Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Remarkable First Day

It was a day that began rather unremarkably, like this column. First came finding the place. Thanks to an app called Waze, we navigated around all of the many streets cordoned off for what we were affectionately calling "Republicanville" by the end of the day.


The crowd cheered when a speaker thanked the Cleveland police for doing such a good job protecting the Convention -- applause that was well deserved. But after a silent protester was escorted out of the building for unfurling a sign supporting Syrian refugees, it was clear that more than just our safety was being secured.


I am too harsh. This is, after all, a convention to celebrate and promote the Republican nominee. It's the winner's victory lap, and he should be entitled to a unanimous -- in perception at least -- cheering crowd. That's what party conventions are for.


And that's why there was little sympathy for last minute efforts to derail the Trump nomination.


In any event, it seemed hypocritical for those claiming to speak in the name of the people to be advocating that party insiders use the rules to snatch victory from the candidate who received millions more votes than any of his competitors.


The mainstream media kept political opinions to themselves except when we were standing in line for the shuttle. We learned from a Buffalo television reporter that Trump may in fact have enough support from upstate and renegade Manhattanites to carry New York. But then again, that's the kind of thing I imagine any smart political reporter in an habitual blue state would say to retain viewer interest.


We met a Clevelander who'd also made the climb up the steep hill from the riverfront, home to our cheap parking space ($10, in contrast to the $50-$80 parking closer to the arena). She confirmed that the city this week is nothing like normal Cleveland. It sounded like this young woman is a lone Republican in a neighborhood of Democratic wolves. She said she had supported Rand Paul, but when he dropped out, she crossed over to vote for Bernie because she hated Hillary so much.


Maybe hating Hillary so much will win this election. That certainly was the theme for many of the speakers last night. A Gold Star mother seethed in contempt for what she said were Hillary's lies to her about the circumstances of her son's death. In a night when a former fashion model would be the keynote speaker, debate raged over whether Hillary would look better wearing pantsuits in orange or black stripes.


The Benghazi rescuers spoke way too long. I never thought an account of rescuing Americans from the embassy could become boring, but by the end of their speech, I noticed a sea of cell phones receiving more attention. They weren't taking pictures of the speakers either.


Senator Jeff Sessions also was a victim of delegate distraction. Someone walked into the arena in the middle of his speech. Not sure who it was because the focus of attention was below the balcony where we were sitting. Was it Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Gollum? Whoever it was, more people were interested in taking his photograph than paying attention to Senator Sessions. We ran into the senator afterwards on his way back to the hotel. He first ignored us, then waved an acknowledgment without turning around. He clearly was not happy with the way his speech had been received.


More content was Senator Tom Cotton, who did a much better job delivering his first convention speech than had that other Arkansan when he first appeared on a national stage. There is no need for Senator Cotton to play the saxophone on the Tonight Show; he did a commendable job. He was spotted smiling, holding his wife's hand, strolling down the hallway afterwards.


The speakers who really were on fire were Rudy Giuliani and the Milwaukee police chief. They both gave stirring talks focusing on why blue lives matter.


Notwithstanding the meandering speeches by the Benghazi rescuers, most of the evening was tightly produced and effective. I had been dubious about the speaker line-up, which was light on professional politicians and heavy on ordinary folk. I was wrong. The large number of persons of color and accent on that podium support Trump's claim that he has constructed a sufficiently broad tent for victory.


The speaker with the most striking accent -- both in appearance and speech -- was, of course, Melania. It is hard to say the candidate is anti-immigrant when his number one fan is a naturalized citizen. It will be hard to say the candidate is anti-Semitic when his daughter Ivanka -- who converted to Judaism -- will introduce him Thursday night.


Melania's speech writer should be fired if he/she plagiarized Michelle Obama's speech, as is being reported. But despite this mar, Melania  did a superb job humanizing her husband and bringing a little of, dare we say, Jackie Kennedy-like glamour to the stage. He won't like for us to say this, but she really upstaged her husband, who made cameo appearances before and after her speech. (For a host of reasons, they could have done without Queen's "We Are the Champions" as background music.)


The only former GOP presidential candidate in attendance was former Senator Bob Dole, who Melania rightly singled out for a standing ovation. None of the famous Bush family was there. The only sighting of 41 and 43 was in a joint photograph in the hallway, along with pictures of other Republican presidents from the past. I spotted only one photograph of Abraham Lincoln, one of Ronald Reagan, several of Richard Nixon. Go figure.


But this convention isn't about the past or politicians, at least not in the usual sense. This convention is going exactly how I had expected, and that was what made the first day so remarkable.

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