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Snapshots from the RNC.

It was a convention of contradictions. During the day, the Republicans chatted about the conservative platform planks in hotel meeting rooms. At night, they put on friendly faces in an attempt to capture the center. After that, they were feted by General Motors, General Dynamics, and other corporate sponsors.

And then there were those off-camera revelations.

Day One

When I walked into the stuffy conference room, I noticed the thousands of fortune cookies heaped on a table in front of the podium. The author of the fortunes was not Confucius but the Family Research Council. "Real Men Marry Women: Support a Constitutional Amendment to Protect Marriage"; "Save the Constitution! Impeach an Activist Judge"; "#1 Reason to Ban Human Cloning: Hillary Clinton," they read. I chose four and tucked them into my new Republican National Convention bag.

It was the first morning of the convention. The Family Research Council, the Eagle Forum, and the American Conservative Union held a press conference to discuss how to turn out the "pro-family vote"--specifically, the four minion rightwing evangelicals who did not vote in 2000.

Day Two

The Republican Jewish Coalition threw a party to salute the Republican Congress at the Plaza Hotel. Electronic dance music boomed from the speakers while attendees dined on salmon and sushi and enjoyed an open bar. Most people--even the teenagers--were dressed to the nines.

A who's who of GOP Senators and Representatives spoke at the Republican Jewish Coalition event: Norm Coleman, Rick Santorum, Arlen Specter, Mitch McConnell, George Voinovich, Christopher Shays, and others. As Specter said, "There are more Senators awaiting this podium than ordinarily we have on the floor of the United States Senate."

Israel, security, and the war on terrorism dominated the speeches. And everyone emphasized what a great friend Israel is to the United States. Senator Coleman, who emceed the event, mentioned halfway through that there are other important issues besides Israel, like education and economic opportunity. No one else picked up on these strands.

The crowd reserved its biggest cheers for Tom DeLay. "There is no Israeli-Palestinian conflict," DeLay said. "There is only the war on terrorism." At the end of his ten-minute speech, the audience was shouting "Tom! Tom! Tom!"

Day Three

"The people who hate George W. Bush hate God," Doc Burch told the dozen Republicans gathered at an early morning prayer meeting. Butch is the chaplain of the National Federation of Republican Assemblies, which considers itself the "Republican wing of the Republican Party."

"We need to understand we're in spiritual warfare," Burch said, and then introduced the day's guest prayer leader, a man who "fought against rabid homosexual people," the Reverend Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition.

"I still believe America is fundamentally revival," said Sheldon. "Revival cleanses the soul of two things: guilt and shame." Sheldon went on to explain the four causes of cultural disintegration: same-sex relationships, fornication, adultery, and sexual hedonism. "You got a naked woman in Times Square--you can't help but lusting," remarked the reverend. "You know, she's not overweight."

Sheldon said, "Prayer is the key to renew a nation," and then he opened the floor to prayer requests. People prayed for police officers while the reverend checked his cellphone. One person requested that people remember that "our party's function is to serve God and to lead, and not to follow society."

Sheldon ended the meeting with a special request for the Vice President. "God, please help us, and help those who think that same-sex relationships is a simple choice," Sheldon said. "We pray, for our President, George W. Bush. We pray for our Vice President, Dick Cheney. And Lord, we pray that you will bring clarity in that family concerning same-sex relationships as you brought clarity to George Bush when he became a heavy drinker."

That afternoon, I visited the Log Cabin Republicans. "If any of you are having a bad day, imagine being the head of the Log Cabin Republicans this week," said Patrick Guerriero, the executive director of the gay GOP group that is refusing to endorse Bush. "The only thing harder is being a Red Sox fan."

The party platform called not only for a constitutional amendment against gay marriage but also attacked civil unions and domestic partnerships. The Log Cabin Republicans decided not to take the battle to the floor, as they had threatened, but settled on television ads asking the GOP if it wanted to be the party of tolerance or the party of exclusion. The ad included footage of Pat Buchanan giving his "culture war" speech at the 1992 GOP Convention.

I caught up with Guerriero at a United Leaders event. United Leaders is a nonprofit, nonpartisan youth group that is trying to put idealism back into politics. "The Republican Party let the radical right hijack the party platform, and actually put it on the wrong side of most Americans," Guerriero said. "I had hundreds of people--delegates, office holders--in the last few days who quietly said, 'I'm sorry, I can't be with you right now, but I'll see you in three years.'"

Day Four

At the Thursday morning prayer meeting, I spoke to the Reverend Rob Schenck of Washington, D.C. He was not a delegate to the convention but the guest of one. Schenck called himself a "reluctant Republican."

Schenck is a Republican because the party reflects his beliefs as a Christian. "In fact, in the official party plank, it embraces the most important parts of my faith: sanctity of human life, sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman, and the public acknowledgment of God and his sovereignty over our country," he said. "That's good enough for me. I can take Arnold. I can take his bare bottom on movie screens if we got those three things in place."

Karoline Bekeris is a schoolteacher and a delegate from Sitka, Alaska. This was her third convention and she said this was the best one ever. She wore a red vest that read "Open ANWR" on the back. The 2000 Alaska delegation printed up the vests and she decided to wear hers to the 2004 convention, too.

Bekeris had actually read the platform and told me she agreed with about 80 percent of it. "There are issues that are very strong in the platform that I couldn't care less either way, like the gay marriage thing," she told me on the convention floor moments before Bush was to speak. "Stem cell research--I would probably go for that. But I'm not going to not vote for the Republican Party for one little issue."

Martin Anderson of the Hoover Institution has attended ten conventions. Most Republicans are moderates, he said. "We have people who believe strongly in some of the things in the platform," said Anderson. "But that's not the majority."

More importantly, the target TV audience was the swing voter. Janet Parshall, conservative talk show host and leader of a morning prayer meeting, summed it up: "It's all about niche marketing."

Elizabethe DiNovella is Culture Editor of The Progressive.
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Title Annotation:Republican National Convention
Author:DiNovella, Elizabeth
Publication:The Progressive
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2004
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