How Much Do Republicans Weigh?

Article excerpt

Byline: Martin Amis

Martin Amis on God, money, and what's wrong with the GOP

"How much," Josef Stalin once asked, "does the Soviet Union weigh?" He was hoping to instill in his terrified advisers a sense of their country's rightful place in the world: i.e., number one. For those who come to the U.S. to live as opposed to visit (me, for instance), it's the first thing that strikes you: the astronomical mass of America. You ask yourself, how much does America weigh? And soon you are wondering about its place in the world (number one), and about the durability of its predominance.

And what is the tonnage of its political machinery? Arriving in Tampa, and making your way to the hub of the Republican National Committee, you initially confront the great humorless grid of American "security." The roped-off streets, the menacingly geo-stationary helicopters, the (false) rumors of drones in the stratosphere, the National Guardsmen, the 3,000 cops from all over Florida, the men with SHERIFF or SECRET SERVICE stamped on their bulletproof aprons, and the operatives who are even more secret than that: they wear (i) a twirly plastic tube in the ear, and (ii) an adamantine scowl. That's what security people are, 99.9 percent of the time: professional scowlers. And soon there will be X-rays and pat-downs, and the sort of lines that would make you groan at LAX or JFK.

First, the colossal edifice of the Convention Center. In the Google Media Lounge I found myself transfixed by a valiant multi-tasker who was power-walking on an exercise machine while apparently shooting a film about his own computer. And in the gaping atrium everyone who wasn't yelling out greetings stood hunched in tense communion with their BlackBerrys or their iPads. On the second floor the networks were carving the hangar-like space into exclusive nooks and crannies. The scale was gargantuan, like a De Quinceyan opium vision of infinity.

Thence, by shuttle bus, to the Tampa Bay Times Forum, the stadium-sized amphitheater soon to be graced by the stars of the GOP, their innumerable delegates, and 15,000 representatives of the media. Up on stage long-haired middle-aged men twanged out the kind of patriotic folk music we might call jingo-rockabilly. Filling the giant screens, typically, were clips of soldiers on airfields moving in heroic slow motion, as in an agonizing dream of effort and retardation. And the platforms were scattered with the impedimenta of the television crews, arc lights, gantries, metal trunks, and beyond, ankle-deep in a snake pit of cables, hovered vaguely familiar figures, wearing slightly sickly smiles--household faces, under a light coating of Skippy.

That TV anchors strongly resemble politicians--the otherworldly glow, the dense hairdos, the makeup--is, as Marxists say, no accident. They are communicators, above all. And what exactly was communicated, down on the Gulf of Mexico, among the megatons of tackle and clobber, the silly hats, the glut of money (thanks to the super PACs "there is no airtime left to buy"), the sweating, sneezing journos (alternately drenched by the cloudbursts, steamed by the humidity, and frozen by the arctic AC), and the succession of tub-thumpers and cue-card readers on the podium--what ideas were voiced, what policies adumbrated, what philosophies explored?

The Republican dialectic, in 2012, can be summarized as follows. Obama might or might not have inherited a difficult situation (and Democrats, at least, will remember George W. Bush's historic warning in 2008: "This sucker could go down"); but he hasn't fixed it, so let's try Romney, who's a businessman, not a socialist. This lone notion was pressed home with repetition, tautology, platitude, redundancy--and then more repetition.

Madamic good ole girls in scarlet ensembles, peanut-faced glozers in ambassadorial suits and ties, puns, rhymes, tinkertoy wordplay ("Give me liberty--not gimme, gimme, gimme"), alliteration, iteration, my mom said to me, started a small business, almighty God is the truth of all we have, inherit our hopes and dreams, my daddy said to me, started a small business--and all of this seconded by the brain-dead, couch-potato tweets that looped the hall in illuminated script: "I'm so proud to be a Republican," "The Bush family is so awesome," "Look at all the Olympians on stage for Romney. …