Ron Paul’s decision to end his campaign last night was such an important turning point in the convention that I thought I’d stop there and start over again from scratch with a new article for the new day. The character of the coverage is also going to change a bit, since I’ve now moved to the exhibit hall, have faster access and can add photos to the presentation, while keeping it all as live as possible.
Friday, 10:10am – Ah, Breakfast!
I’ve temporarily ditched my responsibilities as an alternate, even knowing that my district is probably short a few votes. I saw enough yesterday to have a pretty good idea how those votes are going to go with or without me, so today I’ll probably concentrate on other things, particularly a study of the exhibit hall and a report on the goings on of the second general session this afternoon. Then tonight I’m going to the Republican Liberty Caucus of Texas convention. I feel a bit like a sybarite, but right now my body is telling me not to do anything else without paying it some eggs and sausage.
Friday, 10:50am – Looking for A Log Cabinite
On planning out my day while I ate breakfast (made needlessly long because a waiter apparently served my meal to someone else by accident and they had to remake it)I decided that one group I really want to speak to is the Texas Log Cabin Republicans. Apparently because I don’t move in the right circles I missed my chance to attend the meeting they held last night, so now I’m going to try to track them down. I’d like to sound them out about McCain and the direction the party is going. They’ve got a drive on to get some of the reprehensibly homophobic language out of the Texas GOP Platform. Our governor may look like a GQ model, but his righteous hatred for all things gay is truly impressive – can you say ‘closeted compensation’. I was able to stop those resolutions at our district convention, by making a nice little speech to the Resolutions Committee, but they made it through in other districts so the fight continues. If by some miracle someone from the group reads this, I hope they’ll send someone by to chat at the blog center in the Exhibit Hall where I’ll likely be hanging out when not doing something else. I feel guilty that I’m not giving them more support by blogging from there, but my cellular modem makes it seductively easy to blog from anywhere I happen to be.
Friday, 12:03pm – Buried in Bloggers
I’m now at the RightOnline.com booth hanging with the other bloggers. I take a certain secret pride that despite the fact that there are quite a few of us blogging about the convention, this article has been #1 on Google News for 18 hours. I may be surrounded by bloggers, but apparently I’m the alphablogger of the day. From here I can survey the whole exhibit hall, so it’s about time to start writing about the lessons to be learned here. I had planned to accompany my reports with photos, but I left my mini-USB cable back at the hotel, so my first quest is to find one to borrow or some other way to upload my images.
Friday, 1:20pm – BigWigs on the Couch
RightOnline.com has a handy interview couch and bigwigs are going to be showing up to be grilled and share their issues with us. I’m going to give it a try, interspersed with some discussioon of the exhibits.
The first to stop by by Texas Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones who had some positive words on energy policy and actually drilling for some of our oil resources, an issue where Republicans have made very little progress. She wrote a nice OpEd in the Washington Post on the issue last year, but although I guess that’s a good feather in her cap, she didn’t have any more impact than I have with my efforts to arouse public awareness on the issue. Getting some control over where our energy comes from is an increasingly vital national security issue, yet no one seems to be paying attention.
Next up here is Senator John Cornyn. I plan to annoy him with a question about biodiesel. Specifically why we’re subsidizing biodiesel with the result that it’s going to Europe at below cost and there’s none available on the general commercial market here in the US.
Cornyn’s answer in a nutshell was to support a diverse energy policy with biofuels and expanded exploration as part of the picture, but he did give my question serious consideration and concluded by agreeing that subsidizing energy products which we then export makes very little sense and that we should have a policy which supports making alternative fuels more widely available in the US.
Cornyn also addressed other questions, including ones about the Supreme Court decision grantic GITMO detainees a day in court, and on the future of immigration policy. I had forgotten that Cornyn sponsored an immigration bill in 2005 which was similar to many aspects of the controversial ‘amnesty’ bill from last year, with a strong guest worker program but coupled with stronger encorcement provisions than the McCain bill. He wrapped up with a strong and genuine seeming endorsement for John McCain.
Friday, 2:05pm – More Energy Policy
Next up on the interview couch is Chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission Michael Williams. For those outside Texas, the Railroad Commission handles a lot of things having to do with energy policy with oversight over all sorts of other agencies and with a major role in determining where and how oil can be drilled for in the state. Ironically it no longer has any authority over railroads. I’m going to ask him about something I haven’t had time to write on yet, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s decision to ban biodiesel fuel mixes inside Texas on the basis of a report which erroneously suggested that it caused Nitrous Oxide pollution, despite a federal report from last year which shows the emissions to be negligible.
Chairman Williams didn’t really have much to say about the TCEQ decision, but he did agree with me in his answer on the basic principle of establishing a unified energy policy. I may have played into his desire to expand the authority of his energy, but I think he was dead on (as I would since he agreed with me) in saying that it would benefit the state greatly to have biofuel regulation put under the Railroad Commission as was done a few years ago with electricity and natural gas. Having a coherent energy policy run by one specific agency seems like a no brainer to me.
Williams was very articulate and seemed to have a good grasp on his field. He handled the questions from other bloggers pretty well, plus he was wearing cowboy boots with a pinstriped suit and has less hair than I do.
Friday, 3:15pm – What’s Wrong with the GOP
Some of my readers will appreciate this. I’m not going to bash on Ron Paul supporters (at least for now). They’re having a hard enough time with his announcement last night. With the cheers of the convention floor in the background as Mike Huckabee tells folksy jokes and stories, I have been going around the exhibit hall and taking a tour of everything that’s wrong with the GOP.
The image to the right is a pretty good symbol of one of the problems, the bizarre and gratuitous obsession with religion as a driving force in politics. I’ve got no problem with people praying. If you’re serious about it you can pray pretty much anywhere anytime. But what does it say when you have a special ‘Prayer Room’ set aside, kind of like a smoking room or a baby changing station. It seems bizarre. It’s like the convention is trying to impress someone with how righteous and holy it is. But it’s a political convention. Most of these people don’t have souls. And the room is empty and entirely symbolic.
Friday, 4:45pm – Along the Same Lines
Going through the convention hall I encountered a lot of interesting people, a lot of really nice people, and just a couple of groups which I found really troubling. The first and most obvious is
Ok, they’re irritating, but they pale in comparison to something called NewsWithViews.com (don’t visit their horrible ad-ridden website), a group which seems devoted to nativism, conspiracy mania and homophobia. When I went by their booth a scary woman harangued me about the ‘homosexual agenda’. They’re also selling books by the truly horrifying Alan Stang who is a sort of older, nastier version of Alex Jones.
But of course, they’re small timers. We’ve got a booth here from the real nexus of rat-brained political self-abuse, the John Birch Society. They’re here in force and the crazy wing of the Paul movement is flocking around them. I had a scary conversation with a couple of them while trying to find the bathroom, and I just don’t understand what these people think they have in common with the Republican party or with anyone who is interested in doing anything serious in the political arena.
Friday, 5:55pm – Michael McCaul Drops By
Michael McCaul is my congressman, with a district which stretches from North Austin to North Houston as the result of gerrymandering. He’s just arrived at the blogging area, so I’m going to throw a question his way shortly. I’ll try to ask about something other than biodiesel, since I think I’ve hammered on that subject enough. Just like every other legislator we’ve seen today his opening remarks are all about opening up ANWR and everywhere else to oil exploration.
Oh well, I had to ask an oil question, so I asked him about market solutions to our energy needs and taking advantage of the high gas prices to push alternative energy. His answer was very political, but I didn’t deserve any better because my question was poorly framed. Then he stuck around after the formal question section and I managed to actually get his attention on the problem with subsidized US biodiesel being shipped to Europe and the shortage of biodiesel resulting here in the US and he seemed to actually be paying attention, so maybe something will come of it. He does earnest pretty well, but with energy on the front burner he might get something done.
No question, in all these interviews, it’s clear what the GOP is going to be campaigning on this year. It’s all going to be all about energy, including not only drilling more but also alternative energy and greater energy efficiency. This is an area where the policies of the Democratic party just don’t offer any sensible answers, so there’s a lot of political capital to be won. As gas prices go higher ANWR is going to turn into a badge of shame hung around the necks of every Democrat for failing the American people and betraying our security needs by not formulating any kind of sensible energy policy for the nation.
Friday, 6:30pm – As the Exhibit Hall Closes
The hall is closing and I have to head off for parties and meetings of various sorts, but I wanted to mention that I spent some time with the nice folks at the Republican Liberty Caucus of Texas booth. They were doing a compact version of the World’s Smallest Political quiz, and they always seemed to have a lot of people at the booth. They actually seemed kind of overwhelmed much of the time. Next door to them was the Ron Paul booth which seemed strangelky abandonned much of the time. They sold out of Paul’s new book on Friday morning and restocked and sold out again today. I think they must have sold over 2000 copies of the book, which is pretty impressive. The Paul supporters were all over the place all day, but from the reports they made zero ground on any of the votes. I have yet to look at the platform, but I hope they at least had some influence there. The good news is that while a good portion of them were pretty discouraged my impression is that the majority of them are going to stick with the GOP and try to make serious changes while working within the system.
So, I’m off to eat a very expensive steak and will try to file another report after my evening activities.
7:30pm – From Spencers Chop House
While I wait for my expensive pork chops to arrive I’m looking at the convention delegates pass by and it occurs to me that there are two fundamentally different types of people involved in the GOP at this juncture. There are the grassroots activists who are mostly young to middle aged and spend all of their time in meetings and in the exhibit hall and at the various caucuses, trying to push their particular issues and ideas and make a difference. They’re also the talent pool from whom campaign staffers and eventually candidates are drawn. Then there are the ‘blue hairs’ who seem to mostly be over 70 and who I never see anywhere but when I’m eating or on the convention floor. They spend the whole convention sitting in the uncomfortable chairs, listening to speeches and then voting the straight party line on every issue. I suspect they’re also the source of the truly powerful fundraising potential of the GOP, and that means that anyone who runs for office has to pander to them. They are a force for inertia and the wrong kind of conservatism – the kind which fears change just because it is change. I don’t want to be mean, but for the party to move forward the old folks are going to have to go – or at least step aside. Time will presumably accomplish this eventually, but by then it may be too late to save the party.
Friday, 11:35pm – Late Night Wrap-Up
After the regular convention events wrapped up tonight I got a quick bite to eat and then went off to the biennial convention of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Texas. I’ve been a member of the RLC on the national level for years, but the local Texas chapter wasn’t really very active until a couple of years ago so I had never really been involved. Strangely I’m now on the national board of the RLC, but I only have loose contacts with the Texas chapter which is now far-and-away the largest chapter in the nation. Its size was demonstrated tonight when they scheduled the business meeting for the caucus for a room designed to hold about 60 people and about 150 showed up. Fortunately some other group around the corner was sponsoring an open bar so those who were stuck in the hallway had a pretty good time drinking and socializing. The Texas RLC has become so large because of an influx of Ron Paul supporters from the 1500 member Ron Paul meetup group based in Austin and headed up by the very able Lisa Mallory.
As I’ve mentioned in previous articles I’ve attended a couple of their meetings, but what was apparent at this event was that the group has become more focused and more serious. There were still a few odd birds in attendance, like the guy who’s been wandering the halls all day carrying a sign about the dreaded (and fictional) North American Union, but on the whole it looked more like a potentially viable political organization and I got the impression that despite discouragements at this convention they were in it for the long haul with the GOP. They seem to have reached the sensible conclusion that the best future strategy is to start electing people to office at the local level. Working in local politics largely puts them outside of the control of the GOP leadership, but once they start getting people elected then those office holders are going to establish a legitimacy for the movement which produced them with the party insiders. It’s sort of the inverse of the top-down strategy which has failed the Libertarian Party for year after year. It’s a strategy for a serious and political movement with a bright future.
Friday, 11:47pm – One Last Photo
I encountered the two fellows in the photo to the right at the main entrance to the convention floor. The Sergeants at Arms had banned them and their giant homemade signs from the hall, so they stationed themselves at the entrance from the exhibits to the main hall where they’re pretty hard to miss. They’re a reminder that unbridled enthusiasm with a touch of obsession can be found in the old and new elements of the party, with the old-style pro-lifer on the left and the new-style party reformer on the right. I can’t necessarily agree with all their causes, but I have to admire their brashness and tenacity.
There’s a half day at the convention tomorrow. I’m going to at least stop in and may have another report. I’ve heard truly frightening things about the draft platform and I hope to see a copy of the final version. I have a sick feeling that the various homophobic, nativist and religiously extreme elements may have survived the committee process and been passed by the sheeplike mass on the convention floor.
<b>SPECIAL OFFER</b>: If you read this and are at the Texas GOP convention and want a free prize for making it all the way through the blog, stop by the RightOnline.com blogger area before 11am tomorrow and ask me for a free, very attractive RLC commemorative badge (unless I’ve run out). They’re hard to find and have a cool freedom-loving elephant on them.
More to come…