During the Republican convention, the
introduction to “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” noted
the irony in the Republican Party having its national convention in
such a liberal, cosmopolitan city. Stewart even asked the
party’s chairman, Ed Gillespie, why the Republicans were
holding their convention in New York, seeing as the value systems
in Manhattan and in middle America have a tendency to diverge on
particular issues.

Jason Pesick

U.S. House Majority Leader Tom Delay even toyed with the idea of
renting a cruise boat for the delegates and other attendees to stay
on and be entertained on during the convention. The purpose of this
plan was to ensure these Republicans would not have to live in New
York and risk some sort of osmotic transfer of the city’s
inherent moral backwardness. Eventually, the ship idea was
scrapped.

But now that so many unwitting Republicans were going to be
exposed to the vices of the nation’s largest city, acceptable
forms of entertainment needed to be found. The New York
Times’s cultural columnist, Frank Rich, wrote a column
detailing how the party was selecting musicals for its delegates.
None of the chosen musicals have an openly gay character. And that
requirement can be quite limiting on Broadway. The delegates
couldn’t see “The Producers” or
“Hairspray,” despite their wild popularity. Rich quips
that at least they didn’t try to avoid Jews on Broadway.

But enough fun. Republicans from across the country were coming
to New York, and the party probably felt a need to pre-empt the
inevitable culture shock as much as possible. The Republicans held
their convention in New York this year for one reason: to
capitalize on the positive effects Sept. 11 had on the
president’s relationship with the American people as much as
possible. Otherwise, it would have been somewhere else, somewhere
the president has a chance of winning in November.

The Republican Party’s politics are the politics of
division. They’ve tried to become the party of middle America
by pointing out and ridiculing the differences between middle
America and much of the Democratic base.

This means attacking cities (it’s no accident the
president criticizes Washington and spends so much time in the
Texas boondocks), intellectuals, gays, Yankees, atheists, liberals,
Hollywood, journalists, lawyers and when the situation becomes
desperate, minorities.

Before attacking The New York Times in his convention speech
earlier this month, President Bush assailed Hollywood. Taking on
John Kerry at the same time, Bush said, “If you say the heart
and soul of America is found in Hollywood, I’m afraid you are
not the candidate of conservative values.” Nevermind that
Hollywood tracks and preserves for the future American culture,
making the town uniquely American, but Bush is charged with
representing the people of Hollywood, not singling them out for
condemnation in front of the entire country. However, southern
California is not going to vote for Bush, so for him, this strategy
is addition through division.

Bush continued, “If you voted against the bipartisan
Defense of Marriage Act, which President Clinton signed, you are
not the candidate of conservative values.” Gays are becoming
in 2004 what blacks were in 1964 — the new darlings of the
Republican Party. Republicans sure appreciate their existence, even
if it doesn’t seem like it sometimes.

Before passing a budget, the Senate took up an amendment to the
Constitution that would ban gay marriage. Bush supported the
amendment, even going so far as to mention it in his State of the
Union address. It’s not important business, but someone
calculated it would work, and that’s good enough for this
party with no shame, with no qualms about encouraging Americans to
hate other Americans — encouraging us to hate ourselves.

The House recently passed a bill that would prevent federal
courts from hearing cases questioning whether the phrase
“under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance is
unconstitutional. This summer, the Senate Judiciary Committee also
passed a constitutional amendment that would ban burning the
American flag. These issues are not pressing; three wars, a record
budget deficit and the health of the economy are pressing issues.
But cultural issues bring the nation’s acrimonious cultural
debate to the surface right before an election.

The Republican Party has not been the party of Lincoln for
decades, maybe longer. During the Civil War, Lincoln emphasized
what the people of the two halves of the country had in common. He
wanted to appeal to “the better angels in our nature”
because he understood that “A house divided against itself
cannot stand.” He believed in a unitary America, not two
Americas. And he made sure that that belief, that desire for unity,
remained a reality.

There is more to America than apple pie and barbeques. If you
don’t like the people who live on America’s coasts, the
intelligencia, Hollywood, the people who live in big cities, the
minorities, the gays, the Yankees, the lawyers, the Jews, the
feminists, the liberals, the atheists, the civil libertarians, the
Arabs, The New York Times and Broadway, then even a diet of all
ribs and baked beans won’t make you like America.

 

Pesick can be reached at
“mailto:jzpesick@umich.edu”>jzpesick@umich.edu.

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