Two Conventions: One for Old White People, One for Everyone Else
Look, I'm not even the world's biggest fan of political conventions, because they make me feel like I'm trapped in a cubicle with a car salesman. What's to believe about an event where they hire a consultant to do the balloon drop?
But with these two conventions freshly behind us, I don't think it will kill us to talk. Please let me share my few and simple thoughts. Then you.
This is what I thought I could see for sure. The Republican convention looked white. Sorry. I stared at the screen. It just looked white. Kind of a white-out.
I'm not talking about up on the stage where everything was art-directed. I'm talking about crowd shots, scenes in corridors, all of the peripherals just outside the control of the media strategists. Haven't seen that many mature white people in one place since the last time I watched a late-night Perry Mason episode.
The Democratic convention, on the other hand, looked diverse. In fact when they panned the rank and file out in the gallery, the cameras couldn't have avoided nonwhite faces had they tried. There were too many of them. And I saw plenty of people who looked out-gay, old hippie, union-proud, handicapped -- the full monte of what we expect Democrats to be.
So Democrats look like Democrats, and Republicans look like Republicans. Did I really have to watch two conventions to come to that brilliant deduction?
No, but it's what they did with it. The Democrats talked about shared sacrifice and we're all in this together. And just for clarity, who all is in this together? All kinds of people. The optics said it's every one of us.
The Republicans harped on "We built it." Again for clarity, we who? Who built America? The optics said it's we old white people. The message was that old white people built this country.
Old, white and an unreal, undead product of the imagination: Meet the GOP mascot.
That message actually hit home for me, though not in a good way, because I'm old white people. I get it. I know exactly what "We built it" is all about. It's about old white people wanting to turn back the clock a half century to the America we grew up in.
I must admit, it was one slick deal for white people. America after World War II all the way through the 1960s was a fancy banquet set for white heteros with command of all four limbs. The table was laid, man. If we ever even glimpsed any of those other types, they were standing against the wall with towels over their arms awaiting our finger-snapped wishes.
We were first-hired, last-fired. Many of us benefited from free college educations, which even Republicans back then were more than happy to pay for with tax money.
It was a white Christmas all year long. Hey, I know exactly why some white people my age yearn to return to it. Compared with today, it was so damned easy.
I also believe that particular yearning is an irrational obscenity set against truth and time. It defines white people as something we are not -- superior and entitled, not to mention flimsy and afraid of fair competition on a level playing field. That dream, if realized, would condemn me to return to a narrow, stultifying world of Jell-O casserole and Dean Martin jokes. Please, please, don't drag me back there. My appetite has grown since then.
And here is the second piece from the conventions. With Bill Clinton as their wonk-in-chief, the Democrats laid out all the pieces of their agenda, along with the arithmetic. They said exactly what they want to do in Washington.
The Republicans, on the other hand, held their cards beneath the table. At the podium they were all platitudes and attitudes.
Why would that be? Especially with Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan vowing a steady diet of tough-love honesty, why was there such an absence of it in their speeches? They came across instead all wide-eyed and smarmy, like scandal-tossed televangelists trying to make nice with the dues-payers.
The logical explanation is that they can't afford for the rest of the country outside their base to see the second part, the necessary corollary of "We built this."
"Screw the rest of you."
Their absence of candor about the loophole cuts and program spending cuts is the real tell. My guess is that they won't talk about the pain because all the pain is going to be aimed at everybody who isn't an old white person.
Old and white? Don't worry. You'll keep your Social Security and Medicare and the Medicaid that pays for Grandma's nursing home. That will all be paid for out of the wages and salaries of the new much blacker and browner and more immigrant, gay and handicapped workforce.
But as soon as you're gone, we're cutting it off. That way they won't get any. Suckers!
My fear of that worldview is based some on politics, some on morality but more on the fact that it's basically crazy. The world simply is not going to go backwards a half century. Worlds don't do that. No way, no matter what. The world is getting smaller. Our definition of humanity is expanding. Those processes are not optional.
The picture in Tampa that I saw on my TV screen wasn't just of all white people. It was of a whole bunch of white people who seemed crazy to me. I mean crazy. They look up at the sky and tell you they don't know where the president of the United States came from. So what's their best guess? Pluto?
History and the globe today both tell us that societies can be taken over by nutcase ideologies and heretical religions. It happens. It could happen here. It won't endure. Truth shall out eventually. But things would sure be bad while it lasted.
So what did you see?