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Republican National Convention, Day 2, Part Two

Stateside With Rosalea Barker

Republican National Convention, Day 2, Part Two

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I spent Tuesday morning at the Mall of America—the country’s largest Temple of Mammon aside from the State of Delaware, which is home to tax breaks for the credit and financial services companies that have ruined the U.S. economy and also home to Democratic VP Joe Biden. I figured that at MOA I might just find some folks to talk to, ordinary folks out shopping. It happened that the first woman I asked if I could interview was a Jehovah’s Witness. “We don’t get involved in politics anywhere in the world,” she said, “because we avoid anything that might divide us.”

Two young mothers, their children in strollers, also declined to be interviewed, at first because, one said, “I don’t have anything interesting to say,” and then because she simply didn’t want to, and her friend didn’t want to go out on a limb either. However, two older voters—born-and-raised Minnesotans—did talk to me at length about their country and the election but declined to give me their names. The woman said she couldn’t believe that the polls for McCain and Obama are so close. And although they both thought Bush had committed impeachable offenses, she didn’t want Cheney to become President, and didn’t know that Kucinich’s first articles of impeachment are against the Vice President, not Bush.

Her husband said he was 74 and had voted in every election, “but if the Republicans win this one, I’m giving up.” As a Democrat, he said he was ashamed that “the Democrats in Congress don’t have the gumption to stand up and tell it like it is” about the Bush presidency’s misuse of power. And “Sarah Palin scares the heck out of me,” he said, citing her lack of experience.

He views Barack Obama as a much- needed “intelligent listener” and hopes a President Obama can rescue America’s tarnished image around the world after the “arrogance” of the present administration’s relations with other countries. If Obama can put together a strong cabinet—perhaps with Bill Clinton as Secretary of State—and turn around the current conservative agenda, “which makes everyone poor from the middle class on down,” then there’s hope for putting the U.S. back on the right track.

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Back at the Xcel Center, I got a completely opposite view of the world from Mike Brennan, whose IRA father jumped ship in New York back in 1917, took advantage of any and every opportunity to make money, and managed to put all his seven kids through college. Brennan owns an import/export company—he was currently chasing up a deal for flokati rugs made in Greece from 100 percent NZ Wool—and his world view might be summarized by his comment about St. Paul’s Cathedral, which sits atop a hill opposite the Xcel Center: “Poor people built that—bricklayers, maids.”

He was referring to the donations they’d made out of their meager wages in order to construct this symbol of ethnic and religious pride. Brennan thinks that the U.S. has a healthy economy and that people are better off than they were eight years ago. As for women and blacks, he said “there was a time they were kept down, but that’s no longer the case.”

Brennan was here as a guest of the Frank Donatelli, Deputy Chairman of the Republican National Committee through the auspices of his daughter, a very successful fundraiser in Connecticut. Tuesday’s headliner was Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman—former Democrat, now supporting John McCain to the hilt—and Brennan was thrilled that would be meeting him in the Donatelli suite later that evening. Making the right connections seemed to be the driving force behind Brennan’s success as a businessman and he thought that anyone could do the same.

I asked if he thought Bush should be impeached, and he said the idea was “ridiculous”—he fully backed the Administration going to war in Iraq just because of the way Saddam Hussein was bluffing about his nuclear program in order to frighten Iran. But in his view, it was the United Nations Security Council that had called Saddam’s bluff. When I asked what business it was of America if Iraq was bluffing Iran, Brennan looked at me incredulously and said, “Oil! We have to have access to the Strait of Hormuz.”

Did he support the Clinton impeachment? “Of course! Because of what he did in the White House. Under a desk!” In contrast, my earlier interviewee had said he thought every CEO in America could probably be impeached for the same conduct.

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As I was leaving the Xcel Center, I heard several loud explosions coming from my left and walked towards them. At a nearby intersection a crowd was gathered. There had been a concert at nearby Capitol Hill and some marchers had tried to get downtown. A First-Aider for the marchers told me that the explosions were compression bombs, which the police explode to frighten people before resorting to tear gas.

After I was speaking to her, a guy in a faded Hawaiian shirt with long grey hair in a ponytail, packing some serious photography and audio gear, came towards me taking photos. When I laughed and said, What are you taking a photo of me for? he said, “It’s my job.” Weird, since he seemed to be taking a photo of my feet. Either feet are the new earlobes or he’s working for a foot fetish website.

Someone wearing an NBC ID badge told me “they started another march, got down the hill and turned round to go back. Basically, the police were boxing them in,” he said, “and gave them a chance to walk away, to disperse, but they decided to stand as one united in that block across the street.” The police warned them they’d gas them and that they had a choice, but “they chanted and cheered and then they went and sat in the middle of the intersection, and [the police] unloaded on them, and that got them to move. They were trying to start a march and get further and further, and they found that they couldn’t.”

Walking away to my bus stop, I came to the intersection in the photo above, which was blocked by earthmoving equipment. At the stop, a romance almost unraveled as a girl who’d been waiting for her guy to turn up there for 20 minutes was reluctant to believe his angry explanation that he’d been stopped and interviewed by the police and told that he shouldn’t just be wandering around downtown. Bystanders weighed in on all the unnecessary heavy-handedness they’d seen over the past few days—like two elderly women trying to cross a street being shoved by police in riot gear and told to get out of their way.

Finally, here is a link to a Huffinton Post post about how the New Media is being treated here in St. Paul. The author’s reference to the editorial in the Minneapolis St. Paul Star Tribune reminds me that the couple I spoke with on Sunday referred to their local paper as The Falling Star because it has deteriorated so much in the past few years.



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