[RNC Arena Insanity] E. Thomas Nelson, a recent City Weekly intern and a 2008 University of Utah graduate, is in St. Paul, Minn., this week covering the Republican National Convention. Tom (that's what we called him here) is one of five handpicked Hinckley Institute of Politics students working with seven students from the Cheung Kong School of Journalism at Shantou University in China, covering both national conventions.
Here's Tom's take on the scene on the floor in St. Paul last night:
Given all the cowboy hats at the Xcel arena Thursday night, one might think they were at a rodeo and not a political convention. Most abundant were the simple white Stetsons with a black ring, but there were also black, straw, and of course, red, white and blue sequins.
Second to cowboy hats were equally unnecessary short plastic top hats in the fashion of early 20th century American politicians who stood on bandstands to deliver their speeches.
Known as American election hats, these fashion accessories are appropriate in this day and age only once every four years (many would argue not at all).
The election hats at Thursday's convention were white, trimmed with red and blue and matching almost everything else in the Xcel arena. The colors could be found on ties, dresses, and the balloons that hung in a net attached to the ceiling, weighted down and ready to fall.
Most recognizable, however, was the gigantic, artificial flag that waved in computer-generated wind on a jumbo-screen behind the podium.
Also in excess were homemade posters. Every imaginable color, shape, and size danced in almost all white hands throughout the arena, as though their creators were cheering on their team--America.
There wasn’t much variation among the posters: “McCainiac, He Means What he Says,” and “Straight Talk” were among the most clever. From my vantage point a scaffold that held 15 or so cameramen blocked a large section of the arena, but in my section-by section analysis of the arena I counted nine USA posters and eight McCain-USA posters.
It seemed as though the crowd was rooting for some entity known as “USA,” as though it were a sports team whose competition was the world at large.
The marquee (and rather unimaginative) U-S-A chant could be heard no less than seven times.
Each speaker tonight played into the ideal of “U-S-A” and “Country First” in a unique way. There was loveable Huckabee, the soft-spoken church leader, there was the polished Mitt with big, white teeth and stern accusations, and there was the pit-bull Giuliani, who waged an all out assault and went for the jugular of the Democratic party.
Speaker of the night Sarah Palin was able to rouse the crowd to a fevered pitch with her attacks on Barack Obama and her appeals as one of them--a hockey mom and PTA board member. She did her best to appear as a typical American, not a Washington elitist.
Throughout the night it seemed that the Republicans were trying to out-American their Democratic counterparts. Between the chants, posters, rhetoric, and of course, live and recorded country music, the events felt like a county fair.
The height of patriotism occurred after Palin and McCain (who in their interaction and embrace had all the chemistry of two people meeting for the first time) left the stage.
It was then that a country trio began a bizarre hybrid presentation that blended The Pledge of Allegiance, The National Anthem, and The Preamble of the United States Constitution.
In an attempt to cram three highly important and hugely different bits of American history together, the presentation ultimately demeaned each. It was another example of trying to mix together as much patriotism as could be mustered in one Cliffs Notes, abridged version that came across as a pandering, chauvinistic, even xenophobic spectacle.
As I left the arena an electric guitar hung around the neck of a country-singing millionaire excited the crowd. Bumping into a man with a cowboy hat, I was tempted to ask where I might find the Tilt-o-Whirl ride. (E. Thomas Nelson)