Volume 74, Number 19 | September 08 - 14 , 2004

Reporter’s notebook

Villager photos by Q. Sakamaki

Members of the Texas delegation at the Republican National Convention

Sitting through the partisan pogo at the Garden

By Lincoln Anderson

So I’m sitting in the Republican National Convention.

On my left is a woman who runs a Christian retail store in Texas. On my right are a Hispanic couple from New Mexico who switched from Democrat to Republican two months ago because of their faith.

I’m about as close to the floor as my credentials will get me, in a section open to guests of delegates.

“We believe that President Bush stands for moral values — and that’s what we stand for,” explains Vickie Perea, to my right. “As Christian Hispanics, the Republican values and platforms have more in common with who we are.”

A former city councilor, Perea ran for Albuquerque mayor in 1997 and narrowly lost. She and her husband, Jeff, are concerned about abortion and gay marriage.

“That’s a very big one for me,” she says of same-sex marriage. “I feel the stability of the country is the family, and when you move away from that…. We won’t have to worry about the enemy outside — if we keep this up, we’ll destroy ourselves internally.”

On the big video screen a black woman — yes, you can be black and Republican, she asserts — is lauding how the Bush administration has assisted small businesses.

“Don’t you want your taxes cut? The president cut taxes!” she gushes.

A rock band cranks out a song, and elephants lining the video screen start strobing blue to red as the delegates bob their “4 More Years” signs. I later find out from the woman to my left, Sherri Hutcheon, that — not uncoincidentally — it’s a Christian rock band named Third Day, as in, on the third day Jesus rose.

To our right a Fox News reporter — “Oh, that’s Sean,” Perea says — is interviewing Jack Kemp. Sean’s next interview, Newt Gingrich, is having his hair shellacked with aerosol spray. As Gingrich turns to smile at some women saying hello, I recall how he dumped his wife for a younger version. Yeah, family values.

A farewell tribute to Ronald Reagan plays on the screen. I hear sniffling sounds from the woman to my left and notice her eye is watery. She admits she got emotional.

“What really got me is when Nancy put her head on the coffin,” she says.

I don’t get it.

The band plays K.C. and the Sunshine Band’s “That’s the Way I Like It.” I wonder, is K.C. a Republican and did he authorize use of the song? A band member later explains you just pay the rights owner “like $9” and that no permission or political vetting from the artist is needed.

Perea points out Lynn Swann, former Steelers superstar wide receiver, sitting in front of us. Swann is co-chairperson of the African-American Steering Committee for the Bush/Cheney campaign.

“It’s my first convention, so I’m really trying to take it all in,” he says. As I talk to him I picture that phenomenal leaping catch he made in Super Bowl X. He says he’s a Republican because he supports smaller government and national security. A goofy white guy in an floppy Uncle Sam hat comes sit next to Swann — so Fox can film them together.

Zell Miller is a crazed cartoon. He’s firing everything he’s got at Kerry. Miller blasts those “two Senators from Massachusetts.” This brings down the house. Everyone leaps to their feet to applaud and Hutcheon and her husband give each other a high five.

“We got a lot of Democrat conversions with that speech there! The polls are going to be up!” she assures.

Now it’s Cheney. It irks me how he pauses dramatically before starting his speech, like he’s hot stuff. I can’t believe Swann is actually laughing at Cheney’s unhumorous icebreaker, the one where the charisma-challenged vice president self-deprecatingly contrasts himself with John Edwards. Again, I don’t get it.

In the seats across the Garden to our right, there’s a ripple of commotion. The crowd starts chanting “Four More Years!” Someone is being arrested and the chanting is to cover it up. A group of men in dark suits is moving toward a tunnel, apparently removing the disruptor.

“I think it’s a woman,” Hutcheon says.

I suddenly realize — I’m rooting for more disruptions. Take it easy, I tell myself.

It’s not surprising people have gotten past security. My own credentials were given to me by a colleague and my press pass is expired, yet I’m in. A Downtown photographer I know confides he was offered legit R.N.C. credentials on the street for $40 but declined them.

Naturally, Cheney is talking about terrorism and 9/11: “We are in a war we did not start and have no choice but to win.

“We will prevail,” Cheney growls/monotones, bringing the crowd to their feet again. Up and down, up and down they go. I sit.

“Four more years! Four more years!” Perea’s husband, just two months ago a Democrat, is screaming hard enough to pop a vein.

“What party are you?” Hutcheon asks me, retaking her seat after another standing ‘O,’ to which I say I’m a lifelong Democrat.

“After 9/11, how could you not vote for a president who went to war for this city?” she asks. Because, I say, I don’t see any connection between the World Trade Center attack and Iraq. She meant Afghanistan, she says, to which I respond, I supported that war, since they harbored the terrorists. I ask her if she sees a link between Iraq and 9/11.

After considering a minute, she admits, “I don’t think so. But I feel that our leaders felt it was important to go to war with Iraq — and they know more than I do.”

It’s funny, I notice she’s standing up and cheering less now. Did I just convert a Republican — and so easily, at that? Am I so convincing — or is their platform built on such dubious ground?

The delegates are having a ball mocking Kerry, swinging their arms from side to side and chanting “flip-flop!” It’s so hokey it’s funny. The Democrats would never stoop to something so silly. Maybe they should?

Downstairs I pass a woman from Billionaires for Bush who slips me an invite to a party on the Frying Pan at Pier 63 Maritime. Are these people ubiquitous, or what? What will they do with themselves if Bush loses?

Two endlessly long floors of the Farley post office are devoted to the media. To get there you cross that specially built, enclosed bridge over Eighth Ave., which — ahhh — has got to have the coolest air conditioning in the city. I talk to a production worker from National Journal, a small-circulation political magazine. He’s covered a lot of conventions, but hates Republicans. The worst one was the Houston R.N.C. in ’92 when the delegates had to pass through the news area on their way to the convention. “They were so arrogant,” he says. The other night he’d been at a Midtown bar where there were delegates. “Obnoxious,” he complains.

However, the Republican guests I was sitting next to in the Garden were quite friendly. And Lynn Swann, what a sports icon and classy guy.

The next night, after covering the last of the protests, I get home and flip on C-SPAN to see what Bush had to say. At certain points Bush utters something and I find myself uncontrollably yelling “Liar!” and other unprintable words at the screen. Just as Miller and Cheney used just the right catchphrases to bring those Republicans to their feet cheering, Bush or General Tommy Franks say just the right — or wrong — thing and suddenly I can’t help blurting out “Liar!” and almost jumping off the couch. It’s just an instinctive reaction.

I think now I get it.

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