video collective, which had come to St. Paul to document the protests, and whose reputation had preceded them, found the house where they were staying surrounded by armed officers; anyone who tried to leave was detained in handcuffs.
“I-Witness Video was remarkably successful in exposing police misconduct and outright perjury by police during the 2004 RNC,” said co-founder Eileen Clancy. “Out of 1,800 arrests, at least 400 were overturned based solely on video evidence which contradicted sworn statements which were fabricated by police officers.”
While local authorities apparently wanted to avoid a repeat of this sort of embarrassing documentation of their tactics, St. Paul, it turns out, is not Baghdad. Though under house arrest, Clancy was able to issue a live, blow-by-blow account of what was happening over alternative media sources, and enough people responded to her plea to call St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and protest what was happening that the police finally left the premises.
But the Twin Cities’ finest could hardly be expected to save the Republicans from themselves. Hurricane Gustav began menacing New Orleans just as the convention was about to start, and three years to the day after Katrina drowned the city and exposed the Bush administration’s incompetence and lethal indifference to the plight of ordinary Americans.
Then, when the catty mainstream media discerned a silver lining for McCain in the storm — it kept Bush out of the convention — whoops, the presumptive nominee named Sarah Palin as his running (and soul) mate, and her lowball qualifications and whoopsie-daisy family values sent tremors through America’s confidence in his judgment.
The GOP will probably survive its own convention, but as we have seen, damage control cannot turn the bad ideas at its core into good ones. America’s best hope is that the party’s next round of logical consequences arrives before Nov. 4.
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Robert Koehler, an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist, is an editor at Tribune Media Services and nationally syndicated writer. You can respond to this column ator visit his Web site at commonwonders.com.
© 2008 Tribune Media Services, Inc.