“God do we gotta watch this ….”, the drunk next to me at the bar is no fan of the convention. On the other hand, he seems to be in pain at everything, one of those sad drunks slowly curving into himself. Mitt Romney is speaking and everyone is in pain, even Republicans, but for this guy there seems to be a sadistic edge to it. Above this wood-panelled brass-handled booze sump floats a guy worth a quarter of a billion dollars, and who seems to be saran-wrapped between appearances. The TV hovers above the pitiful top-shelf, as if the Mittster is some sort of genie, floating out of the bran, brown spirits of Makers Mark.

He has a way of throwing his head to one side, like a dad from some lost 70’s sitcom. He’s about a third of the way through, it seems, we hope, talking about starting his “small” business, Bain Capital. “We believed in ourselves. Trouble is not everyone else did. At one point I thought of approaching my church to invest their pension fund. I didn’t because I was scared of losing their money… and I didn’t want to go to hell.” Laughter in the auditorium, and in the bar. Still, no joy for the barfly. “Do we gotta watch this?”

“Shut up” says the bartender. “It’s politics!”

“Ain’t nothing to do with politics,” the barfly says to no one in particular. About half the bar is watching, although there’s mainstream-alt-no depression-country floating from a juke at the other end of the room, a sort of Americana white noise machine. White noise at both ends of the bar.

Shoulder to shoulder, trying to type like playing a piano. No one seems to mind, but no one is giving me any elbow room either. I don’t even know the name of this place. If I went outside to look, people would steal my shitty laptop. Somewhere else in the city, Annabel Crabb is watching this in a pizza parlour. To each their own. How could you do this sober?

The bar-with-no-name was a second best locale. Your correspondent had had the brilliant idea of covering the thing from one of Tampa’s many lap-dance clubs, these being the city’s claim to fame. There’s dozens of the damn places, all up and down the strip, far more than can be explained by domestic consumption. Alas, none of 2001 Odyssey, nor Envy, nor Mons Venus (don’t ask) were going to run the thing. The joints were jamming when I checked in, even during the speeches, and not a few of the patrons had convention credentials on (the clubs were offering discounts). But no TV coverage. One can sympathise. Nothing is more anti-s-x than the Republicans, but still … clubs in Hamburg run the European Parliament, though that may be a kink thing.

The urge to linger was strong after three days of listening to Republicans stand up and do the four Yorkshiremen sketch “my father worked two jobs and never complained … Mom was laid off from the factory, and took in washing … Daddy worked 29 hours a day as a buttplug to put me through chiropractic school …”, and the wall-to-wall American exceptionalism … “the greatest country in the history of the world … God-ordained point of the universe …”, “emerged from the stars, fully formed, like helium …”; the stuff is lathered like lube.

The previous night, we had had two more speeches in that vein, Paul Ryan and Condoleeza Rice, the latter gaining general respect as the best and most moving speech of the event. Even then, it had that curious interrupted circuitry that is second nature to the Republicans: “a girl who grew up in Jim Crow Birmingham Alabama had a Daddy who never doubted that she could be the President of the United States, and she became the Secretary of State!” she said through tears. To which one just wanted to shout “yeah but that only happened because people didn’t accept an idea of ‘America’, they changed it! Your dad couldn’t even vote!”

You try and see this sort of politics from a relativistic perspective, but it’s impossible. The Democrats, however jammed-up many of their attitudes be, are rational. But so too are Britain’s Tories, our Liberals, the Christian Democrats, etc etc, there’s a conversation to be had. It’s only the Republicans who have become so twisted around their own propeller that they can only be interpreted anthropologically, as the result of catastrophic cultural processes.

They revel in suffering, in the pitifully long hours people have had to work — and given the ages we are talking about the 70’s and 80’s now — that is perversely held as a measure of social success; of the idea that the US has lost global power and respect, by withdrawing from one draining war, silently (and immorally) wiping out its enemies cell by cell, and running a successful war without US casualties in Libya.

They berate the sapping nature of state dependency, while defending the socialised Medicare programme. And on and on. Paul Ryan’s personal philosophy is at the heart of that contradiction, the economic and social philosophy taken from Ayn Rand, the cultural philosophy taken from the religion that her objectivism explicitly excluded. When someone like Ryan talks in this way, you can’t but see the genuine stupidity that lies beneath the mask of smarts. The pose is so total that it’s barely worth mentioning, but eventually it silts up and gets to you, if a lap dance club isn’t handy.

Witnessing this much toxic self-delusion is exhausting. It’s like talking to a precocious sixteen-and-a-half year-old child of academics at some goddam awful party in Newtown; “yeah Shakespeare’s a p-ssy. I’m out the other side. After I’ve finished my road novel I start on my skateboard line. Diddy’s the model.”

That was yesterday. And there was still today to go. Stilletto, The Dollhouse … the clubs beckoned with their own opposite and absolving awfulness. I did not succumb. And thank God, because then I would have missed Clint Eastwood. That was … wow. Garp. Bllfft. There are no words. The fact that they had got Clint was a triumph for the RNC. A year ago he’d done a Superbowl ad for Chrysler, widely interpreted as an endorsement for Obama. Now the former Republican mayor was back in the fold. He was going to make their day.

He sure as hell made ours. He started with a rambling but folksy and commanding thing about Hollywood and how various it was, how even he cried when Obama won, but now he was crying because there were 23 million unemployed, good segue, and then he introduced an empty chair and said “Ive got Obama here, and I’m going to ask him some questions”, and then it became like a bad sketch comedy tryout night at the Matthew Flinders Hotel … Eagle eyes noted that the teleprompter had stopped. Was he off message? Was there no message at all? He asked why Obama hadn’t closed Gitmo, then seemed to suggest it was a good thing he hadn’t; complained about too many lawyers in government; blamed Obama for ten years of the Afghanistan war; and asked why he hadn’t ended it in a morning, then responded to the demand for a catchphrase by having a “make my day” call and return.

God it had the quality of a car accident, the dreamy thing where you’re halfway in before you really believe it’s happening. Having told us that the other side can’t run things, the party of responsible management had put an 82-year-old guy out to freestyle his way through the intro to their proposed President. They’d responded to the complaint that nothing interesting happens at Conventions but, well.

To be fair, the bar with no name went very quiet as this started unfolding, but it was the wrong quiet, like watching a film of a snake stalking a puppy. By the time Florida Senator Marco Rubio emerged to provide the intro proper to Romney, it was already gone, something you couldn’t quite believe you’d seen. Rubio was funny enough in his own way, but only for connoisseurs. A fifteen minute intro to Romney gave us three generations of history of, erm, Marco Rubio. He couldn’t have been more blatant if he’d worn a Rubio-Christie 16 t-shirt. That’s the hilarious thing about a party dedicated to individualism — the tang of death in the air encourages not solidarity, but a jackal party.

Then it was the main event. Waiting for Mitt Romney to start speaking is like waiting for smooth jazz to begin — there will be a moment of pure awfulness, a sort of vinegar stroke of ennui before you ease into it and realise that it ain’t that bad. There was a few minutes of flim-flam about Paul Ryan and his lovely family, and then from that family stuff into a more general thing about how you were promised you’d be able to look after your family, and oh you weren’t, and let me tell you about my family.

This was Romney’s chance to normalise some of the Mormon-Mexican stuff, and it brought his dad back in — he gave my mother a rose every morning, and that’s how she knew he was dead, because the morning he died there was no rose on the pillow — god gaaack, the woman lay in every day for 64 years, it doesnt even pass the bullsh-t test, there was never a late night argument? “You know where I’ll put that farkin rose ….’.

It’s pure ken-doll Republicanism, plastic and s-xless as the man said, none of it has changed much. Then it got onto his “small company” that he started with the help of an interconnected set of capital funds, then we started to get tough. There was one killer line — “isn’t there something wrong when the most excited you were about a President was when you voted for him?” And: “President Obama wanted to lower the oceans and heal the earth. I want to help you provide for your family.” That was for the independents watching. The last part — President Obama has destroyed our national security — was for the hardcore, promising as it did, several more wars.

But the crowd loved it like anything, platforms of cheers rising up and up to ecstasy. Mitt had humanised himself enough, perhaps, to slough off the tax havens and evil capitalist tag for a while. Most pundits expect that he’ll gain a bump from this — if he’s not in the lead on the daily polls over the weekend, he’s in trouble — before Obama gets a chance to reframe the debate next week. Then he was gone, and an archbishop was offering an invocation. The camera panned across the crowd. Crabb tweeted that no one in the pizza parlour was a likely voter, and was surprised. Hah, she’ll learn. Bars and pizza parlours, where the unpeople gather.

“Hey man will you change it now?” The TV flicks over to greco-roman wrestling, which looks like oily pron. The bar is immediately engaged. “Man will you buy me a drink?” my neighbour says.

“Sure — why don’t you like politics?”

“Man I love politics. Union. Local 213, ex. Laid off two years ago. Whatever it is, that wasn’t it.”

Peter Fray

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