Eastwood fails to make Republicans' day

02 Sep, 2012 02:30 AM
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Just a day after Mitt Romney made the most important speech of his life, the edges of it are slipping away. You can remember some of the themes and Romney's wonderful chin and his big soft eyes. The rest is fading out.

But Clint Eastwood, standing before a blank teleprompter, muttering at a chair - that is an image no one is going to forget soon.

By 10pm on Thursday night, the 50,000 odd delegates, party members and reporters who had travelled to Florida for the Republican National Convention were tired. There had been 18 hours of speeches over three days in the Tampa Bay Times Forum, the sports arena dressed up for the event and thousands of meetings and functions around town.

So, Clint Eastwood appearing on stage half an hour before Romney's event woke people up.

Then he started on the chair. Soon the Democrats were putting about the line that Eastwood had gone rogue, refused a script and stolen the show.

But if you listen carefully, you realise how carefully plotted the pantomime was. He might have ad-libbed the words, even got lost among them at times, but in 10 minutes he made eight points, each of them straight out of the Republican playbook. Barack Obama was a decent man but a failed president, the US had tried hope and change, 23 million are unemployed (in fact, this is not true - to get to this figure you have to combine unemployed and underemployed but it is the standard Republican line), now it was time to give a businessman a go.

Still, if you are worried that your party is facing demographic oblivion as your white male base shuffles off and the US becomes more Hispanic - and the Republicans are terrified of this - do you really want to put a bloke who is older and arguably whiter than Mitt Romney front and centre?

And if you fear that your candidate might be a little dull, do you really want to put up after Dirty Harry Callahan takes on a stool?

As the delegates departed in a haze of cigar smoke, they were clearly thrilled at the spectacle. Speaking at a bar an hour later, one Republican operative pumped his fist in triumph. Another said it had been the week of his life: ''No one should have this much fun.''

On Wednesday, Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan, introduced himself to the party with a speech that was widely praised as well pitched, articulate and aggressive - and then criticised for its allegedly elastic relationship with the truth.

Ryan, who seemed nervous as he began soon found his stride and raised the roof with a vivid dig at the President.

''College graduates should not have to live out their 20s in their childhood bedrooms, staring up at fading Obama posters and wondering when they can move out and get going with life,'' he said.

Soon picky media (and Democrat) fact-checkers unravelled some of Ryan's strands, noting that he had condemned Obama for the closure of a car plant that collapsed under the previous president's watch, for a stimulus package that he (Ryan) had supported, for failing to act on recommendations of a bipartisan debt commission on which he (Ryan) served that in the end made no recommendations because he (yes, Ryan) voted against them and for reducing Medicare spending by $US716 billion - about the same amount as the cuts he had advocated.

Earlier in the evening the former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and the senator and former presidential candidate John McCain gave speeches. It was hard not to see them as the convention's adult supervision.

Rice received long and loud applause despite the cloud that hangs over the Bush administration she served. She and McCain spoke in defence of an outward-looking foreign policy, an open immigration program and a continuing role for American military intervention.

If the Tea Party delegates on the floor noticed these heresies, they forgave the party elders for them.

On the main stage, the words ''Tea Party'' went unuttered in about 24 hours of speeches over three days but, in the corridors and plazas and in the bars and the parties, the movement's presence was plain to see.

Thousands wore its slogans on badges, flags and T-shirts but, more tellingly, the Tea Party's fingerprints were all over the Republicans' new official platform, which they quietly published on Tuesday. It endorses opposition to all abortion, to any gun control and to immigration amnesties.

On Tuesday afternoon, a California delegate, Earl De Vries, and his wife, Judy, wandered up towards the Tampa Bay Times Arena, where the convention was soon to start.

They had the friendly smiles of tourists and their clothes were covered with political badges their friends back home had made for them.

Judy explained she had been wary of voting for Romney but now that Ryan was on the ticket she was locked in. Earl handed over a business card advertising a website that likens abortion in America to the Holocaust.

Todd Akin, the party's Senate candidate for Missouri, had focused national attention on abortion the week before by declaring that victims of ''legitimate'' rape could not become pregnant, then refusing to quit the race despite demands from head office.

Then, on Tuesday, the party's platform committee endorsed a call for a constitutional amendment to ban all abortion in all circumstances. (This was Ryan's position until he became the vice-presidential candidate; now he supports an exemption if a woman's life is in danger.) That day, Rick Santorum gave his speech, laced with thinly veiled rhetoric about abortion. He felt no need to pull his punches when he appeared at a rally of his new super political action committee at the party's ''pop-up concert site'', Liberty Plaza.

There Santorum declared that the Republican Party was pro-life - ''no division, no dissension''.

Volunteers handed out cards showing a picture of Santorum's three-year-old daughter, Bella, who suffers from a rare genetic disorder. She was Photoshopped to look like a cherub floating in a starry sky. In an adjoining tent, the former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee introduced an anti-abortion film. Next door, volunteers handed out cigars and whisky in the cigar tent.

That night Mitt Romney's wife, Ann, dazzled the Grand Old Party with a speech ''about love''. In a poised and confident performance, she discussed meeting Romney when the two were not long out of childhood and of their relationship since. She spoke of his integrity and humour. She did everything right and the audience loved her for it. As she finished her address, the house band kicked in with My Girl and Mitt, whose arrival was not expected until Friday, appeared behind her with a hug and dewy eyes.

She had shared the prime-time hour with the convention's keynote speaker, Chris Christie. Christie - the pugnacious New Jersey governor - was to fire up the party's base, which had so far demonstrated only tepid support for Romney. (The candidate is still suspected by some of harbouring the liberal views he held as governor of Massachusetts.) In the lexicon of this campaign, Christie was to ''throw some red meat to the base''.

He began outlining his life story, which seemed to fit an approved Republican profile - simple immigrant parents, an inspirational mother, a rise fuelled by dedication and hard work.

Then he got into the butcher's shop. ''There's only one thing missing now. Leadership. It takes leadership that you don't get from reading a poll. You see, Mr President, real leaders don't follow polls. Real leaders change polls,'' he said.

Christie's timing was good and the delegates finally got a chance to erupt. It was noted, though, that his speech focused more on himself than on the candidate he was there to celebrate.

Off-site, a law enforcement army of 4000 borrowed from across the state and the country kept protesters out of mind and mostly peaceful. By the end of the week, there had been only two arrests. The perimeter was watched by National Guard soldiers with assault rifles slung over their shoulders, while police in khaki patrolled the streets. Most were friendly and cheerful; a few seemed to cast passers-by as bit parts in their own military fantasy.

''Come on, let's cross this road. Let's go, let's go,'' bellowed one officer at bewildered delegates crossing a deserted street.

Near the security zone, members of the Westboro Baptist Church - the outfit that likes to protest at the funerals of the US's war dead, saying that God is punishing the nation for tolerating gays - scuffled with anarchists.

The church members held their ''No homo'' and ''God hates fags'' posters and railed against women in the workplace.

''My wife right now is at home looking after my two children,'' one shouted at delegates that were trooping towards the pedestrian entrance. ''She is keeping the house clean and in order and when I get home there will be dinner on the table and I will have what I need to continue on as the man that God made me.''

Further afield, donors and groups with Republican affiliations did business in bars and restaurants and hotels. And boats too. It was revealed on Tuesday that more than 50 top donors to the campaign had been entertained on a moored yacht called Cracker Bay that was flying a Cayman Islands flag.

''As one local put it, even their yacht doesn't want to pay taxes,'' reported The Huffington Post.

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COMMENTS

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Nico on numerous occasions you bag on about following the money trail. Well perhaps you should
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We should pump as much CO2 out as we can - get sea levels rising as quick as possible - more
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Interesting that the mega Corporations like Coles, so vigorously fight for free and open markets