In late May of 2008, I was a delegate at a state Republican convention, and I was left with a strange mixture of feelings about things. On one hand I was/am frustrated, disgusted, insulted, and deeply concerned (for the future of our nation), but on the other I am more impassioned than I have ever been (about anything), more confident that this freedom movement is absolutely what needs to be pursued (immediately and relentlessly), and less concerned about the local party bosses cracking down on me. The sickening apathy, hypocrisy and complacency of the current leaders of the Republican Party in my county (symptomatic of the national party, I now more firmly believe) were on full display, and to my horror, I had a front row seat.
First, a little back-story: At the district convention, held in April, I had been reprimanded by a couple of my local Republican leaders for having the insolence to make an attempt to garner enough votes to get myself to the national convention. The night before, I had printed up about 160 fliers, and that morning I canvassed the place, distributing them, shaking hands, and being cordial. I didn't realize it at the time, but doing this meant that I wasn't a "team player". Apparently I was supposed to ask the club president for permission before taking any such action (by the way, she hadn't asked me for any such permission, and as far as I know there hadn't been any vote or agreement making her our county's sole eligible delegate). Regardless, I did manage to get nominated to a slate (the club president told me to decline my nomination, I refused), but wasn't elected.
The state convention began early on a warm Saturday morning. I sat and waited while people filed in and slowly filled the place. A lady sitting next to me suddenly turned and said "You know, I'd really like to go to the national convention". "Yeah, that would be cool. Me too." I responded, unsuspectingly. "You really overstepped us. I was insulted that you thought you could just come in and do that" she spat, with curt precision. Surprised realization struck me, and I blurted out "well, it was open to anyone, I just thought I'd see what I could do..." She continued, explaining that one must volunteer time and donate money over course of many years - as she and the club president had - to be considered for such an honor. I maintained a sort of wide-eyed innocence, and a mildly apologetic posture, mainly nodding to indicate I was still listening, as she told me how disrespectful I had been. As she wrapped up she assured me that she just wanted to clear the air, so there wouldn't be any hard feelings or talking behind my back. I wasn't particularly comforted by this, but was extremely relieved when the exchange ended. Six hours to go.
Eventually, we got down to business, and maybe an hour in, we reached the part where the convention rules were to be voted on. Two motions were made, questioning different rules.
1) It was suggested that the line "All persons agreeing to be listed on a slate of delegates and alternates must pledge to vote for the winner of Missouri's Presidential Primary on the first ballot at the Republican National Convention" (Section 12: Nomination and Election Procedure) conflicted with a previous rule regarding "unit rule", which states "In accordance with the Republican National Committee, no delegate or alternate shall be bound by any attempt of any Congressional District to impose the unit rule." (Section 10: Unit Rule). The claim was that according to the definition in Black's Law Dictionary (?) the section twelve rule violated the section 12 rule. This was dismissed by the chairman, without vote, on the grounds that the rules addressed different parts of the process (section 10 relating to the District level, and section 12 to the national level), and therefore didn't conflict.
2) It was suggested that the line "Motions to amend the Platform shall be in order only if submitted in writing and distributed to all delegates and alternates prior to the presentation of the report of the Platform Committee." should be amended to read "Motions to amend the Platform shall be in order only if submitted in writing and given to the chairperson prior to the presentation of the report of the Platform Committee."
I thought this was a reasonable request. After all, this, the morning of the convention, merely an hour or so ago, was the first time that this draft of the Platform had been made available to us. It seemed ridiculous to expect anyone to be able to read the whole thing, compose an amendment, go out and make 2000 copies and distribute them, before the Platform Committee did their thing in a couple of hours. Especially since we, as delegates were expected to participate in the convention during those hours. I believed that this was designed to negate any opportunity for individuals to question the Party Platform, resulting in something just being railroaded through. So, I voted to change it. I was the only person in my county who stood up. I felt pretty confident about this one though, it was all right there in black and white. A matter of logic and fairness. I'm not sure why, but this is where they really began to turn on me.
The layout of seats within each congressional district section was arranged alphabetically, by county. There were something like 40 seats to each row, and our county filled the last quarter, or so, of one row, and the first few seats of the one behind it, so there was a large separation between our divided segments. I was near the end of the row in front, the club president was somewhere on the other side in the row behind. Though it seemed to me that the vote had pretty clearly gone to the "no" crowd, we were to be standing up and sitting down several times for recounts. After the first vote, the lady to my right asked me why I was voting to change the rule. I told her that the wording was unreasonable and seemed intent on ramming the Platform through with out the possibility of a challenge. She disagreed that we needed to be able to challenge the Platform, explaining that there was a committee that puts it together who know what they're doing, and any changes that anyone would want to have made should have been submitted long ago, somewhere else. I countered with the argument that many, many amendments had been submitted long ago, somewhere else, but nobody knew at this point which of these had been included, rejected, or re-worded. Officially, there had been 170 amendments added, I'm not sure how many were submitted. She was unshaken by this argument, but saw that I was firm in my position, and gave up her counsel. About this time we were preparing for the club president's arrival to take the individually counted vote.
On her way down the row I could hear her proudly telling people about dealing with "that bitch" who kept getting up at the microphone, making motions and asking questions. Apparently, she (the club president) had seated someone who would "really keep her in line" right next to the outspoken "bitch" delegate. I was sitting down when she got to my seat, so she stood over me and asked why I was voting for the rule change. I responded, and a very similar exchange to my last one was made, though she was more insistent that the Platform Committee carefully considers the amendments and doesn't just throw things together. She also explained that the reason the Platform isn't made available before the convention is so the Democrats don't get ahold of it and say bad things about it in the media. I told her "if it's a strong platform we shouldn't have to worry about that", which she didn't seem to like. When called, I stood again, and was counted. The club president worked her way back down the row to her seat, which cued the man to my left to begin talking to me.
The man on my left, I'll call him Bob, and I shared a brief, but significant, history. Two months earlier I had come out of nowhere to attend the county caucus and make an attempt at becoming a delegate (my first foray into politics). I had no idea what to expect, so I just got there early, took a seat and paid attention. The members of the local Republican Club had already decided on the slate of nominees, and I heard several people say that the caucus would probably only last for 30 minutes or so, since they just had to vote that through and go home. As we neared the vote, a man I had talked to earlier in the day stood up and told everyone that there were a couple other people who'd like to be involved. There was some discussion, we (the "other people") spoke to the group briefly, and were considered. After some uncertainty and thrashing about by those in charge, Bob took initiative and stepped down from his delegate position to allow me to take it, resolving the issue. He said he was happy to see a new face, and excited to have some new blood in the party. That's how I got in.
At the convention Bob was not pleased with my choices. He began by telling me that I need to follow the party's lead more, because there are a lot of Democrats trying to sneak into the Republican party and disrupt things. If I could be good for at least a year, donating and volunteering, I might be allowed to start questioning things and expressing my own opinions. "Otherwise, no one is going to respect you", he said. My response, which would have worked very well in a TV movie, was "Well, I could see that they might not like me, but I would think that they would have some respect for me". "No" he quickly countered, "actually, what you're showing me right now is I shouldn't have done what I did for you, and I'll never do it again. I took a lot of grief for doing that." Ugh. Bob was one of the few people from the club/party who seemed reasonable and truly supportive, beyond his allowing me to take his delegate spot, and even after I "insulted" the club president by seeking my own nomination at the district convention. Paranoia about sharp kidney punches crept up my spine as I stood there before him. I told him that I appreciated his sacrifice and was sorry he felt that way about it. I sat back down and he asked me why I was voting for the rule change. In short order, I delivered my side of the debate. To my exasperated surprise he did not rebut my argument, but agreed! What he actually said was, "I think the rule should be changed, but I just don't want to be here all day voting on amendments". I didn't know how to respond to this. The convention was moving on around us and, at the time, his comment just evaporated away. Thinking about it since, I've come up with two comebacks I wish I would have had at the ready:
1) "Why didn't you stay home?" (or the variation) "Maybe next time you should stay home."
2) "Weird. I thought that's what we were here for. That's why I came, anyway. You know, to be involved in the process, to have a real voice and exercise my rights. I relish the opportunity to more directly address our handling of the issues facing our society. I'm sure the gala and exclusive lunch were nice and all (though I didn't pay to get into them), but I thought I was getting involved in a political party, not a social club. Why are you here?"
The voting continued with some committee people being nominated, discussed and elected. I abstained from voting on a couple of these because I was unsure who they were or what they were being elected to do. This elicited another comment from the woman on my right (she was voting regularly), indicating that I wasn't "in lock-step with us on anything". During a lull, she also mentioned that she thought this would be her last convention, and that she had always hoped to go to the national convention, to have "seen them all". I asked if she was going to go this year, and she reminded me that we'd already elected the club president to go. "We always send her", she said. I hadn't forgotten, but I was pretty sure there was room for visitors, and that's what I had meant. This raised a new question for me. "How many times has she gone to the convention?" "Two or three", she answered, I didn't detect any animosity, but maybe a hint of withdrawn sadness. I clarified my previous question, asking if she planned to go this year as a visitor. She didn't think so, and she wasn't sure if that was even possible. I asked Bob if he knew what the rules were regarding visitors at the national convention, because I was thinking about going. "I have no idea", he said. "Do you think you'll go this year?" I asked, assuming he might, as a person of high standing in the local party. "I probably will, but I don't really want to" he sighed.
My stomach was trying to push its way out of my upper chest by the time we got to the main event, the election of National Delegate slates. I knew that I was down a couple friendlies since the beginning of the convention, but things had mellowed between us, and we were at least back on speaking terms. The thought of another lone, against-the-grain vote and its future repercussions made me dizzy. The slates were announced. One was called "The Strong and Faithful Republican Slate", the other was called "The Fiscal Responsibility Slate". The names of delegates on each slate were read, "Strong and Faithful" first. It included Three Senators, the Governor, a Congressman, a gubernatorial candidate, Senator Jim Talent, and in an unexpected twist of the blade, Bob, the man sitting to my left, who, you'll remember, only moments ago had told me he didn't really want to go to the national convention. Ignoring that sad absurdity, they might as well have called it the "Holy Shit! Republican Establishment Slate". The "Fiscal Responsibility Slate" had no notable names of high ranking Republican officials. The merits of each slate were presented by representatives for each. Voters for the "Strong and Faithful" would be voting to maintain their precious status quo (no specific issues were addressed), while voters for "Fiscal Responsibility" would be voting for delegates in support of a return to the upholding of constitutional law, lower taxes, smaller federal government, fiscal responsibility, rational monetary policy, and protection of our national sovereignty, all of which received appreciative applause. The speaker went on to mention that these ideals were held and promoted by congressman, and presidential candidate, Dr. Ron Paul, after which the slate was referred to as "The Ron Paul Slate".
Announcing this was a risky move on his part, because the anti-Paul sentiment had been heavily circulated around the place. I, on several occasions, had overheard concerned whispers about "these Ron Paul people", and there were at least a couple times in which some louder voice would either proudly mock Paul's primary vote percentages, or insert his name into some recycled political joke. There may have been some strategy in this revelation though, as it appeared that most of the convention goers had previously gotten their knowledge of Ron Paul from the aforementioned whispers and amateur punditry, and this honest representation may have awakened a few. Bob surprised me again at this point, saying "a lot of what Ron Paul says is good, but he's just crazy on other issues, like pulling our troops out of Iraq." I was glad that he at least had a reason he could articulate, though I didn't agree that the idea was so crazy. Regardless of the the candidates to be supported, anyone listening to the arguments for each slate should have been able to determine which one actually stood for something, they had equal time to state their cases. Nope, you guessed it, there was overwhelming support for the big names instead. I remained seated while everyone around me rose to their feet. I'm sure I was gritting my teeth. Bob looked down at me and I made a sort of noise, as if to indicate that I was in some physical distress and unable to stand. He saw right through this, and said, "you're voting against the guy who got you here", and I stood up. This may have been my first real step into politics. Selling out. In case you're wondering, I'm not proud of that. I thought about voting for the second slate too, to cancel myself, but I didn't. Instead, I congratulated Bob on his election. I was ready to get the hell out of there. Mercifully, soon it was lunch time.