“‘Let’s go to Rick Reichmuth at the Fox News extreme weather centre … Rick? Well that’s right, tropical storm Isaac is heading towards Florida …” Wait, hang on, Fox News has an extreme weather centre? Apparently, yes. A goggle-eyed blond (male, in this instance) has his hand over an enormous red weal heading across the Caribbean. Currently monstering Haiti, and headed right across Cuba, the storm is widely tipped to gain hurricane status by the time it gets into US waters. Following that trajectory, it will pass close to the peninsula and hit the Mississippi river mouth.
In which case, the city of Tampa, on the Florida west coast, will get no more than blistering tropical rain and a few blown-out windows. But it only needs to shift about five degrees to the right, and the entire city is in the sights, Monday, Tuesday. And that is interesting because on Monday, Tuesday, the city of Tampa will be hosting the 2012 Republican National Convention.
Yes, Jesus is angry with the Republicans, and has sent one of his ancestors to settle the score. The whole city is preparing itself for the extravaganza, with banners everywhere down the main boulevard, the boys in suits and the women with mouths like hooked fish are streaming in at the airport, the mayor is talking very calmly — “whatever is coming, we’re prepared for it, but we don’t think there’ll be any problem” — and meanwhile, everyone charged with actual public safety is quietly freaking out, with the rumour that there is a contingency plan to identify the last two days of the event.
Serious impact by Isaac would not only play havoc with three days of free wall-to-wall media coverage, the chance to roll out Paul Ryan, and set a news agenda, it would also involve substantial effort by federal and state emergency services, and render up the spectacle of the most right-wing Republican party in history being rescued by the forces of big government.
When you hold your convention in a hurricane trough, in August, you could reasonably expect this sort of crap. But, hilariously, this is the second time that the RNC have been under the gun from extreme weather. In 2008, they came to St Paul in Minnesota, in the addled belief that the state was a potential swing, and a twister threatened to come all the way up tornado alley to Canada to throw them out of there. Doubtless, all this weather is mere coincidence, and not a result of global warming, because that would be ironic and funny.
Since the religious right have previously blamed hurricane Katrina on New Orleans’s louche reputation, and 9-11 on gay marriage, it is difficult to see how they’d get out of this one — perhaps they will name it as divine retribution for the party being insufficiently firm on abortion.
Your correspondent has established the Crikey US desk across the bay from Tampa in the former resort town of St Petersburg — an airy city of faded glory, trolley buses, and sprawling California bungalows. The place is roomy, luxurious and tasteful, and I would rather be in a Red Roof Inn, eating peanut crackers from the vending machine and watching a Law and Order repeat, but there isn’t a room to be had in the town proper, so comfort and luxury it is. Death, also, possibly. “You heard about the hurricane,” said my genial host, turning on the TV while showing me around, at which point Fox was showing a clip from the last five minutes of The Perfect Storm, and crossing to the extreme weather centre.
“We don’t think it’s going to be a problem.”
“But we’ve got an evacuation plan so we’ll call you, cos these places blow apart like matchsticks.”
Tropical storm Isaac is the least of the GOP’s problems at the moment. Actually, that is not even metaphorically true. Should the thing king-hit, then Ted Nugent may end up as the Republican nominee. But absent that, they have another huge body slammer to deal with — R-pegate, brought on by the remarks of Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin, who now notoriously claimed that “legitimate” r-pe rarely results in pregnancy because a woman’s body “has a way of shutting that thing down”.
It took a day or so after he made those remarks last week, but both the mainstream GOP and the Right (insofar as these differ now) came out to denounce him, and demand that he resign from the Senate race — in which case, the more moderate and acceptable candidate from the Republican primary would step up, and have a pretty decent chance of winning the Senate seat from the Democratic incumbent.
The Republicans were desperate to shut down the whole debate, and swing things around to the question of the economy. Everyone expected that Akin would fall on his sword, and that the process might even turn into a weird sort of win with some undecided voters. That didn’t go to plan, with Akin refusing to resign, and coming out fighting with an audacious ad stating that “my words were wrong, but my heart was right”.
Akin was reported today to be holding meetings with hard-right fund-raisers, and soldiering on alone. Oh he did have one public champion — Mike Huckabee, second-run candidate from 2008, who thundered against his fellow members of the religious Right for throwing one of their own to the “liberal wolves”. But hell, who will be listening to Mike Huckabee these days?
Well, uh, the Republican National Convention for one, for whom Mike Huckabee is the major opening speaker. Huckabee, who has a folksy manner, a sense of humour and plays great bass guitar, was seen as a great opening act for the convention — throwing the religious Right a bone (he’s a preacher, and a “young earth creationist”), while getting some good TV face. That little masterpiece of timetabling means that the conference organisers will be pissing razors by now, and hoping that Isaac will scatter the gathering to the four corners.Really, it can only get worse for the Republicans, as their vice-presidential candidate, Paul Ryan, a hard-line anti-choice advocate has been briefed by the same lunatic doctor, one Jack Willke, who had assured Akin that r-ped women didn’t get pregnant. Romney has also met Willke, and endorsed him in 2007 as a “Dr Willke is a leading voice within the pro-life community and will be an important surrogate for governor Romney’s pro-life and pro-family agenda … I am proud to have the support of a man who has meant so much to the pro-life movement in our country”.
From the way that Willke was initially portrayed, you would think he was a marginal figure of what was once a marginal movement — that part of the anti-abortion crowd who want to ban abortion even in cases of r-pe and incest. Not so. Willke, now 87 years old, is one of the key figures in the post-WW2 anti-abortion movement, a former president of National Right to Life, and a founder of the International Right to Life. His crackpot theory about the effects of violent r-pe relies on a just-so story — that a woman’s body will respond to the violence of the act, by, erm, “tightening up”, thus preventing conception.
Its quiet popularity among radical anti-abortionists conforms to a literal religious sense, that the world is somehow designed by a loving God — and of course removes any residual moral dilemma about r-pe-created pregnancy. There is, it needs to be said, no scientific basis to it.
But above all, what is now the real problem for the Republicans in this disaster, is that Right to Life’s position has now become the official Republican position. Yes, that’s right. The party that may, in 2013, control the presidency and both Houses, would like to ban abortion in all cases (save for mother’s risk of death) — including r-pe and incest. That will either ensure their defeat, and a crisis within the American Right, or be the fruit of a surprise victory, taking the country on an unknowable and unprecedented trajectory.
Three days, beginning Monday, the nomination by acclaim of the most right-wing team in US history for the highest offices, bitter wars by a rolling hard-Right for the thousands of candidacies that will also be decided, and the beginning of the road that may lead to the White House for the Romneys and Ryans, and to Canada for millions of others. Banned abortion, privatised social security, an ideal government budget of 3.75% of GDP (it is now 24%), and war on Iran.
The storm is coming in, and its name is legend …
*Guy Rundle will file from Tampa each day of the GOP convention, starting on Monday