This week the Republican National Convention began the third movement in the symphony of the 2012 presidential election. And instead of the careful minuet we’ve come to expect from Republicans, we got a scherzo, a quick-paced comedy.
What, you thought they were serious? Republicans established their satirical theme in the preamble to their platform that included this bit of metaphor abuse: “Providence has put us at the fork in the road, and we must answer the question: If not us, who? If not now, when?”
That’s exactly the question I ask my wife when we’re lost and come to a fork in the road. Not “Left or right?” or “Does Siri have any more bright ideas?” but, “If not us, who? If not now, when?”
It should have been obvious that Republicans weren’t taking this seriously when they picked “We built it” as their opening-night theme and asked the Republican nominee for Delaware lieutenant governor Sher Valenzuela to speak in prime time. Never mind that she teaches women business owners how to get government contracts. Never mind that the Republicans’ vice presidential nominee used Social Security benefits to pay for college when his dad died. Never mind that Ann “We once had to eat tuna” Romney got a $77,000 tax break for her dancing horse.
The “We built it” slogan is its own bit of black comedy, based on a cruel misreading of one of Barack Obama’s rare moments of ineloquence. What he was trying to say was that no matter how much success you have achieved in life, you didn’t create the Internet, build the roads, or establish a public school system that created an infrastructure for your opportunity. It takes a village.
But Republicans never miss an opportunity to feel aggrieved. Boycotting Chick-fil-A somehow limited free speech. Rush Limbaugh accused the National Hurricane Center of skewing their forecast of Isaac’s path to interfere with the convention. And saying we’re all in this together obviously negates individual achievement. That’s how Republicans ended up singing arias to Ayn Rand while kicking Ron Paul delegates out of a publicly financed convention hall while Romney partied with $1 million donors on a yacht flying the flag of the Cayman Islands.
Their nominee is polling at 0 percent among black voters, so Republicans manifested this particular inner demon by inviting former Democratic congressman Artur Davis to criticize Obama for divisiveness while delegates pelted a black camerawoman with peanuts, calling her an “animal” and taunting, “This is how we feed the animals.”
Romney’s losing to Obama among Hispanics by 40 points, for Pete’s sake, so when it came to scheduling speakers on Tuesday, Republicans pretended that they were down with the brown. One of the Hispanic speakers was Texas’ own Republican Senate nominee Ted Cruz, whom I’m working against. Cruz stepped in a puddle on his way to a joke when he said, “You know, we have so many things to be thankful for, so many blessings. Including, even, we can be thankful for Hurricane Isaac. If nothing else, it kept Joe Biden away.”
Amid this symphony of human arrogance, a counter-melody emerged when Hurricane Isaac blew ashore. The main players in Tampa celebrated their Potemkin convention while the lowlanders along the Gulf Coast hunkered down and prayed the levees would hold.
We’ve seen this show before. We had a president once-not that they’ll utter his name in Tampa-who came to that fork in the road and said, “Why not me?” Taxes fell, and so did the levees. We lost 1,836 Americans in the floods because we forgot it was our job to form a more perfect union, provide for the common defense and promote the general welfare.
I think I like this remake better than the original. When Republican chairman Reince Priebus predicted, “This will be an inspiring three days,” he probably wasn’t talking about the triumph of working together for the greater good that we saw in the path of Hurricane Isaac. The $14.5 billion, 133-mile ring of levees, flood walls, gates and pumps that the Army Corps of Engineers built to protect New Orleans?
You built that.
Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who has helped elect or re-elect more than two dozen Members of Congress. He lives in Austin, Texas. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @jasstanford.