Smoked and Mirrored

false equivalency

Politico quotes the Omaha World-Herald‘s coverage today, as the Republican establishment of Nebraska — who had earlier hired extra security guards for their Grand Island convention, then, when caught, dropped the “extra security” — avoided “embarrassment.” [emphasis added]:

GRAND ISLAND, Neb. — Over-hyped. That was the consensus Saturday at the Nebraska Republican State Convention, where Ron Paul’s insurgency was peacefully and soundly derailed. Any fears that the convention would descend into chaos evaporated early as supporters of Paul and Mitt Romney made it clear that civility would reign — unlike in other states where Paul and Romney supporters verbally clashed, resulting in arrests and allegations of violence.

In the end, the Paul revolution in Nebraska got smoked. Paul, a libertarian Texas congressman, won two of the state GOP’s 35 national convention delegates. Romney, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, won the rest. “We did it the Nebraska way. In Nebraska, we can have our disagreements but, at the end of the day, we work together,” said Mark Fahleson, state GOP chairman. Paul’s loss in Nebraska means he will not be guaranteed a speaking role at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.

It also means Gov. Dave Heineman does not have to worry about being embarrassed in Tampa….

Ah, Nebraska, land of my genesis, where my family has lived for five generations in “Meat,” Nebraska — or in the English spelling, Kearney… Now, don’t get me wrong. I do not like Ron Paul. I find his “libertarian” anti-abortion stance hypocritical in the ultimate extremis, and did I agree with libertarianism (which I do not, see “Ayn Nation Under God,” etc.) I would not agree with neo-Confederate Ron Paul and son Rand Paul. (Too bad nobody has ever had the balls to ask him his views on the Civil War, which would be interesting as hell, did he decide not to evade the question, as he has deftly evaded all religious questions by claiming salvation and privacy, and, BTW, two of his brothers became ministers.)

But that does NOT mean that I don’t understand their frustration with the political system that espouses ‘democracy’ and does everything in its power to undermine and thwart it. The “going Galt” of the current GOP and the insane witch hunts and imputed “scandals” of the Clinton Administration are two glaring examples. But I want to tell you a story about an earlier incarnation of the formerly-Grand Old Party that I witnessed in New Mexico ….

i. The Prize

Now, political conventions haven’t meant a damned thing since 1960, when it was clear to the Kennedy forces that a) they did NOT have quite enough delegates for a first ballot nomination and b) that Lyndon Johnson had quietly secured enough delegates to be nominated on the SECOND ballot.

It was pins and needles as they went through the roll call, and when they came to the second-smallest state (Alaska being #1 at the time) and the last alphabetical state, the late Democratic Senator Gale McGee (who I met when I was a kid) delivered, as promised to Bobby Kennedy, Wyoming’s 17 delegates and put John F. Kennedy over the top.

Kennedy @ Laramie, 1963

Which is why Kennedy spoke presciently at the University of Wyoming Fieldhouse in late September 1963, paying back THAT 1960 political IOU, six weeks before his death. Gale McGee was on the platform with the President that day, and I was in attendance. (See:  “Happy Birthday, Mr. President“)

Ever since, there have been a couple of fractious Democratic Conventions and zero fractious Republican Conventions, because, as the man says, Republicans unite against the common enemy, which is, I guess, the rest of us.

I was a delegate to the pageant at the 2000 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, which I also covered for the resurrected Los Angeles Free Press, and had I not had my underground journalistic duties, I should have gone mad from sheer boredom. The once great p0litical conventions ARE the governing body of the National Parties — or so it quaintly says in their literature and bylaws.

Technically, the RNC and DNC are CONTRACTEES who run the apparatus of the parties in the interregnum between national Conventions. That is why you USED to see rules fights and floor fights, and you know what? It was DEMOCRACY warts and all, and was refreshing and a reminder that self-g0vernance, while ofttimes sloppy and filled with ugliness, is perhaps the most MAGNIFICENT creation of the mind of Humankind. Nobody ever said it was pretty, however, and nobody ever said that We, the People, had to be shielded from seeing actual fights and votes and the renewal of CONSENSUS.

Teddy Kennedy at the 2000 DNC

That’s what the quadrennial National Party Conventions are, after all: a chance to take stock and see WHO we are allied with, and what our common goals are. But with the coming of television, the conventions became —  like Congress after CSPAN started broadcasting live — a medicine show purely for the selling of snake oil, and a partisan Mary Kay or Tupperware convention: no issues, no bad tales, just stories and door prizes and pep talks to “pump you up!” with the keynote speaker reserved for the Big Moment it’s all been leading up to.

Seriously. I only got to actually VOTE once, and that was to adopt the printed booklet under my seat, 60-80 pages, saddle fold, stapled, with a 100 pound semi-gloss cover.

There’s the 2000 platform, teepeed on chair at right

I think it was the party platform, or else it was instructions on operating the Zero Gravity toilet on the Pan Am Space Cruiser. One of them. My state vote was already committed, so no polling of the delegation took place, and, our very own unmusical James Taylor candidate (for Attorney General, who would control 2000 redistricting after the legislature managed to cockfight it into the automatic movement of the issue to the A.G.’s office) who was NOT a delegate, but had been flown in so he could be on TeeVee nationally, announced Oregon’s vote, and the 15 Nanoseconds of Fame was over, save for the mildly embarrassing photograph called, how many self-styled famous Oregon politicians could shove how many faces into the smallest possible space. It IS a hoot.

try standing out in this crowd

We kind of voted on the traditional “nomination by acclaimation” and I don’t recall voting to adjourn, unless it was a voice vote. A whole bunch of Oregon party members (who do the grunt work, come election time) had voted for me to represent them at the National Convention, and I dutifully spent every hour I was alotted on the floor, and listened to all the speeches that didn’t take place when I was in the bathroom.

But the whole sad spectacle was a sham of Democracy: the most active, the best and brightest of their colonies were essentially there to act as trained seals, raising our “spontaneous” and our pre-printed signs for the TeeVee cameras. Ar ar ar the seals chant, raising their signs and then clapping their flippers.

Oh, there was one other vote, which was the vote to open the convention, except the LAPD had intercepted a rumor that “anarchists” or other protesters had squirt guns filled with urine and the Oregon and Iowa delegations were held at their buses until this “information” turned out to be utter nonsense.

So, we were arrived late.

The Union Pacific was among the many corporations
wining and dining us at DNC 2000. I had Eggs Benedict
and a Bloody Mary in an actual dining car (deja vu!)

“Were” because we were waiting at the buses in time to be there for one third of our actual votes. Gosh darned squirt guns filled with urine, anyhow. Above me, Al and Tipper Gore did “the kiss” but, because of the severe angle from the front row to the giant ziggurat of a lectern, it was usually easier to watch the big screen televisions everywhere. Even when we’re in “real life” we’re still watching teevee.

The “kiss”

Which is what the conventions understand, which is why we’re all treated to three days (and then another three) of the worst Rose Parade ever mounted.  Funny thing is, fewer and fewer people watch them every double-biennium.

Cue music. Drop balloons. Finis.

And then Wolf Blitzer* can blather about what it all meant, which was precisely: sound and fury signifying nothing.

[* I watched him, also bored out of his mind, sitting about fifty feet away from the Oregon Delegation’s “prime” floor seating at the extreme right of the Staples Center stage. The one guy I had total respect for as a journalist at that convention was the ABC radio guy, who had a huge portable electronic utility belt/fanny pack, headphones and a microphone, dutifully trudging between delegations, a large graying man (almost certainly eligible for the “Early Bird Special” at any Dennys), who was working five times as hard as any other journalist there, myself included.]

When every public moment is magnified through the partisans’ lens, all effort is reserved to make sure NOTHING BAD HAPPENS. That is more important than anything “good” happening, which is why the modern convention is as bland as unflavored tapioca. Oatmeal, by comparison, would be as spicy as a stack of blue corn enchiladas topped with jalapeños and the “muy caliente” salsa.

Part of the special train the UPRR brought
to Downtown LA to entertain delegates in 2000

Thus, the Grand Island of the Loup and Platte Rivers became unflavored Chilly con Carne, Nebraska, Saturday.

ii. Tricky Dick and his New Mexico minions

The nominee of the Republican Party in 1972 was not entirely approved of by the entire party. In fact, in my own household, my mother was mad as hell at him. I was soon to be up for the draft, and she had voted for him because he’d promised to end the Vietnam War. Four years later, it still wasn’t over.

Pete McCloskey

That’s the background. Here’s what happened. A decent and good man, Pete McCloskey was a Republican “maverick” a long time before John McCain decided to adopt the term as his marketing slogan in 2008. And Pete was a native Californian, like Nixon, born in Loma Linda, and then a congressman from Northern Calif0rnia, where he was challenging Nixon from. Wikipedia:

McCloskey voluntarily served in the U.S. Navy from 1945 to 1947, the U.S. Marine Corps from 1950 to 1952, the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve from 1952 to 1960 and the Ready Reserve from 1960 to 1967. He retired from the Marine Corps Reserve in 1974, having attained the rank of Colonel. He was awarded the Navy Cross and Silver Star decorations for heroism in combat and two Purple Hearts as a Marine during the Korean War. He then volunteered for the Vietnam War before eventually turning against it. 

In 1992, he wrote his fourth book, “The Taking of Hill 610”, describing some of his exploits in Korea.

Waving our signs like trained seals

McCloskey challenged Nixon on an anti-war platform, and in New Mexico, my parents were among those registered Republicans who voted McCloskey his sole delegate at the Republican National Convention. Here’s how Wikipediatells it, and then I’ll tell you what ACTUALLY happened:

He sought the 1972 Republican Presidential nomination on a pro-peace/anti-Vietnam War platform, and obtained 11% of the vote against incumbent President Richard M. Nixon in the New Hampshire primary. At the Republican National Convention in Miami Beach, Florida, Rep. McCloskey received one vote (out of 1324) from a New Mexico delegate. All other votes cast went to President Nixon, thus McCloskey finished second place in the race for the Presidential nomination. Congressman John Ashbrook of Ohio had also challenged President Nixon’s bid for re-nomination, albeit on a conservative platform.

But what happened in New Mexico seemed a victory at the time: McCloskey’s delegate could put Pete in nomination, and he’d get a speech, and with ANY second, McCloskey would get to speak (gasp!) that the VIETNAM WAS AN INSANE CLUSTERF**K AND SHOULD END NOW! (which Bobby Kennedy had been called a “Communist” for suggesting four years earlier.)

But never fear, the Republican Establishment was on the job.

UPRR party car!

At the New Mexico State convention, no McCl0sky delegate was selected. All Nixon men were sent to Bebe Rebozo’s backyard, and the New Mexico delegation would “vote” the delegate’s vote at the convention, but McClosky’s voice was silenced by the New Mexico state Republican Party (I am sure that the White House approved, or perhaps even suggested the Machiavellian ruse).

Thus, no dissent. No nomination. No embarrassing speeches. No hint of actual respectful dissent nor “democracy” in the Nixon Convention that year. Just a pageant, whose Roger Ailes scripted event was embarrassingly given (inadvertently) to a British radio network, who distributed it to other media, and we had radio commentary READING from the script before the trained seals barked lines like:


It was as fake as any sitcom. And the Republican voters of New Mexico were silenced. My PARENTS were silenced. It wasn’t just Pete McCloskey. And Pete continued to serve honorably, as the Wikipedia article notes:

[McCloskey’s] book “The Taking of Hill 610” put an end to Pat Robertson’s 1988 Presidential run.

McCloskey, who served with Robertson in Korea, wrote a public letter which said that Robertson was actually spared combat duty when his powerful father, a U.S. Senator, intervened on his behalf, and that Robertson spent most of his time in an office in Japan. According to McCloskey, his time in the service was not in combat but as the “liquor officer” responsible for keeping the officers’ clubs supplied with liquor. Robertson filed a $35 million libel suit against McCloskey in 1986. He dropped the case in 1988, before it came to trial and paid McCloskey’s court costs.

McCloskey was the first member of Congress to publicly call for the impeachment of President Nixon after the Watergate scandal and the Saturday Night Massacre. He was also the first lawmaker to call for a repeal of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that allowed for the War in Vietnam. An opponent of the Iraq War, McCloskey broke party ranks in 2004 to endorse John Kerry in his bid to unseat George W. Bush as President of the United States. […]

The Sierra Club recognized McCloskey for helping to unseat Pombo with their 2006 Edgar Wayburn Award. In the spring of 2007, McCloskey announced that he had changed his party affiliation to the Democratic Party. In an email and letter to the Tracy Press, McCloskey stressed that the “new brand of Republicanism” had finally led him to abandon the party that he had joined in 1948.  He followed this up with an op-ed column in which he explained that “Disagreement [with party leadership] turned into disgust” and “I finally concluded that it was fraud for me to remain a member of this modern Republican Party”, although it was a “decision not easily taken.”

Nixon and McCain post reelection

Sadly, poor Pete had thought Nixon was an aberration. Turned out he was a prototype.

iii. So, Is Ron Paul Effectively silenced?

And so, the GOP raised the bar for nominations and speeches and suchlike, and, had Ron Paul taken a plurality at the Nebraska state Republican Convention, he’d have gotten to speak, too. But they did it the “Nebraska way,” and Ron Paul is silenced.

Nebraska in 1718

Look: I may not agree with him in virtually any policy stance, but he LEGITIMATELY has a right to speak. And his delegates aren’t HIM. They represent the voices of each and every voter whose district or convention election earned Mr. Paul a delegate.

But today, nobody bats an eye. Because, I suppose, we’ve come to expect it. I make no claims about the propriety of the Nebraska Republicans — although I am sure that they are relieved not to be “embarrassed.”  I merely point out that Ron Paul’s candidacy was effectively silenced IN Nebraska, which is not a matter of opinion, but simply a fact. Whether Mitt decides to throw the Paulists a bone remains to be seen.

Ron Paul speaks at Tea Party Patriot$$$ in Phoenix

But, according to the rules (like anybody follows them in either party when it isn’t in their political interest) Ron Paul does not now have a right to speak at Romney’s coronation. You see, there’s a reason that  [some] Libertarians moved into the ballot initiative field in a big way with petition drives and hired petition gatherers.

And there’s a reason that they DOMINATE that field.

It’s because they had to learn how to run large, statewide petition drives just to get their presidential candidates on the ballot.

Including, in 1988, Ron Paul.

Ron Paul was a founder (see)

In the short term, this is a victory for the Republican establishment — both state and national. Let’s see what happens in the long term.

Guess they’ll let ANYbody into the 2000 DNC



A writer, published author, novelist, literary critic and political observer for a quarter of a quarter-century more than a quarter-century, Hart Williams has lived in the American West for his entire life. Having grown up in Wyoming, Kansas and New Mexico, an honorary Texan, Clown (ditto) and a veteran of Hollywood, Mr. Williams currently lives in Oregon, along with an astonishing amount of pollen. He has a lively blog His Vorpal Sword. This is cross-posted from his blog

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About Hart Williams

Mr. Williams grew up in Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas and New Mexico. He lived in Hollywood, California for many years. He has been published in The Washington Post, The Kansas City Star, The Santa Fe Sun, The Los Angeles Free Press, Oui Magazine, New West, and many, many more. A published novelist and a filmed screenwriter, Mr. Williams eschews the decadence of Hollywood for the simple, wholesome goodness of the plain, honest people of the land. He enjoys Luis Buñuel documentaries immensely.
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