The Beast is Red
Author’s Note: In 2008, just before the presidential elections, I took a trip (funded in part by a group of troublemaking liberals) to CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, in Washington, DC. My goal was to take massive quantities of drugs and write about my experiences in the belly of the beast during the final ascendance of the American right. For some time, I have meant, for no other reason than to store it where I can always easily get to it, to import it over to my blog from where it originally appeared at Sadly, No!. I present it here unedited as a document, if nothing else, of the choking death of a particular moment in American politics, prior to the muddled miasma of the post-crash Obama years.
PART I: AN AMERICAN GOD
Houston’s airport – Bush International. I’m flying out of Bush and into Reagan, moving eastward in space and backwards in time: soon I will face the Beast, but before I do, I’m killing time and brain cells in an airport named after his father, after which I will fly into one named after the Patron Saint of Modern Conservativism. By the time I get there time will have moved forward, but the names of the airports serve to remind me that I will be spending the next few days in the company of those who want it to move backward. Back to the 1980s when Reagan first began to rid us of those troublesome layabout unions, back to the 1950s with a stop along the way to annihilate the dread specter of the Sick Sick Sixties, back to the 1920s before That Man nearly ruined America with his confiscatory helpfulness, back to the 1890s with their gilded edges and men of high finance who knew the world was put there for them alone. Soon I will fly through the names of the presidents and mingle with men and women who are using the technology of the 21st century to repeal the 20th.
I break my pre-flight fast with a quick meal at McDonald’s: fast, easy, and consequence free, the very spirit and image of consumer capitalism. No two countries have ever fought a war that both operated a McDonald’s franchise, they tell me, which must be why all the employees look so cheerful and fulfilled in their jobs. They know they’re helping to usher in a new age of global peace. Fuck it, I think to myself as I perform the nutritional operation of consuming a Quarter Pounder with cheese: if I’m going to do this, I might as well do it right. No mouthing off or hipster showboating this trip. My bag is different this time: a raw and ideologically pure dive into the FDA-approved dyes of the red states.
For eight years I have been lectured about the pure moral good of the heartland and the values it is said to embrace, contra my own apparently horrid set of cultural preferences. And this time, I will listen. I will shed my pretentious, intellectually hostile beliefs and attend the Conservative Political Action Conference as the paragon of red-state values I am forever urged to become. In preparation for the trip, I do not take either of my Cassini suits to the dry-cleaners. Instead, I stop at my local Wal-Mart, the blue and white gleaming savior of American retail power, and choose from the many tasteful offerings by Puritan and George. Surely none of the Washington conservative elite will sneer at my fifty-dollar suit and Chinese shoes! After all, clothes-snobbery is a signifier of the blue-state urbanite, with his poisonous moral relativism and insatiable latte-lust.
Likewise, I am not fool enough to think that I can get through four days of hobnobbing with the likes of Richard Viguerie and Ben Shapiro without some kind of chemical enhancement. But I will forsake the trailer-park speed, that low sign of the white-trash enterprenuer, and the carefully smuggled tin of chocolate Thai: such indulgence, with its natural provenance and tendency towards sloth and mockery, marks me as a liberal at best or a hippie at worst. No, this trip, it will be strictly legal alcohol, as much of it as I can possibly stomach, and good old under-the-counter pills, fistfuls at a time. My muscles will be relaxed, my pain relieved, my sleep aided, and my brain fogged by 100% pharmaceutical-grade pills, designed by corporate chemists and sold by gigantic drug concerns. I will experience CPAC the way the rest of the attendees will, blitzed out only on their own sense of self-righteousness and semi-legitimate drugs benevolently provided by an American God the way the market intended.
Best of all, some nefarious Californian has engaged in shenanigans with my check card and the bank has cancelled it in expectation of issuing me a new one, so I’m living on credit the entire weekend. Thus I will do as I am urged by our most perfect of all systems: spend like mad, don’t save, buy everything on easy credit, and leave open the possibility of a massive default that the taxpayers will have to bail you out of. If it worked for the ‘fiscally conservative’ Reagan Administration, then it ought to work for me. Fully embracing my new role as a man who’s attending a convention of right-wing crazies with the idea that their maddened, self-serving efforts to run the country into the ground are actually a good thing, I’ve even crafted an alternate identity for myself. Gone is Mister Leonard Pierce, a freelance writer and small-time criminal who is fond of Scandinavian social democracy, gangsta rap and the writings of Terry Southern. In his place is the modestly dressed, all-American Leonard Pierce, lobbyist for the Texas-based American Milk Solids Council, who only reads books with the word “management” or “Bible” in the title and wants nothing more out of his politicians than that they lower his taxes at any cost, allow him to do business any way the market will allow, and maybe if there’s enough time keep the homo queers from marrying each other.
It is through the ruthless management of this façade that I will survive a weekend with a group for whom 1968 is something that happened to other people. My mantra for the next four days: pills, populism, and participatory journalism. I take a quick trip to the bathroom and, occupying a stall previously vetted for me by one of our fine young men in the Navy, prepare a quick pre-flight cocktail of Vicodin, Percodan, Darvocet, Lortab, and something my “doctor” assured me were codeine pills, and before I remember how to blink, my flight is boarding. See, our capitalist system can make time move forward as well as backward! All hail the market, I say, possibly out loud.
I merge seamlessly with the crowd of pants-suits and Oxford shirts, feeling at peace with the world as I shuffle past the obvious blue-state snobs in First Class. If only those liberal jerks (fascists to a man, I’m sure of it – Jonah Goldberg will not be in attendance at CPAC to teach us all how even a slight deviation from the gospels of Sts. Reagan and Rand leads inexorably down the path of Mussolinity, nor will Ann Coulter, unexpectedly bumped from the schedule to make room for someone less prone to bad publicity, but Dick Cheney will be in the house, which is enough concentrated evil for any thrillseeker) knew the joys of sitting back in coach with your fellow (R)-voting prole! Let them have their leg room, their comfortable seats, their complimentary cocktails. I’m back here with the real Americans, not wearing a tie for the last time all weekend, with my Wal-Mart shoes and my Eli Lilly bloodstream, and the knowledge that I am what America is all about.
PART 2: INVISIBLE ASIA
This is, I must begrudgingly admit, not a great town for hydrocodone. At least, not from where I’m sitting. Which is currently in the back of a taxicab (driven by a resentful Turk, silent as the Teskilat-i Mahsusa) wheeling at reckless speeds through the taxpayer-funded parks of Washington Northwest. The dangerous urban velocity, the jogging lobbyists, the metropolitan greenery – so tempting as a dumping ground for talkative interns – it’s all conducive to a heightened sense of paranoia.
Which is my natural state; the last time I was in the capitol, just a month after 9/11, I was walking on glass, set off by every bad look, assuming that everywhere I tread there was the red dot of a laser sight accompanying the back of my head. That’s the way I like it, baby; I don’t want to live forever. But the artificial narcotic calm that comes from my new white chalky pals in the plastic bottle is upsetting: here I am in the lights of Leviathan, his terrible teeth all ‘round about, attempting to open the doors of his face, and all I can think is I wonder if it’s too late to get room service?
Indeed, I’m beginning to understand the appeal of prescription drugs for the denizens of this town. Government largesse is strewn everywhere, on the very skyline (paid for, as the license plates remind me, by taxation without representation), but no one comes here to crusade, no one stands up and thanks their bloody luck that they live in a country rich without precedent and capable of shaping such a city. Misbegotten Mark Antonys without number flock here to claim that they come not to praise Government, but to bury it: but they’re really just here to game the system, to play a big session of Nomic that will result not in the drying up of Washington’s revenue stream, but only the redirecting of it into the right pockets. It’s not really a question of starving the beast; it’s a question of starving the people who might just happen to need the beast.
The right drugs can help you pretend that it’s all just larks, with no consequences to the people driving your cab or bringing you your dry cleaning. Lesson learned: when I arrive at the hotel, two Young Americans for Freedom are trying to check in using a credit card not belonging to them. Rules, of course, are for poor people, and they seem to think that if they berate the poor West African guy working the front desk, they’ll get what they want eventually. They may be wrong, but God damn it, no late-shift immigrant is going to tell them that. Modern Washington, the Washington of Bush and CPAC, was built to keep people like him from telling people like them what to do.
I breeze in past them, a solid citizen with my own plastic, and take my place on the fifth floor just in time to replenish the opioids in my system: the flight in took me right over the Pentagon, and every time I fly that route, I can’t shake the feeling that it’s the last thing a bunch of people ever saw. It rattles me, rattles me like I was a Cameroonian hotel management student getting berated by some short-con trust fund kids. Things are already going badly and I haven’t even set foot in a CPAC event: it’s far too early to be wondering what in God’s name I am doing there. Steady on, man: think of your colleagues at the American Milk Solids Council, who are counting on you to rub the right elbows and ensure that we can sell baby formula to Botswana without some meddlesome paper-peddler going on and on about necrotizing enterocolitis. What I am doing here is to separate bad from worse.
The convention will be attended, largely, by two groups of people: the mainline Republican rump who think George W. Bush was, and is, doing a Brownian heck of a job, and the radical right who think that the problem with Jolly George is that he’s not heartlessly conservative enough (whether socially or economically is a matter for a whole ‘nother fistfight). To put it another way, here we have the people who look at the wreckage of the American 2000s and pronounce it a wonderful thing, and the people who look at it and say “Yeah, it’s pretty awful, but if we tried, we could make it a whole lot worse”. Meanwhile, China quietly rounds up dissidents in preparation for the spectacle of the Olympics. Someday they may show up and collect for all those wonderful, worthless weapons that allowed us to humble their Russian neighbors, but like every other bill the Republicans rack up, that’s for someone else to worry about.
In the elevator up to my floor, two men in golf hats (golf hats? At 8PM?) talk about how high taxes will make people leave the country and stop producing if Hillary gets into office. (They’re apparently laboring under the misapprehension that Americans still produce things.) This is a real threat in the world of CPAC, while things like massive health care shortages, an increasingly ill-educated population, dependence on dwindling natural resources, and the ever-widening gap between rich and poor are the stuff of fairy tales. I’ve arrived too late for the pre-CPAC Diamond Reception and too early for the expensive hookers to start roaming the halls. The soda machine costs a buck and a quarter for a can, so I decide to just wait for the boy to bring my bottle of gin. Then, before the pills kick in, a moment of imperialist panic: What if there is no boy? What if there is no gin?
PART 3: YOU SHAN’T GO HOME AGAIN
The Omni Shoreham hotel, Regency Ballroom, Washington, DC, Thursday morning. After a moment of panic early this morning on an empty stomach and a poisoned bloodstream, during which I decided that I’d be happier just staying in my hotel room and listening to old Lee Morgan records all weekend, I gutted up, donned my Wal-Mart vines, popped a few more opiates for the road, and slid down the banister towards the Ninth Circle.
Here’s a description of Hell they never give you: a huge room full of all the people you hate most, and they’re all having a wonderful time. Yes, it’s all smiles and sunshine here at CPAC: lively young ladies with skillfully applied layers of makeup are here to greet you at every turn and correct your every confusion. Hopelessly earnest collegiate nerds hand out Mitt Romney stickers and hope against hope that John McCain has some sort of campaign trail meltdown: perhaps it will occur to him that the last 30 years have all been a fever-dream brought on by bad fish paste, that he is still in some VC labor camp wearing a tin can around his head, and he will savagely turn on his campaign manager with a broken bottle while at a Kiwanis breakfast. High school kids with bad moustaches pal around in hopes that toadying up to the rich kids will be their ticket to an easy future. On the walls are banners for the dregs of conservative thinksmanship: Town Hall, the ACU, Human Events, the YAF. (The National Review is conspicuous in its absence; they probably think CPAC takes much-needed revenue away from their Cruise the Caribbean with Rich Lowry promotion.) And up front, where no one can touch them – their natural state, as the Market intended, are the big men. Up there, in the first few rows, are the bosses, the people for whom America is shitbox and change drawer, the living embodiments of The Man.
On the way in, bracing the driveway entries to the Omni but kept far from the entrance by irritated-looking cops, were the abortion protesters. Their color posters of mangled fetuses were held up proud and loud in fear that the throngs of right-wingers inside might be paying a little too much attention to lining their pockets and not enough to their pet topic, the atomic holocaust of tomorrow’s Christians. My cab driver, a scarred-up vet who confesses solidarity with the protesters on the abortion issue but is also a lifelong Democrat, shrugs in an almost embarrassed way – as if his earlier self-identification as a pro-lifer places him humiliatingly in the company of these fanatics.
Once I check in, the atmosphere of gregarious paranoia only increases: there are cops and security people everywhere you look, and long lines through metal detectors and pat-downs by mean young cops and men with earpieces, who all seem to have only recently graduated from high school. I have another moment of panic as they paw through my briefcase, turning all my electronics on and off and opening all the containers: I do, after all, have a lot of pills in there. But God bless the lobbyists for the pharma industry: every goddamn one of them is at least putatively legal, and who’s to say I don’t actually have prescription? Other than me, of course, and I’m not talking. At least not after my next round loosens all the muscles in my tongue.
All your questions about America’s premier gathering of authoritarian ideologues answered: what does Bob Novak look like in person? Steak-fed, self-satisfied, near death. What is the range of hairstyles on display? Surprisingly diverse, yet boring (men only: the women almost all sport hair that seems flattened with an iron, chasing away any suggestions of ethnicity), including the classic combover and the perennial flat-top, but also ranging into the pony-tail, the fauxhawk, and the who knows what it is because they’re wearing a ten-gallon cowboy hat. How many flags are there at the speaker’s table? So many, they must know what’s best for the country. Do yarmulkes outnumber black people here in the Regency Ballroom? Yes, by an almost 3-1 ratio. Who do the official photographers take pictures of? All the young girls with their steam-ironed hair. What sort of music do conservative organizers pump over the PA while waiting for the speakers to come on? Characterless light jazz. Who is sitting near me as I type this? A gaggle of college frosh.
A rail-thin brunette in the row in front of my tests my cover for the first time; my improv skills may be shaky because I’m light-headed and panicky, but I must do my best for site and country.
“Hi! Are these seats taken?”
“Only by these free CPAC Special issues of Townhall magazine. Help yourself.”
“Oh, thanks, sir!” Sir. So much for getting laid. “I’m Namela Redactednoff from the University of Small Midwestern State’s Conservative Student Alliance.”
“Leonard Pierce, American Milk Solids Council.”
“I’m sorry? What is that?”
“It’s an industry group for milk solids manufacturers. We lobby Washington lawmakers to lessen regulations on the export of milk solids. The problem is that the government blames us for the incompetence of African mothers.”
“That is so unfair.”
“Tell me about it.”
She goes back to chatting with a thick-necked linebacker about how Barack Obama is nothing but a smile and a haircut. But then, the lights dim and David Keene, head of the American Conservative Union, takes the stage. Bad news: the President will not be here at the scheduled time. (He has to go frown convincingly over the bodies of hapless tornado victims. Presumably Trent Lott’s house is safe this time around.) Good news: he’s coming anyway, at 7AM tomorrow (“magnetometers will open two hours before that”, Keene says to great laughs; there aren’t nearly enough good magnetometer jokes out there for my taste). After a brief moment where he urges that we all be respectful to everyone at the conference, “even the liberals” (I look around nervously), he introduces the Cannons (father-son authors of the most recent hagiography of Ronald Wilson Reagan), Bob Novak, and Al Regnery for what will be an hour of relentless bukkake on the corpse of RWR.
Al Regnery is a stunted little man who acts as the bursar for a lot of the wingnut welfare recipients in attendance. Bob Novak, of course, is the devil. Just look at those unnaturally straight teeth! Surely that is the dentistry of Satan himself. I’m convinced that Novak is sharing a withered soul with Henry Kissinger and that’s the only reason he’s sitting up there chatting so amiably about nation-building. “Ronald Reagan is everyone’s favorite president,” says Bob to wild applause. I wonder who was consulted in that poll. The topic of the moment: would Reagan have invaded Iraq? Novak has all sorts of giggly sport with the Cannons about how bad Bush has muffed up the entire process, and just when it’s getting interesting – will God allow that dwarfish sack of shit to reach stratospheric new heights of human hypocrisy, or will he strike him down with bolts of righteous lightning? – Keene interrupts the panel to report that Vice-President Cheney has arrived early. I brace myself: I am about the be a few yards away from the worst man in America.
PART 4: IN A MAD FRENZY, STINGING THEMSELVES TO ETERNAL DEATH
Before Cheney comes on, a bunch of CPAC dignitaries are introduced. Who gets the biggest applause? Wayne LaPierre, the human bulldozer of the National Rifle Association. The only person of color on the panel, Niger Innis of the race-baiting Congress for Racial Equality, actually draws boos. This is officially the only time in my life I have actually felt sorry for Niger Innis.
It’s a real cross-section of the American privileged class, the rich and angry from A to B. People are clapping rhythmically – well, as rhythmically as this crowd is ever going to get – for Cheney. For Cheney! I keep expecting them to start chanting “WE WANT THE SHOW” like they’re waiting for the Blues Brothers, the presence of whom would color up the crowd considerably. Wyoming senator John Barrasso introduces the fiend of the hour: “The C in CPAC should stand for Cheney!” The C in CPAC should stand for cocksucker, how about that?, I think, as the combination of drugs and fear turn me into a surly 15-year-old. Cheney is damned lucky I don’t have a roll of toilet paper, that’s all I can say. The crowd gives Dick a standing o, and, as a gang of bull-veined dudes in front of me start chanting “FOUR MORE YEARS!”, I get the sensation for the first time all day that I’m at something that could easily turn into a fascist rally.
When the applause finally quells, Dick chuckles evilly. Can that be done? Is a chuckle even feasible as the delivery vector for evil? If it is, Dick Cheney is the man capable of pulling it off with finesse. I have to admit, the guy has a certain degree of charm, but it’s the same kind of charm that you might find in Stalin or Dracula: the easy charisma of a man who knows he can, with a wave of his hand, have you ground into paste. The first part of Cheney’s speech is right at the wheelhouse of the CPAC crowd: lower taxes, lower taxes, lower taxes. “Lower taxes are always good for this economy,” he says. Which economy is he talking about? The economy in general, or the economy of the people in this room? Any program that gets cut is inevitably referred to as “wasteful”, “bloated” or “special interest”, without any details as to what’s being disappeared. Oddly enough, “wasteful”, “bloated” and “special interest” is language perfectly suited to describe almost every penny being spent in Iraq, but Cheney doesn’t have anything to say about that.
National security, though, that’s another matter: he gets another standing ovation for “The absence of another 9/11 is not an accident, it’s an achievement”. (The presence of the first 9/11, apparently, was and accident.) A laundry list of constitutional butt-wipes get standing ovations from about half of the crowd: an expansion of FISA, the torture of terror suspects, and the financial protection of any big corporation who might theoretically have allowed illegal wiretapping to take place. The telecoms, says Cheney, shouldn’t be “hassled” for acting in “good faith”, which usage of the phrase is unfamiliar to me. Terror, terror, terror: it’s the Dick Cheney boilerplate. (Bonus homosexual innuendo, Dick Cheney edition: describing the President’s term in office, he says “We’ve done hard things and done them well.”) Weirdly enough – or maybe not so much – his defense of torture gets a standing ovation, but his praising of our fighting men in uniform does not. It takes a man to fight, but it takes a train to waterboard.
Defense, security, prosperity. America is a country of good: thus stated, it need not be defended or explained. It’s nothing we haven’t heard before, but somehow hearing it in person, in the presence of true believers, it leaves a haze in the air, a strange absence of rhetoric: it seems less like a speech that has been delivered and more like a series of directives that have been issued. Cheney leaves the building (his last appearance here as vice-president, Keene notes with a lick of the lips, but not his last appearance here) to thunderous applause, having gone out with a workingman’s damn and told us all that the nation will be safer and more prosperous for having had Bush as president for eight years. It is not an assurance: it is an order.
PART 5: SOY UN PERDIDOR
I think David Horowitz is ratting me out. The little zero stood reading my e-mails over my shoulder (quite a feat, given that I’ve got a foot and a half on him) for about ten minutes before I noticed him, and in the hour or so since, I’ve been getting bad looks from my fellow conventioneers.
I’ve retreated to the hotel bar — frustratingly empty: as my alkie dad might have told me if he’d ever dried out, never trust a group that doesn’t drink before 5PM — and I can hear the roar of the crazed from the lobby as Ron Paul comes blustering in for his 3PM speech. Pamela Atlas Geller Oshry Wojohowicz Smith Kline Welcome’s Long Island wheeze echoes from nearby, but I can’t put a face to the name, and thank the Christ her people murdered that I can’t. (Judging from the cocktail conversation, there’s an equal number of Israel-defenders and Jew-haters in attendance today.)
Celebrity sightings: Ben Stein, Mary Katherine Ham, and a number of flyover senators. I order a martini, as dry as Ace of Spades’ sense of humor isn’t, and the bar PA starts playing “Stand By Your Man”. Which reminds me of: Noon. Mitt Romney’s funeral pyre. Desk-drawer Ann Coulter manqué Laura Ingraham is introducing him, and her speech is a fiery enfilade against the RINOs who seem to think that the faceless Mormon nonentity isn’t the second coming of Ronald Reagan, who I am beginning to think of as the fourth member of the Holy Trinity. She refers to the fact that “the three remaining Republican candidates for president” are all in attendance; that must cheese off Ron Paul something fierce, and a cheesed-off Ron Paul is a joy forever. Laura keeps saying “Should we calm down?” Yes, Laura, you should. You in particular should calm way the fuck down. Of course, she’s giving a more inspiring speech than he ever has. When she finally brings him on, he says of the conservative wing of the G.O.P. that they are “beautiful and talented”, and if Mitt’s not fucking her, I’ll eat a quarter.
The crowd is absolutely explosive for Mitt; if the rumors are true that he’s about to chicken-walk out of the race, there’s gonna be a lot of tears. (Although, of course, there were the callow little shits of the YAF I ran across in the Exhibit Hall who were already swapping out their Romney buttons and stickers.) The true believers saw in him what they saw in Reagan, a mildly pleasant cipher of a man upon whom they could impress their most extreme beliefs: a man doing bad things and allowing you to feel good about them. His speech, delivered in that clipped I-can-only-read-five-words-at-a-time way he has, is hitting on all the cheer buttons: security, lower taxes, the “attack on faith” (not the Muslim faith, though, surely), and those goddamn Sixties which ruined everything forever. He gets out an extremely weird cheap shot: we have to block the “increasingly voracious appetite of the unions”. Given the abysmal state of labor these days, this tangent reminds me of kicking an invalid in the teeth because they ask for seconds at gruel time, but it gets a standing ovation from the faithful. Another big applause line for the punters comes when Romney invokes the hideous shadow of a nonexistent threat: “Simply put, we must not allow America to be held hostage by the likes of Hugo Chavez.” Somewhere in a metallic cave below the streets of Caracas, Chaves shakes his armored fist and screams: “¡Maldígale, Romney! ¡Usted me ha frustrado otra vez!”
Now comes doomsday: “Because I love this country, I entered this race, and because I love this country, I am leaving it.” Unfortunately, he means the race, not the country; I was hoping he was going to move to Paris and take a run for mayor against that dirty Red queer they have now. So it’s all over for the Mittster, and maybe it’s just the drugs wearing off, but I feel strangely disappointed and annoyed. Sure, he got out some cheap shots at those forces of “radical Islam”, and yeah, I got to be part of electoral history for the first time since I helped run fellow Mormon Ev Mecham out of office, but there was no bad craziness to this, no frisson of madness, and aside from a bewildering attempt to claim credit for Barack Obama’s success, no unexpected moment when a cuckoo popped out of someone’s forehead. For this, I missed Mark Steyn and Crazy Pammy? You owe me, Romney; you owe me a debt of lunacy. Crawl on back to Massachusetts. Maybe Ron Paul can pick up your tab.
PART 6: SHE DON’T LIKE, SHE DON’T LIKE, SHE DON’T LIKE McCAIN
The John McCain speech viewed from a TV monitor near Blogger’s Row. I fought like hell to get in here: no soldier in a war ever suffered more to gain less. (Hey, if conservatives can compare no-smoking laws to the Holocaust, then I own this.) His introduction (by an Oklahoma congressman whose name I didn’t catch) keeps focusing on the theme of bravery, which, ever since those golden years of oh so many hours ago before Mitt Romney dropped out, has been the primary qualification for being president. So often does he drop the c-word that you’d think terrorists where constantly breaking into the Oval Office and challenging the leader of the free world to a rassling match.
Of course, McCain has a c-word of his own: “conservative”. John’s not the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree, but he’s surely smart enough to realize that he’s among a group who wants a candidate slightly to the right of Father Coughlin. He establishes his conservative creds right away by talking about how the most important freedom of all is the freedom to be born without some vaccum-cleaner-wielding liberal getting all up in your fetusitude. He goes on to say the word “conservative” about eleventy seven billion more times, but honestly, he goes over like a lead balloon encased in a lead safe that has been thrown out of a lead airplane while someone plays Led Zepplein III. There are exactly three times when he gets anything even remotely resembling raucous applause: (1) when he discusses lowering taxes; (2) when he disses Barack Obama; and (3) when he mentions Mitt Romney. He also apologizes constantly, saying that he knows he hasn’t always been perfect and he counts on the cons in attendance to set him straight. He might as well puke on their shoes. To this crowd, any admission of error is an admission of weakness, and every mistake is made by someone else.
Blogger’s Row, the saddest concatenation of social misfits this side of Tobacco Road, is in mourning, like the cool kid on the block said he didn’t want to be their best friend even though they let him use their Hot Wheel track. I decide to cheer them up.
“Hi, Pam? Leonard Pierce, American Milk Solids Council.” I cannot possibly describe how much pleasure it brings me to say these words. “Can I get a picture?”
“Oh, sure!” squeaks the doyenne of Long Island anti-jihadism. “Do I look pretty?”
I assure her that she does, which is no more of a lie than my claim that I am a lobbyist for a group that seeks the easing of restrictions on the export of baby formula. In fact, Pam notices that my flash didn’t go off and eagerly suggests that I take another. (Earlier, she was chomping on a sucker – no, not Dan Riehl – and I considered a candid “LONG-TOOTHED LONG ISLAND LOLITA” shot, but I am and always shall be a gentleman.)
“So,” she asks, blissfully unaware that she is in the presence of a man who is at least one-half terrorist, “What do you think of McCain?”
I utter a few platitudes, and then begin a sentence with “Democrats are…”
“Stupid!”, says Pam. Hilarity ensues. See, everywhere I go I am an agent of good times and fun.
But the overall consensus is that McCain is a dud. It’s too soon, he’s too dull, the Democrats are too competitive, the campaign season is too long. Even a ticket with The Great Mormon Hope is likely to be doomed unless his name is at the top. No one on Blogger’s Row seems to think that, in the words of Ice Cube, today was a good day. I move along to a lecture featuring the Virgin Ben Shapiro about the next generation of Republican leadership, and despite an overall attempt at forthrightness and penetrating insight (not to mix a metaphor that would get Ben all hot and bothered), everyone better hope that the next generation gets it right, because this one fucked around and let John McCain end up at the top of the ticket.
For now, I’m off to the hotel bar again, to pollute myself the American Way and wait for my mashed-potato-circuit dinner. Now that I know my tolerance for painkillers, we can move on to testing my tolerance for eating while conservatives lecture me. Tomorrow should be interesting, as the outgoing president – who openly despises John McCain – will be making his appearance at CPAC. Will we see a ringing endorsement of the sort McCain gave Bush after swallowing a load of his demon seed back in 2000? Or will Bush, who put the “petty” in “petit bourgeois”, twist the knife one more time? See you tomorrow morning, gutter scum.
PART 7: HOLDING A SHARD OF MIRROR UP TO NATURE’S THROAT (INTERLUDE)
I have learned so much at CPAC already, I feel as if I am a new person. Like my namesake in Full Metal Jacket, I am born again hard.
I know now that there is no excuse, ever, for not cutting taxes. I know that the easiest way to depress a Republican is to take his Mitt away, but I also know that a lot of liberals are soiling themselves with glee at this allegedly fatal divisiveness in the Big Tent, just as if every last stinking one of these banditos isn’t going to line up and press (R) come Election Day. I know that Mark Noonan is very short and wears loud mist-green shirts. I know that eleven bucks is too much for a martini, even if it is a very good martini. I know that there is nothing funny about taking drugs, and that I must start listening to Green Day so I can stop listening to Green Day. I know that Kathryn Jean Lopez is inconsolable, and now that I think of it, I know that “Kathryn Jean Lopez is Inconsolable” is a pretty good title for a moody short story. (Or perhaps even a Moody short story.) I know that Mitt Romney doesn’t like to lose, which is pretty funny considering that he’s a big fat loser. I know that David Horowitz is all over me like a cheap suit, and that a cheap suit is all over him like David Horowitz. I know that you can’t go swimming in a baseball pool. I know that according to WorldNet Daily head nincompoop in charge Joseph Farah, one of the biggest problems facing America today is witches. (No, really.) I have learned that 14-year-old pundit Kyle Williams is probably going to be savagely beaten many times when he reaches the age of majority. I have learned that if you want to write a serious and important book, it should begin with the word ‘Yo’. (Let us no one forget that the original title of Jean-Paul Sartre’s masterwork was Yo! Being and Nothingness, Or What?.) I have learned that the words “American Milk Solids Council” are a magic key into the mind of man: every time I am speaking to someone and I utter those words, a little light goes out in their eyes and I can ask them anything I want. And I have learned that Iranians are super-scary and can shoot atomic bombs out of their eyeballs.
PART 8: TWICE PRESENTED HIM A KINGLY CROWN
George W. Bush, when you get right down to it, is a fucker.
That’s why I don’t like him. He’s a fucker who does fucked-up things. He’s a privileged little shit who doesn’t give a damp hell for the opinions of the people he was elected to govern. He buys into the toxic economic theories of unreconstructed capitalism, despite never having had to earn an honest living in his life, and he supports a worldview that cuts out anyone who hasn’t had his good fortune — the worldview of a murderous plutocracy stained with swaths of luck and cruelty where first is first and second is nobody. He’s stupid in the truest sense of the word: willfully ignorant and determined to surround himself with people who keep him that way, not only resistant to different ideas but actively hostile towards them. He is neurologically incapable of thinking ahead and he consigns the consequences of his actions to the status of dreams. And he forced his country into a pointless, unnecessary, unconscionably wasteful war that will poison every aspect of American life for generations.
Worst of all, though, the son of a bitch made me get up at two o’clock in the morning to go to his fucking speech at CPAC. Now, I’m no stranger to sleeplessness. Ever since I started dating my girlfriend, Insomnia, I’ve been quite used to the experience of going hours, and even days, without shuteye. But people started lining up just after midnight to hear that limp-dicked fathead give his final CPAC speech as Asshole-In-Chief. It would have been easy enough to just throw back a final martini and hit the sheets, leave him to history and Captain Ed. Fuck him and his stupid self-flattering speechifying. But no: you don’t go to Rome and not see the Colosseum. You don’t come this far and then puss out. Besides, who knows what that bastard would do without me keeping an eye on him? They hired me to keep him honest, and while I’ll admit to not having done much of a job so far, being busy with my comic book collection and my heavy metal records, there’s no better time than right now to pick up the slack.
I (information redacted to protect the aesthetic sensitivities of certain readers) and head back down to the catacombs of the Regency Ballroom, where human decency goes to die. It’s a long, long wait. If I hadn’t (information redacted to preserve the well-known and much-beloved Sadly, No! house style), I’d probably be bored off of my spinal column. I’m surrounded by some of the most uptight, entitled white people in the world, and every time I try to strike up a conversation with someone, I have to lead off with my job as a lobbyist for the American Milk Solids Council, and then no one wants to talk to me anymore. Stuck-up Beltway shits! No concern for the working dairy conglomerate and its desire to ship low-cost, institutional-grade cheese powders to Southeast Asia without a lot of meddlesome bureaucratic interference. That’s compassionate conservatism for you.
Also, by now, after approximately zero hours of sleep in the last fifty hours, my hair (which I have had neither the time nor the opportunity to have cut) is starting to look pretty raggedy. I decide that if anyone asks, I will claim that I am following the example of baseball teams in the playoffs: I will not cut my hair until the election, and if America does not have the good sense to elect a Republican, I will spend the subsequent four years growing white-guy dreadlocks.
Even at the late hour, security is sickening. Perhaps not surprisingly for a man whose support rating is hovering around 25%, the President is absolutely petrified at the prospect of buying the Big Ticket, even now when he’s surrounded by legions of the only people in the free world who think he’s still doing a bang-up job. But then again, Bush has always been a chickenshit: back in 2000, when Al Gore was running for the presidency, he acted as Grand Marshal of the Chicago St. Patrick’s Day parade. He was nervous – and why not? The streets were lined with drunks, criminals, psychos and disenfranchised Republicans. But he walked it all the way, gladhanding with ruffians like myself who were, after all, going to put him in the White House. When Bush acted as Grand Marshal of the same parade a few years later, having somehow achieved the office of the Presidency through nefarious means, he spent the whole route waving irritably from the back of an armored SUV.
Finally, at around 7:20 AM – after five hours of being patted down by earpieced hulks, surfing YouPorn, and trying to get a card game up with some of the sad sacks from the ACLU who have been forced to work this gig – Mr. President Man finally took the stage. In person, he looks a little haggard and tired: no legacy to speak of, no friends overseas (whither Pooty-Poot? a nation turns its starving eyes to you), and another fucking boatload of corpses to go and frown at later today. He won’t last as long as his old man once he’s out of office: with no one to stand in the way of, with no one to infuriate, with no press hanging over his shoulder for him to mutter “fuck off” at, he’ll wither away and disappear, just another burnout boomer with prostate cancer and no hobbies.
The chant begins before he even hits the walkway: “FOUR MORE YEARS! FOUR MORE YEARS! FOUR MORE YEARS!” I look around for a copy of the Constitution, but no one seems to have brought one. He starts out a little bleary – I can dig it, man – but on an oddly touching human moment, talking about his daughter’s upcoming marriage. But just in case we might get the mistaken impression that he has a functioning human brain that works in a normal fashion, he goes on to say that “Dick Cheney is the greatest vice-president in the history of the United States”. Then again, maybe he’s got some chip implanted in his incisor that makes him say that whenever Cheney’s name gets mentioned, like when someone asked Frank Sinatra about Raymond Shaw.
His administration “didn’t seek the approval of editorialists” before deciding what to do – take that, Matt Taibbi! – and “we darned sure didn’t seen permission from groups like Code Pink and MoveOn before taking action”. Take that, mothers of dead soldiers! But what’s with this ‘darned’ shit? Even Cheney said ‘damn’. Act like he’s afraid to say the motherfuckin’ F-word. “Since I took office,” says the former cocaine addict, “the overall use of drugs by young people has dropped off by 24%.” Hey, he brought it up, not me. This gets a lot more applause than his next bit, where he spiels about fiscal discipline and everyone wonders who the fuck he thinks he’s talking to. Next, though, is the hottest little button of all, when he says that “human life is precious, and deserves to be protected”, as long as we aren’t talking about the life of towelheads or criminals or people who are dumb enough to live in a place that flood occasionally.
The war spiel comes next, because even this dumb bastard knows that no one’s going to offer up any catcalls about the jackass war. “Afghanistan will never again be a safe haven for terrorists who wish to do us harm,” he claims, using a strange interpretation of “never again” which apparently means “at some point in the future”, since the last I heard the heirs to the Taliban were pretty much running roughshod over the joint. He offers up a little bit that’s calculated to make my blood pressure shoot up to Throbsville: he intends to sign an executive order that will force the President to explain wasteful and unaccountable spending. How fortunate that this doesn’t apply to him, and the vast financial sinkhole that Iraq has become. No fear, though: “When the history of this period is written,” says Mr. I Can Has Legacy?, “it will show that we were right.” As of today, says the worst president in American history, “25 million Iraqis are free”. A million more are beyond freedom, knowing what the dead know.
At the final moment, he does what we all knew he would do: he gives John McCain the most tepid, most damaging endorsement imaginable, saying only that he hopes the crowd will support the Republican nominee for President. I’m tired and sick and burned, and I need to eat and I need to get away from all the choking self-satisfaction in the room. The whole place rises as one, roaring and chanting, calling for a repeal to the Constitution so this luckless bastard, so desperate to get the hell out of a job he never wanted to begin with and only took out of spite; and Bush stands there, holding a dripping knife – the only tool he’s ever used – just another misbegotten Mark Antony, waiting for the cheers of the crowd to die.
PART 9: BROUGHT ME TO DARKNESS, BUT NOT INTO LIGHT
• Wayne LaPierre’s speech about gun rights is remarkably well-received. The part the audience likes best is a short film in which people who have killed criminals talk about how guns saved their lives; in filmed re-creations of the crime scenes, all the bad guys are blacks. LaPierre’s narration: “Menacing figures coming towards you in the shadows…you are defenseless and completely alone.” It’s 1992 all over again!
• Rachel Marsden, all-around conservative gadfly, is giving out free t-shirts to those who can answer questions about Ronald Reagan. The t-shirts, which Rachel had made herself, read, “C.I.A. CENTER FOR AQUATIC EXCELLENCE – WATERBOARDING TEAM”. The crowd just came apart when they saw this — biggest laugh of the convention so far. Torture is hilarious!
• One of Rachel’s questions: who was the worst Democratic president in history? “FDR”, a large number of people call out. (That man!) “Carter,” say a lot fewer than I would have expected. “Woodrow Wilson,” say the majority -– the Doughy Pantload must be pleased that his audience can properly identify a liberal fascist when called upon to do so. The ‘correct’ answer? “All of them!” Cue sad trumpet.
• The “Hugo Chavez Democrats: Silencing the Right” panel is by far the most deluded I’ve sat in on so far, as well-paid right-wing blowhards with bestselling books and radio shows with huge audiences stand in front of true believers who paid upward of $500 to listen to them argue that liberals are not allowing them to be heard. It’s especially odd since, before she introduces each panelist, she talks about how their websites get millions of hits, or their show has the biggest audience in its area, or their book was a New York Times best-seller. The suffering! When will conservatives be able to catch a fucking break?
• Number of times Hugo Chavez is actually mentioned by the panelists: 0.
• Andrew Breitbart talks about the terrible pain of being a conservative in La-La Land. Liberals, he says, are “the angriest people the world has ever known,” while conservatives in Hollywood must exist in the closet like gays. He compares Charlton Heston to Rock Hudson, not in gayness, but in having to conceal his true nature lest he miss out on the choice roles. A number of hot young Hollywood actors (who, curiously, he does not bother to name) have sat in front of him and cried about how much they care for our boys in uniform; but they dare not reveal their secret trips to visit wounded soldiers, because “they don’t want anyone to know they support the troops.” We all know how much the public hates it when people support the troops.
• WorldNetDaily.com leading maniac Joseph Farah’s mustache is off the fucking chain. He looks like a doughier G. Gordon Liddy wearing a bad wig.
• Before giving his usual bullshit boilerplate about how our universities are overrun by life-hating, “freedom-killing” Reds who do their level best to keep conservatives off campus – a curious claim because there are hundreds of college conservatives in the room as he says those words – David Horowitz sits up front restlessly. He pouts, drums his fingers, gazes around the room, shuffles through his notes, and refuses to pay the slightest bit of attention to the other speakers. For him, life is just a long, barely tolerable bunch of waiting periods before he is allowed to speak again.
• I had a fascinating conversation with one of the CafePress.com reps, who thinks that their tracking of candidates’ t-shirt sales and other merchandise may prove to be predictive of the election. Also, it was fun to talk to him because like your humble lobbyist for the American Milk Solids Council, he has to basically pretend to be a crazy right-winger and hide his own light under a bushel in order to make the sale. We leave each other with a manly tear of regret in the corners of our eyes. Only the French Foreign Legion understands us.
• Ladies and gentlemen, your Blogger of the Year: Mr. Play-Doh and Bacon.
PART 10: THE SUGAR AND THE SHIT
I’m sequestered in a tiny corner of the Exhibit Hall with my laptop cranking its coolants trying to patch into a live feed of Ann Coulter’s speech before the Yiffies for Freedom. The Anntichrist got bounced from the official schedule this year, but the YAF snuck her through in a laundry hamper so that no one would be denied the pleasure of hearing her call someone a rude name. (My prediction: since she used “raghead” in ’06 and busted out “faggot” in ’07, she’ll go ahead and call Barack Obama a nigger this year.) I can’t get in — it’s 500 people max, and I just now found out about it, so the hall is already filled with pimply Young Republicans — but Town Hall is thoughtfully providing me with a worm’s eye view of the disaster.
More on that later, though; for now, here’s an uninstructive encounter from awhile back: He’s sitting next to me in the lobby of the Omni Shoreham, typing furiously into a Sony laptop. He has a striped shirt with a popped collar and an ‘80s haircut he cribbed from Shadoe Stevens. For a long time, he says nothing; even when some steak-and-brandy fatass rumbles through the joint and disconnects the cable to his computer, he just eyefucks him and mutters to himself. But after a while, we strike up a conversation, borne of the boredom of waiting. His name is Tony, and he’s a stockbroker.
Why is Tony so mad?
“That fuck-stick Romney dropped out. That just leaves us with McCain.”
You don’t have any affinity for the Senator, then?
“He’s a weak sister. He won’t have the guts to invade Iran.”
Iran must be ripe for invasion. It seems like we’ve been waiting forever. But what of Iraq?
“Iraq is over. Iraq is somebody else’s problem now.”
The problem of the Iraqis, I would guess.
“Whatever. It doesn’t matter. Iran is the issue. Iran has the Islamic bomb.”
A bomb that follows a religious ideology is a terrifying concept indeed; but what about Pakistan?
“Pakistan is our ally. But even if they weren’t, Iran is the destination.”
Not according to my travel agent. But what makes you say that? “
Iran is where the money is.”
“Look, Iraq has been good to us. Everybody knows that. Construction, defense, telecoms, it’s a whole new market.”
It’s a real success story.
“You’re telling me. But compared to Iran, it’s nothing.”
A trying five years for nothing. But what do you mean?
“It’s a bigger country. It’s a richer country. It’s a country with a market class and a rich and developed economy. It wasn’t living under Stalinism like Iraq. Once we get our hands on those markets, we’re finally going to see a payoff for all the effort we’ve put into the wars.”
America put in the effort, but you’ll get the payoff.
“Not if that fucking McCain gets in.”
Well, we can only hope.
“That’s the problem with the conservative movement these days. Too much hope.”
PART 11: PESTILENCE GOES FOR THE BIG LAFF
It’s become very fashionable lately to avoid any mention of Ann Coulter. Like the slow-wit down at the package liquor store who hoists it out of his trousers if you pitch him a quarter, attention only rewards her, this argument goes. Without our rage and affront to feed upon, it’s supposed that she will just dry up and blow away, a forever-forgotten well-born aberration, and not at all a ghost of our time. Watching the lines of bad haircuts and suits filled with gangly limbs stretching halfway down Calvert Street, I’m not so sure.
Ann Coulter is an entertainer the same way a schoolyard punchout is an entertainment, but she’s unbelievably popular. Every book she writes is a best-seller, every TV talk show appearance is must-see TV, and her popularity suggests not the depths to which people will sink to get attention, but the significant size of that portion of the vox pop that really is longing for a Jester of the Apocalypse, someone to keep ‘em laughing while the bombs fall and the oil runs out. She’s the Joey Bishop of genocide, and while we might just live long enough to find her a quaint and possibly baffling relic of the past, for the time being, her Rat Pack runs the country. Right into the dirt.
Ann’s intemperate punch lines got her disinvited from CPAC’s official schedule this year, or so the story goes. The whole thing smacks of a publicity stunt, given that she’s right here, hagged out and surrounded by adoring hate-groupies as always, broadcasting on a Town Hall feed from hotel premises instead of via jerry-rigged webcam from a burnt-out gas station in Southeast somewhere. Her introduction glows like a freshly scrubbed toilet, calling her a woman of “unbelievable courage” who “doesn’t let left-wing pseudo-intellectuals push her around”. Never has one New Canaanite braved so much as does the supernaturally pampered Ann Coulter; courage has been redefined many times at this conference — always to describe people who have never had to suffer through war or horror, and often to specifically exclude one particular candidate who has — but the word is stretched as far as the language can bear to accommodate her bony frame, which won’t pick up a cup of coffee that an immigrant touched.
Showing her keen grasp of the fundamentals of comedy, Coulter starts her performance with a call-back to an earlier episode: Hillary’s campaign can’t use “I Am Woman” as its theme song, because it’s already taken by John Edwards. This is the point at which I’d normally say “Why doesn’t she just come right out and call John Edwards a faggot?”, but goddamned if she’s not ahead of the curve on that one. She does prove me wrong by not calling Barack Obama (or, as she puts it, “B. Hussein Obama”) a nigger, but she does say that his greatest accomplishment was being born half-black, and if he wasn’t, he wouldn’t be where he is today. This gets big cheers, being a familiar argument to anyone born after the passage of the Civil Rights Act: no darky can accomplish anything on his own. Darky do well, darky owes it all to massa. Massa feel guilty, yes sah, else ways darky ain’t do shit.
B. Hussein, in Ann’s thoroughly-modern-Millie p.o.v., simply does not know his place. (The racial sensitivity doesn’t end there: later in the act, Ann says she could help Hillary Clinton with her fake accent, because “I actually know some black people.” No doubt: there’s the boy who parks her car, the boy who opens the door to her building, the boy who hands her a towel down at the health club…) Before she launches into her half-hour invective against John McCain — who is apparently slightly to the left of Ward Churchill — she gets off a couple of pieces of vintage Ann Coulter shock-out-with-your-cock-out: her reaction to simultaneous terror attacks on two cities would depend on which two cities. Liberals hounded poor Rudy Giuliani because he supported “dripping water down their noses”. Comparing Hillary to Stalin is an insult to Stalin.
It’s all very funny, and the YIFfies laugh clubbily except for a few awkward silences when they don’t get the joke because it has a sub-clause in it. Still, the funniest moment from where I’m sitting (hunched over between two nearly-abandoned booths in the Exhibit Hall) is her delivery of a line she apparently meant to be serious: speaking of the Republican Party, she says, “Conniving is not our strong point. Honor is our strong point.” At one point, Ann confuses the crowd by busting out the word “contumacious”, and her blackleg dad smiles from the great beyond knowing all that tuition money for Cornell wasn’t wasted. But right up until the end of her performance, she tips the game: when she hits a particularly thorny passage, when she’s about to say or has just said something that would make any decent member of society upend a gallon of paint over her head, the person who laughs loudest at her joke is Ann Coulter. That’ll be the way for her until no one’s laughing anymore.
PART 12: SHOW US YOUR TWITS
Saturday noon. Recollection of the last 24 hours is excruciatingly difficult; I have taken every remaining pill in my kit bag, and yet somehow, despite the presence of enough chemicals in my system to transform me into the Joker, I have developed a raging cold. My throat is nearly sealed shut, which may work to my advantage since I’m reaching the point at which the rude answers which bubble up in my skull every time someone speaks to me are threatening to spill over into actual vocalization. Ever since Wednesday I have been asking myself in re my pharmacopia: how many is too many? Crashing into every sharp corner in my hotel room, I know the answer: however many I took when I woke up this morning.
Last night was the Ronald Reagan Banquet, a dinner which was for and unfortunately not of Ronald Reagan. Eating a dehydrated teriyaki jerky chunk of the old fraud might have given me some of his strength. I’ve heard the words “Ronald Reagan” and “tax cuts” so many times now they’re beginning to lose whatever meaning they might have once had, and George Will, that payola-stuffed bloviator of manifest destiny, will say them another three dozen times while I tuck into my mashed potatoes. After the ghouls-gone-wild reception given to Ann Coulter a few hours ago, the crowd receives him politely and respectfully, and even considering the fact that this is an older crowd, made up largely of the parents of the rich kids hooting and snarling at Ann’s anti-McCain jeremiad, it still has the tone of someone forced to hear their grandpa read cowboy poetry just after they’ve come back from yelling “SHOW US YOUR TITS!” to drunken frat girls. Will himself is perfunctory at best, showing his chipper cheerleader side only when discussing Old Mother Reagan; the rest of the time, he’s just there to pick up a check. He even senses the hostility in the room when called upon to mention the Supplicant McCain: urging the crowd to be “happy warriors” for the default candidate, he sounds like a bored Sunday school teacher leading his tenth consecutive round of “I’ve Got the Joy” for a group of sugared-up fourth-graders.
At some point I sneak into a screening of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, a Michael Mooreian abortion by Watergate apologist/novelty actor Ben Stein. An exciting tour through a number of major logical fallacies, Expelled features the wooden-souled Stein attempting to illustrate how the Stalinist mandarins of academia have systematically excluded the teaching of intelligent design from our universities just because it’s completely unscientific nonsense. Stein soft-peddles this idea, of course, choosing instead to focus on the fact that Richard Dawkins is kind of a jerk (and who among us would not be, if we were constantly being pestered by game show hosts about why voodoo isn’t taught in school?).
Dawkins’ quasi-aristocratic hostility makes him look bad, to be sure, which would be relevant if atheism had anything whatsoever to do with the fact that ID is not science. Which it doesn’t. The fact that ID is not science has everything to do with the fact that it is not taught in university science classes, however, a point that seems not to have occurred to anyone in the crowd who hisses when those evil poindexters of academia won’t answer Ben’s questions about how come why for no they teach it. Ben would have gotten the same snippy, defensive answers if he had asked why Lawsonomy is not taught in physics classes, or why the teachings of Trofim Lysenko are not the focus of biology classes, but those questions remained unasked: Ben’s concept of “academic freedom” requires only that his favored brand of buncombe gets equal time. I attempt to wrap my thoughts around the notion that a movement that considers itself the only sane and reasonable guide to the challenges of the post-modern world is gleeful about the idea of demanding academic equal time for ideologically driven pseudoscience, but there isn’t time.
Radio next. Two shows: an Air America appearance and a Pacifica player to be named later. It’s hard to gather my senses because at this point I’ve learned of the existence of a liquor store across the street from the hotel and am coping with the last day of this non-stop death-worship of Reagan the same way I dealt with the last few years of his presidency: by soaking my every cell in CnH2n+1OH. Sam Seder (who I can’t stop thinking of as Fenton Muley) brings up an important point about Reagan that I’m too unfocused to remember myself: the Reagan around which this conservative circle is jerking is a myth, a fabrication, a fiction. The real Reagan raised taxes (or rather engaged in “revenue enhancements”), presided over a massive recession, cut and ran when faced with bloody terror attacks, talked constantly about a balanced budget and a line-item veto but did nothing about them, and “won” the Cold War by spending nonexistent money that would be handed down to his heirs, never to be paid off, as if this were somehow more fiscally conservative than the tax-and-spend model with which he vilified Democrats. Reagan’s strength as a paragon of conservativism is identical to Christopher Reeve’s strength as Superman, a pleasant fiction propped up with special effects and made believable by the empty shell upon which it was impressed.
This is, by no means incidentally, the reason the CPAC crowd loves Romney so much: he is their new Ulrich, their man without qualities, upon whom they can press the rubber mask of Reagan. But it’s too late, too late: the mashed potatoes go down with a sour wince, and the cash bar is only serving off-brand Scotch. Unless the few desperate rumors that the failed revolutionary and fourth-rate historical novelist Newt Gingrich will announce his candidacy tomorrow are true, the cretins of conservativism are stuck with McCain, a man who inspires them as much as did George H.W. Bush (a man who, himself, inspired them as much as a leaky, pebbly bowel movement in the middle of the night). In the bars, on the streets, in the lobby, in their rooms screaming obscenities at Chinese hookers, the CPAC crowd is frustrated and cross, angry at their own partisans for their failure to be as rabidly ideological as they wanted, for their failure to open wide enough when they snapped “Bend over!”. They’re looking around for a dog to kick, but the only dogs are running.
PART 13: GETAWAY
Getaway day, that’s what they call it, and I need to get away more than I need to keep breathing air. For once, Dan Riehl was right: “forget waterboarding, just strap a liberal in a chair and make them sit through it all.” Spoken like someone who’s never been waterboarded, but if this hasn’t been torture with a capital T like that advocated by the vice-president (“Dick Cheney is an authoritarian bully and a personal coward”, says Charles Pierce; his res ipse loquitor moment is seen in the fact that his approval rating is at 100% at CPAC and 19% everywhere else in the country), it has at least been little-t torture to have to hear the endless tributes to an underhanded cadaver and his sham ideology, the slyly delivered racial slurs in the elevators and hallway (“Hissing you’re good at, you slimy snakes”, says Sgt. Groper to the madmen).
Ann Coulter’s slander du jour has multiplied like cancer cells among the puerile youth strutting the outer boroughs of the Omni Shoreham: I’ve heard “Barack HUSSEIN Obama” more times today than I’ve heard the name of John McCain, and I keep thinking of a friend back in the greater world who says whenever he hears it said that way, he thinks of the upper-crust pseudo-fascists and pro-Nazi pornographers back in the ‘30s who talked about “Franklin Delano Rosenfeld”.
Yesterday, I stopped in to see the Conquering Mustache, John Bolton, for this trip’s hairiest disappointment. The crowd was full of no-hopers, dead-enders, hangers-on and toadies of every age and temperament, warmongers and fear-fuckers and other assorted dry-humpers of the American Nightmare. I sat barely a stone’s throw, and G-d save her that there were no stones to hand, from Pamela Oshry, battered bride of Jewish Christ, who gazed up raptly at Bolton with “the Look” Nancy Reagan practiced on her husband until everyone made fun of her so much that she had to stop. As he talked about the Islamic bomb, the threat of North Korea, and various other national security bugbears, you got an idea of what a puffed-up, third-rate intellect the guy really is, a complete nothing elevated to laughable prominence by a willingness to say yes. Following, as he always has, the dictates of the President of StupidTown, he offers a lukewarm bucket of spit by way of endorsing McCain: conjuring, in one of CPAC’s most bizarre rhetorical flourishes, the specter of V.I. Lenin, he says that conservatives must not sit out the election, because to do so would leave it in the hands of those who will not defend it. (This would, of course, refers to liberal Democrats, who apparently live their lives in a constant state of suicidal ideation. This earns the most arbitrary standing o to date, a more or less perfunctory round of applause to Bolton simply for existing and reminding the crowd of how darky-fear trumps all.
My pills are gone but the rearrangement of my synapses that was their charge hangs in my head, making me crazy sick and aching for a fight; my cover is blown, or forgotten, and I wander the meeting rooms of CPAC in a fur hoodie, chains and street kicks, stumbling like a wounded rhino, eager to brawl. My every encounter with anyone not employed by the hotel is a silent plea to be dragged away, not responsible for my actions, to be put on a handrail and dumped on some drug corner in Baltimore; the American Milk Solids Council has cancelled my expense account, and I don’t have the cash for a six-dollar Pepsi. The bottom-drawer delegates are arguing the virtues of McCainist happy warriorism vs. convention stonewalling in favor of some pocket Hitler to be named later; it’s all just larks.
Mike Huckabee thunders from the Regency Ballroom: “I didn’t major in math,” he says to cheers from the same people who hooted for intelligent design last night, “I majored in miracles”. Ouichita Baptist University may well have such an option for their hillbilly hell-shouters, but none of them are likely to become president; Mike is staying in he race, he says to a surprising amount of applause – there are a few people in the house, at least, who think Romney took the cheapjack way out – but at this point, he’s running only for Vice-President. The latest Hillary hay being made is her allegedly manufactured offense (ambitious as she is, and ambition is a crime only in Democrats, she cannot possibly feel real hurt) at MSNBC reporter David Schuster’s claim that she was “pimping out” daughter Chelsea; this makes for many an hilarious pimp joke from the ceaselessly white kids in the hallways.
Ron Paul, after his combative speech earlier in the week which drew more jeers than even McCain when he suggested that America could ill afford any more foreign adventurism, is effectively out of the race, but there are no lamentations from his legions as there was for Romney – they have all retreated back to their homes on the internet, leaving the few diehards in the Libertarian Party booth to dream their minarchist dreams. Many of the other booths are closing up shop, some of the big bloggers are already heading home in advance of the 5:30 ceremonial closing up shop, and the publishers are beginning to give away free books to save on transportation home. I pick out a handful, which will be my penance for having pretended that I belong here, for my repulsive pretense that I am one of them.
I have one final stop to make. My own flight time grows nearer, and I doubt I’ll have time to savor the fluffed-up diarrhea of Newt Gingrich, so if he positions himself as the new savior of the conservative movement, blowjob-free and ready to run, you won’t hear it from me. But I must stop by and gaze into the most abysmal bits of the abyss, into the Heart of Dumbness: I must see Mike Adams and Doug Giles, the one a scrawny, self-impressed misogynist and the other a beefy, self-flattering fanatic, and between them both not enough brains to spark a stuffed owl. Since most of the bigwigs have gone home by now, there’s a longish like to have books signs by both of these moronic hunks of right-wing meat on the hoof, and it’s a bracing tonic for the long trip home to the dead city center of San Antonio to hear their bovine bleatings prior to hopping on a cab.
In, but not of, thank whatever weird god holds this thing together: I am in, but not of, and now it’s time to get out. I’m tired of all this hazy hatred and self-satisfaction, of all these princes of privilege giving each other high-fives for having been born 90 feet from home plate. I’m ready to pick up my Mister at the coat-check and report to American Milk Solids Council HQ that my mission was a failure. My quiet little outpost of sanity on the edge of Texas-style legislative craziness ain’t much, but goddamn it, it’s mine, for as long as I can hold on to it. These people have real power, but being here, watching them claw at their cages when they don’t get everything they want, is a reminder that they’re not always in charge, and if nothing else, it’s been salutary to watch them squeak like bitched-up rats when they get Swiss instead of Camembert. Holding a purloined copy of Adams’ latest worthless book, Feminists Say the Darndest Things: A Politically Incorrect Professor Confronts ‘Womyn’ on Campus, I ask him how it feels to know that the vast majority of the people he works with hate his guts. His answer is stock and predictable: when that many of those people think he’s wrong, he says, he knows he must be right. You and me both, you bullying shitstain. Time to go home.