Open Up Your Fists
Between who you are and who you could be; Between how it is and how it should be.
As we milled around in the convention center lobby, we might easily have been mistaken for passengers on a cruise ship. We belonged to a similar demographic: most—though by no means all—of us had qualified for membership of AARP a good while ago; 99.5 percent of us were white; in general, smart leisurewear was our preferred style of dress.
...I asked one woman whether she'd been part of "9/12," as tea partiers call the great taxpayer march on Washington, D.C., last September. No, she'd missed it, she said, and "felt really guilty" about doing so, but she and her husband had been on vacation.
"Where did you go?"
"We spent a week in Amalfi, then we toured Tuscany, then we spent a week in Rome."
Another woman, hearing my accent, told me about her and her partner's second home in Torquay, England, which they visited three times a year from their base in Atlanta, and about their thirty-five-foot powerboat, in which they'd crossed the Channel to Le Havre and cruised down the French canals to Marseilles.
It would have taken a finely calibrated stopwatch to measure how very rapidly such folksy piety and patriotism could swivel into crude nativism, conspiracy theory, and xenophobia—and to measure, too, the dawning discomfort at this switch of tone registered by a sizable part of the audience.
Such a concentrated dose of surreality, taken before breakfast, helped to prepare one for life in the alternative world that was on offer in the ballroom.
Obama's election was "our Pearl Harbor." We were now living in "the Third Reich": the first two Reichs were FDR's New Deal and LBJ's Great Society. Liberal environmentalists were leading us into "socialist totalitarianism disguised as polar bears." Luxuriant and overreaching metaphors bloomed like the tropical foliage just outside.
At the march on D.C., there were T-shirts proclaiming "I am John Galt" and "Atlas Has Shrugged" alongside others that said "Obama Spends—Jesus Saves" or had the legend "Yes, He Did" beneath a picture of Christ on the cross. At Opryland, devout, abstemious Christians were breaking bread with followers of Ayn Rand's gospel of unbridled and atheistic self-interest. The convention, designed to unite the Tea Party movement, was helping to expose fundamental differences of belief and mindset between people who, before Nashville, had appeared as interchangeable members of a single angry crowd.
...As we sat down to our steak-and-jumbo-shrimp dinner, my neighbor said, sotto voce, for my ears only, "You know, I phoned my husband last night. I told him that being here has made me realize that I am a liberal conservative."
Most of it was a rambling tour d'horizon of policy issues—national security, defense, Iran, the economy, bailouts, and debt—on which Palin had little more to offer than humdrum remarks like, "So, folks, with all these serious challenges ahead, we've got private-sector job creation that has got to take place and economic woes and health care, the war on terror."
...Palin remarked that "it would be wise of us to start seeking some divine intervention again in this country, so that we can be safe and secure and prosperous again"; the applause that met this line was intense but conspicuously scattered....The huge standing ovation ("Run, Sarah, Run!") at the end was more for the concept of Palin, her epiphanic appearance among us in the flesh, than it was for the lackluster speech she'd just delivered. On the way out of the convention center, I heard no one talking about how fired up they were by what they'd heard. In the elevator, a man said, "She messed up some of her lines. She'd've been better with a teleprompter."