GOP Smog Machine

Daily Convention Coverage


I've had it, and it's only Tuesday. I know my last dispatch argued that Republican conventioneers aren't pissed about the packaged pabulum they are being fed. I suspect they still aren't. But I am.

Perhaps it's because I'm planted in front of a mega-screen TV in the official media pavilion (four air-conditioned tents, fully stocked with drinks and snacks), and can actually see and hear these people for the first time. I can also read their embargoed remarks before they deliver them.

I'm not one for conspiracy theories, but can it really be an accident that much of the press is stuck in upper-deck, nose-bleed seats at the First Union Center? The acoustics are so awful up there that you can't understand most of what's being pronounced on the stage, which is obscured by, well, the back of the stage. Then there's the literal GOP smog machine. I'm not talking about a spin operation–I mean an actual machine that that bellows forth a white haze into the dome, to help enhance the TV coverage by killing weird shadows and reflections in the arena. Us poor denizens of the upper deck have to put up with an odd smell, an obscuring haze, and itchy contacts.

So tonight I decided to forgo the indignity of the full-body cavity search it takes to get into the First Union Center (the GOP is, I guess, afraid someone might smuggle in an idea). Instead, I grabbed a cup of coffee and surrounded myself with printed texts of the convention speeches. It's political opera, with the speeches as libretto.

Rereading Powell's, speech, I'm assaulted by such lines as "And listen–our children are not the problem, they are our future." But even the retired general's call for "Baby Blue Socialism" (to crib from Reason Contributing Editor Jack Pitney), is good stuff compared to most of tonight's fare.

Teddy Roosevelt IV, who resembles the great trees his famous forebear sought to protect, told us, "we overlook the real movers in protecting the environment: the American people." He later reminded us that people once asked, "Are you for pelicans or progress?" Thanks. We'll count hands on that one later.

Then there was the spectacle with Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf (between Stormin' Norman, Colin, Bob Dole, and John McCain, I'm left wondering about the veracity of Douglas MacArthur's line about old soldiers fading away). Last night Laura Bush delivered her remarks in front of minority children sitting attentively at school desks. Tonight, the general who didn't quite rid the world of Saddam Hussein addressed the convention by remote feed from the deck of a battleship docked across the Delaware River in Camden, New Jersey. It was a bold move in a way: Schwarzkopf and his entourage were far more likely to fall in harm's way in just one night in Camden than during entire Operation Desert Storm. Camden's drinking water, a deep brown in some parts of the city, is alone responsible for more American casualties than the Gulf War.

And yet, the night included at least one moment even more gag-inducing than Camden water: The tribute to Gerald Ford, the only chief executive never to have been elected either to the presidency or the vice-presidency. The supposed highlight of Ford's presidency? Presiding over the Bicentennial. Oddly, no one mentioned how Ford famously liberated Poland from the Soviet Union during a debate with Jimmy Carter by insisting that Poland was not under Russian domination (those Red Army troops were just tourists, right?).

At least this much happened on foreign policy night: The elephants finally deigned to mention the donkeys, sometimes even negatively. Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.), whose appearance signals to gays and lesbians that Dick Cheney's daughter may have someone to sit with at White House dinners, hinted that Bush might be better than Gore on trade. His appearance was expected to cause a protest from the Lone Star State's delegation, but the only evidence on the floor were some Texans removing their cowboy hats (which is, in an understated way, an argument for having a Gay Pride parade across the stage every day of the convention.)

Yet Kolbe's attack on the current administration wasn't on Clinton's feckless, photo-op foreign policy (to paraphrase a line from John McCain's stump speech). No one pointed out his bombing of an aspirin factory in the Sudan, though Condoleezza Rice, considered a shoo-in now for National Security Adviser in a Bush White House, did make the elliptical pledge that Dubya promises not to bomb foreign countries to manage the domestic news cycle. Which is progress, I suppose.

No, the GOP decided to make their only full-frontal attack on the Dems regarding the latter's lack of a comprehensive energy policy. And who better to deliver this stop-the-presses-tear-out-the-front-page stem winder than Ave Maria Bie, a utility regulator from Wisconsin?

Bie's bio says that she was appointed by Gov. Tommy Thompson, the fiscal penny-pincher and champion of welfare reform. Strangley, this make-the-trains-run-on-time Republican governor moonlights as chair and chief apologist for Amtrak, our nationalized railway that definitely does nothing on time (except show up on Capitol Hill to beg for more money). This year, Thompson oversaw the supposed party of limited government's platform, which includes a plank calling for "where economically viable, the development of a national high-speed passenger railroad system." Thompson's role explains Bie's presence of course. But not her message.

My first instinct was to simply file her speech. It's entertaining enough and I suspect more than a few of you missed it, thinking wrongly of course, that the night's big news would come from a mass murder on a battleship in Camden or John McCain telling yet another prisoner-of-war joke.

Bie's speech, while a brief page-and-a-half, was packed more densely than a dwarf star. Unfortunately, the speech was packed only with vacuity and cliches, not gravitational pull. Three examples: "When it comes to the Clinton-Gore administration's national energy policy, they've been running on empty"; "We've been 'gored' at the pump with high gasoline prices"; and "This administration has pulled the plug on the energy that fuels our lives."

The problem, as Bie sees it, is that we don't have a national energy policy, something she says Bush and Cheney will have. Now, I thought that national energy policies, at least as far as Republicans were concerned, were something that hit the skids along with Jimmy Carter's presidency. And, for the record, we do have a national energy policy. Hell, we have an entire Department of Energy, which the GOP once rightly wanted to kill.

Bie's not sure what Bush's energy policy is, or should be. At least, she never told us. But, "as the mother of two young children," said Bie, "I wish it were as easy as bottling my kid's energy."

The proper energy policy, of course, is the price mechanism, that complex device that Nobel laureates like Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman have long considered one of the highest achievements of humans, if it were in fact one and not a product of nature. Do the Republicans– the party of free enterprise—not really believe that, or are they just pandering?

Oil gets expensive, gas prices increase, which prompts people to conserve, if it really affects them, and new sources are tapped, if sources really exist at an economical cost. Of course, for the GOP at least, if oil gets (or threatens to get) really expensive, we fight a war in the Middle East (and never bother to make a public accounting of enemy casualties to boot). If it's EPA's fault, with all their regulations that force even people who live near cars and industry to breathe clean air, then say so. That's what an honest party, or politician, who claims to believe in a limited government and the free market would do.

Instead, Bie delivered a speech promising to spend our tax money on alternate energy sources, garnering the vote of the sunflower seed growers, and to have a policy that protects the environment.

"That's why this election is critical. Our economic future depends on a strong, common sense energy policy that this administration has failed to produce."

Somehow I doubt we've really been that lucky.