I have attended exactly two Republican National Conventions, both in the north – in major industrial cities – both nominating conservative Western governors. My first took place 32 years ago, when, as a teenager, my brother dropped me off at a suburban Chicago bus stop where I boarded a bus bound for Detroit, Michigan, I bunked at Eastern Michigan University’s dormitory in nearby Ypsilanti, painted posters urging Americans to dump Jimmy Carter and was thrilled to see one of my heroes, Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, address the convention at Cobo Hall and, as former California Gov. Ronald Reagan was nominated and almost named former President Gerald Ford as his running mate, debated issues with other kids, adults and politicians for four days before taking the bus back home. I’d been an activist since the age of nine, when I organized a union of my fellow elementary school students to counter a gang of bullies from a rival Catholic school. When I returned from Detroit, I was ready to roll.
A lot happened before I attended another convention; I’d worked on Capitol Hill for a congressman I respected, I’d read Ayn Rand and learned that politics is among the last, not the first, steps in a series of applications of ideas to reality, and I’d struggled as an artist in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. Then, 12 years ago, I became the only freelance journalist granted press credentials at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, where I wrote reports, columns and interviews for several newspapers. It was a sobering experience. By 2000, the press had become an industry entrenched not with independent-minded intellectuals but with me-too cynics, wannabe celebrities and sycophants. The politicians were worse, much worse, speaking in bland platitudes and implementing horrible ideas. Renting a room from Philly’s most gracious hostess (who became my friend), an immigrant and small business owner named Hadassah, and hanging out with her delightfully individualistic four kids, I could see that, while the conventions had become showcases for the worst in U.S. politics, an American sense of life remained among the middle class.
Yet life in America deteriorated and became more urgent at the end of the 20th century, those dark days when we seized an immigrant child at gunpoint, forcing him to return to a dictatorship, did nothing to unequivocally end states that sponsor Islamic terrorism after the worst attack in our nation’s history, engaging instead in wars with no goals, purpose or end, and we increased the size and scope of government after an economic collapse. Which brings us to this moment in American history and these two political conventions – the Tampa, Florida, Republicans’ this week and the Charlotte, North Carolina, Democrats’ next week.
So far, and pragmatic nominee Mitt Romney has yet to speak, the Tampa Republicans have shown that the GOP, which has been dominated by religious conservatives since 1976, may be moving toward secularism. Fundamentalist religion is strong in the GOP and, with platform provisions prohibiting abortion and gay marriage, and religious morality threaded throughout convention speeches and themes, the altruist mentality runs rampant and could kill the GOP or transform it into the party of religious dictatorship. But in 42-year-old Rep. Paul Ryan’s forceful, intelligent and poignant vice-presidential acceptance speech, there were signs of progress for the immediate future; Ryan, who praised his mother in terms of the Objectivist virtues of pride and productiveness, contrasted the GOP ticket with Obama/Biden and spoke of the rightness of people to be focused on “here and now”, as against the “afterlife”, pointedly rejecting Obama’s “government-planned life, a country where everything is free but us.” Ryan, who has renounced Ayn Rand’s philosophy, Objectivism, while expressing admiration for her novel Atlas Shrugged, is also to my knowledge the first major party candidate to explicitly voice a positive view of selfishness, telling the delegates and attendees:
When I was waiting tables, washing dishes, or mowing lawns for money, I never thought of myself as stuck in some station in life. I was on my own path, my own journey, an American journey where I could think for myself, decide for myself, define happiness for myself.
In today’s rapidly declining culture, economy and nation, this is a stark alternative to Obama’s administration, which puts self last if at all. The choice in politics is still very much the lesser of two evils, as I have learned over and over since 1980 and 2000. The elections of two optimistic Republicans who lacked any moral grasp of capitalism and individual rights seriously harmed the U.S. So, I do not think that Paul Ryan, a politician who votes for Big Government and whom I have criticized on this blog, is going to lead the legislative repeal of ObamaCare or be a radical vice-president for capitalism, which is what we desperately need. And it must be noted that Republicans in the arena refused to rise for Ryan’s call to repeal ObamaCare – but they sprung to their feet for his pledge to save another form of goverment-controlled medicine for old people. But Paul Ryan’s speech at this week’s convention bears the mark of a rational and moral argument for capitalism and is therefore a small change for the better. For now, it’ll have to do.