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How the Republican Convention
Constructs Meaning

Natalia J. Garland

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Yesterday, the 2008 Republican National Convention finished their proceedings in St. Paul, Minnesota. The first day of the convention had been interupted by the focus on Hurricane Gustav which struck New Orleans, Louisiana. Although the hurricane had the potential to devastate both the city of New Orleans and the business of the convention, the Republicans strategically and symbolically integrated the hurricane's force into new political meaning for the Republican Party. President Bush (who was not present at the convention) stated, "Where there's a human need, it will be met by the generosity of the American people." Similarly, Senator John McCain stated that when there is disaster, "We unite, we respond and take care of our own."

The Republicans were careful not to repeat the mistakes of the past. When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in 2005, assistance did not arrive until four days later. To make matters worse, President Bush did a 'flyover' of the city, observing the damages from the comfort of a jet airplane. When Hurricane Gustav struck, however, McCain helped prepare relief packages in Ohio to be sent to New Orleans. Laura Bush and Cindy McCain visited New Orleans immediately. The McCains sent $5,000 to each of five different charities. The first day of convention speeches was cancelled, and one group of delegates held a prayer breakfast.

On that same day, it was reported (or under-reported), that the U.S. Marines had returned control of the Iraqi province of Anbar, a former Al-Qaeda stronghold, to the Iraqi government. Anbar is the 11th of 18 provinces over which the Iraqis have gained back control from Al-Qaeda. The cities of Fallujah and Ramadi are located in Anbar--where, second to Bahgdad, the bloodiest fighting has taken place. The U.S. Marines will remain in Anbar to train Iraqi soldiers and police, and to serve as backup until conditions are more stable. In other words, the American military surge has been successful. The surge must be credited to Senator McCain and the Republicans, to General Petraeus, and to one Democrat: Senator Joe Lieberman.

The political theme of the Republican Convention was Country First. They were able to demonstrate this during Hurricane Gustav. They were also able to separate themselves from the mistakes and unpopularity of the George W. Bush administration. The Republicans emphasized service, dedication to a cause greater than self, and change--more precisely defined as government reform. Service was given deeper meaning as sacrifice and as exemplified by the P.O.W. experiences of Senator Mc Cain.

The Country First theme also seemed in reaction to Democratic slogans such as this is our moment and we are the ones we have been waiting for. The Republicans burst the red, white, and blue balloons of some Democrats' rhetoric and exposed the empty air of its narcissism. The Republicans swept the trampled confetti from the Democrats' floor and pasted together a new Republican collage of the common people. Taking care of our own is an inclusive attitude. It means that blacks, people of lower income levels, working women, and children with Down Syndrome are valued and included. The new Republicans seem very much like the old Democrats of the 1960's and 1970's, while the new Democrats of 2008 seem arrogant and filled with false superiority .

Is the new inclusion a clever tactic or genuine humanitarianism? Or is it only reactive and doomed to oblivion when and if McCain occupies the White House? There are two reasons for optimism. (1) Mc Cain's P.O.W. experiences required tremendous courage and love in order to survive: qualities which perhaps he would continue to apply to the presidency. It would be dishonorable for him to do otherwise. (2) Gov. Sarah Palin, the vice-presidential nominee, seems not a token female to attract votes, but an energizing and caring messenger of reform. The new Republican woman can be a working mother; again, a right and an option for which the old Democrats strongly advocated.

The new inclusion, however, will probably be summoned to support comprehensive immigration reform. McCain did not mention the problem of illegal immigration, and this was probably intentional. The Republican Convention included speeches by former presidential candidate rivals Huckabee, Romney, and Giuliani; and former Democratic presidential candidate Lieberman. But, former candidates Duncan Hunter and Tom Tancredo were missing. These two men were staunchly against the 'pathway to citizenship' for illegal immigrants. McCain will have a difficult task to balance the concept of inclusion with government reform (such as reforming enforcement of immigration laws which are currently being broken), and with our national sovereignty, peace, and prosperity for which he sacrificed in Vietnam.

The new Republican Party wants to protect life from terrorism and from abortion. It wants to reach out to all Americans, but to separate from the old Republican Party of George W. Bush. It wants to create a culture of service to country, and to counteract the narcissistic tendencies of a declining American culture. The new Republicans, however, must be cautious not to toss out the Duncan Hunters or the Tom Tancredos along with George W. Bush. Dissenters sometimes carry the voice of reason, and the voice of the people and Country First.

[NOTE: This essay is based on personal observation, reaction, and opinion. This essay is therefore subject to error. Regarding narcissism, no comment is intended to carry official diagnostic value.] (Written 09/05/08: bibliography available.)

[ADDED NOTE: The Republicans were not able to spread their message of inclusion and reform during the post-Convention phase of McCain's campaign. Although there were probably several complicated variables which explain this outcome, certainly three important reasons were: (1) media bias in favor of Obama, (2) failure of Republicans to reach out to minorities and to correct the media's negative stereotyping of the Republican Party, and (3) failure to control the financial crisis and to understand the significance of this for the average citizen.] (Written 12/30/08)

Until we meet again..............stay sane.

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Copyright 2008 Natalia J. Garland