RNC Recap for Tuesday, September 2
Yesterday, we provided a preview of the themes we expect to see this week during the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, MN. Here is a recap of Tuesday’s events, organized by our predicted themes.
For readers who are new to TWIR, we want to be clear about the way we use the words “racist” and “racial.” We reserve the former for the often-subconscious beliefs that pervade our culture and that tacitly promote and perpetuate the white power structure. Most racist appeals are not explicit, and their intentionality is not of our concern. Rather, we focus on potential effects of the interaction between messages that tap into latent racist sentiments and the way that individuals may process such messages, which, accordingly, can affect attitudes and, ultimately, behavior.
The overarching RNC themes last night were “Service Above Self” and “Country First,” both of which were reflected through signs handed out in the convention hall, as well as through the speeches that were given. Most of the evening’s speakers testified to John McCain’s character, particularly his love of country and the sacrifices he made as a prisoner of war during Vietnam. Those themes led nicely to the sentiment that John McCain deserves to be president – he has earned it through his experience. Barack Obama on the other hand, was presented as a shallow orator who has political ambitions, but no true love of country (or, at least he has yet to demonstrate it). Here are some examples of what we saw that matched our predictions from yesterday.
Theme 1: He’s Not Like Us
Former Tennessee Senator (and 2008 presidential hopeful) Fred Thompson’s speech was centered on vivid descriptors of McCain’s torture in Vietnam, as well as contrasting McCain’s action and experience with Obama’s “talk.” Playing on Obama’s theme “A change you can believe in,” Thompson said that McCain has “character you can believe in.” The remarks with the greatest potential to play into racist predispositions came when Thompson said that Washington has had its share of “smooth talkers and big talkers.” He added, “Obviously it still has.” The stereotype of African Americans – particularly African American men – as shifty, fast-talking and untrustworthy is primed by suggestions that Obama talks a good game, but is really trying to fool everyone for his own benefit. He, unlike McCain, will not put country first. Thompson referred to Obama making a “teleprompter speech designed to appeal to America’s critics abroad,” and tried to turn Obama’s historical run on its side by noting that it is, indeed, history making because he is “the most liberal, most inexperienced nominee ever to run for president.” Finally, Thompson said that we need a president who feels no need to apologize for the United States of America. Senator Joe Lieberman said the following of Obama: He’s “gifted and eloquent”; “eloquence is no substitute for a record.”
In short, Obama was presented last night as someone who is far out in left field, someone who is “not us,” and someone who just doesn’t get it (a claim the Democrats leveled against McCain last week). In the context of the approximately 99% white convention hall, there is a decidedly racist undertone (intentional or otherwise) to this line of rhetoric.
Theme 2: McCain is Change
As we predicted, there was a lot of talk of McCain as “maverick” and Palin as “reformer.” In his video speech to the convention, President George W. Bush provided the following quotes about McCain: “John is an independent man who thinks for himself” and “This man is honest and speaks straight from the heart.” He went on to suggest that Barack Obama is a political opportunist by noting that McCain would rather lose an election than see his country lose a war. Additionally, he called Sarah Palin “strong and principled,” suggesting that she, too, is not bound to party, but rather to principle – to country first. Fred Thompson spoke directly about how McCain is running against Washington, and about how he has been fighting Washington since he arrived (a point that President Bush made, as well, with effective humor). In fact, Thompson argued that what Obama is advocating is not change at all. He called it “ the same old stuff [Democrats have] been peddling for years.” Thompson claimed that he’d rather have Palin than someone who is part of the old beltway crowd (presumably referring to Obama or Biden, not McCain).
Senator Joe Lieberman’s very presence as a former Democrat (though he curiously referred to himself as a Democrat in the present tense on a number of occasions) was designed to show that McCain is a different kind of politician – one who can reach across the aisle or fight against members of his own party. He also noted that Governor Palin is a reformer who has reached across party lines; she is going to “help John shake up Washington.” Lieberman, like Thompson before him, noted that “the real ticket for change this year is the McCain/Palin ticket,” adding that the bureaucrats in Washington “will not be able to build a pen to hold in these two mavericks.”
Theme 3: McCain is Conservative
President Bush made reference to “the angry left,” which drew a huge applause from the crowd. As we noted in our preview yesterday, accusing Democrats of being “liberal” or “too liberal” is not unique to running against a black candidate, but the charge works differently when the candidate is black. In this case, the sentiment plays into the “angry black man” stereotype, as well as a “liberal as emotional and irrational political actor” motif.
As for our Reagan prediction: there was an entire video montage dedicated to Reagan. If you took our advice and played the drinking game, make sure to drink a lot of water today and take a couple of aspirin. In the video, Regan was equated with John McCain implicitly, as he was portrayed as a man who “never forgot who he was” and “a leader who would always put his country first.” The narrator noted that the media “despised” Reagan because he was an outsider, and that some even called him a “maverick” – a word most often used to describe John McCain since his 2000 election run. After noting that Reagan “replaced [President Jimmy] Carter’s indecision with conviction politics,” McCain was linked with Reagan through a photo of the two shortly after McCain arrived in Washington. Finally, discussion of Nancy Reagan as a supportive, loving, doting first lady was clearly designed to show a parallel with Cindy McCain (and a contrast with Michelle Obama).
Theme 4: Republicans are Inclusive
The limited diversity in the convention hall is striking when compared to last week’s convention in Denver. Wide camera pans shows an almost all-white delegation and audience. As we predicted, though, the camera was sure to find the few people of color in the crowd. Here’s what we noticed: one black woman during Thompson’s speech; one elderly black man cheering; a woman of color sitting behind Cindy McCain; and a black woman holding a sign that read “McCain Rules.” While we were not able to watch all of the speeches, we did note that Miles McPherson, who is African American, spoke as president of Miles Ahead Ministries.
Earlier in the evening, there was a video montage put together around a 500-word essay from a young woman who won a contest about what the American flag means. The pictures of the classroom of students pledging to the flag looked like a United Colors of Benetton advertisement, even though virtually no classrooms in the United States feature this type of ethnic diversity.
We want to urge readers to post their own observations and comments below to provide a more full and vigorous dialogue about the Republican National Convention, its themes, and the potential for priming of racist stereotypes about African Americans.