Friday night I got caught up on 2nd Avenue, walking from the Edge where I’d had a couple of drinks with a few friends up to Blue 9 for a burger. About 1,500 bikes were filling the street as I strolled through with my iPod on, the cheers and hoots making their way into my headphones. Protestors. I know most New Yorkers are dreading the Republican Convention, a good portion have cleared out for the week, gotten the hell out of dodge. I’m actually looking forward to it. The mix and mingle, the opportunity for conversation which will probably be missed, but the opportunity is there nonetheles
Still, it seems an act of tremendous hubris by the Republican Party to hold their convention in this place. After Sept. 11 there was a cry from both sides of the isle to avoid attempts at politicization of the fall of the Twin Towers. It’s hard, though, to not give a sideways glance of doubt that holding this event in NYC is anything but. Why else would you originally decide to hold your nomination ceremony here? At the time, they could not have seen the war on terrorism going as it has, with a death toll nearing 1,000 in a country that has been claimed the fulcrum and epicenter of global terrorism—which seems antithetical to the entire point of terrorism as a nationless act; violence without statehood. This was going to be a coronation, they were traveling full circle. I generally view both parties with an equal measure of skepticism, but it's become increasingly difficult to not view one as far more blatant than the other.
In a way, I wish the convention would release the delegates into this city. Make them ride the subways, mix amongst the population, have coffee in Chelsea, walk (or rather, sprint at a rapid pace) through Harlem. They will not, of course. The delegates will get a country club view of this amazing, vibrant and diverse place with passes and tours and prearranged viewings of the safest and most sanitized we New Yorkers have to offer. It’s sad, really. An opportunity missed.
I had wanted to head into the city today to see the protests, but got caught up on a writing assignment that is still demanding my time and thoughts. I wasn’t going to take part, just watch from a distance. I understand the overriding sentiment that compels people to the streets, and I'd like to join in, but sometimes I wonder if these events, these protests are just an opportunity to vent at the wind, to shout into the Grand Canyon and hear your voice echo back. Democracy in inaction. I hope they have an effect, these banners and antiquated slogans on their tongues, but wouldn't it be amazing if we could figure out something else? I mean, our parents protested and rioted and in the end they became the most successful generation in history. They became the people we protest against now, so rather than just continue the cycle, perhaps there's another way around this. I don't know if there is or not.
As an adopted member of this city who has grown to love this place, to have this place inprint itself on my heart and in my soul, I'm not sure what part of this week I resent more; the idea of Bush returning here for the first convention after Sept. 11 (and I would have felt the same if Kerry had been so obtuse; New York should have been off limits), or the face the administration is going to put forward this week.
The hallmark speakers for the convention this week are: Arnold Schwarzenegger, John McCain, and Rudolph Giuliani. When contrasted with the Puritanical direction Bush has taken his party it seems rather disingenuous to trot out the most moderate stars of the right to saturate, to dilute Bush's wandering elitist blue blood Old Testament based half philosophy. We will listen to speeches from men who are pro-choice, against a constitutional amendment defining marriage, and fundamentally opposed to the political doublespeak Bush speaks fluently. It bothers me that the face of the party we will get on television is far from the policy faces that come out of the Oval Office. Maybe I'm a fool to let this bother me, it is politics as usual after all, from both sides, but still.
And so they will speak. And people will listen. It reminds of H.L. Mencken. The question for politicians is do they live up to their lofty rhetoric? Do they live in altruistic servitude for the people they suppose to represent? Do they live as they speak? And do they really have to as long as we continue to take them at their words rather than their deeds?
It’s why I prefer writers to speakers. Unlike public speech, writing is not a purely intellectual pursuit, at least not the type of writing and writers that grabs me by the balls. It is a visceral reenactment of a largely imagined tale, even when what’s being related actually happened. It is recollection and observation and sensation. In a language Bush would understand, writing, the kind that I am drawn to, is the big guns, the heavy artillery. And while rhetoric can take flight, can lift and elevate us to a higher degree, it only serves that purpose for me when the man and word exist together. Think Dr. King. Think Abraham Lincoln.
Bush could only elevate me if his life mirrored his words, if there was truth and soul behind his proclamations. It’s like Mencken, another man who’s words rang hollow when held up to his life, wrote in one single declarative sentence, a force of words that perhaps is the guiding philosophy of our sitting President: “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”
And so, the Republican Brothers/Barnum & Bailey Circus is in town. The strings are put up, the stage is raised, the kabuki theater of speakers has been announced. If Bush would just be honest with his words, with his beliefs, perhaps an honest discussion could be held. If we, as citizens, would hold him accountable for his past actions, then maybe the man couldn’t hide behind comfy fitted slogans. But he will stand center ring, the spotlight and balloons and streamers and ribbons surrounding him, the ring of fire and the stunning acrobatic verbal display. The same circus, though more focused, more dogmatic, more pristinely in tune (like Disney World) than the one we watched in Boston a month ago. Platitude after platitude after platitude.
I guess, in the end, the only sane response to such scripted theater is to take the streets. I wish I had made it up there.