GOP Convention: Four Days of Unreality Television

by Randy Shaw on August 27, 2012

Millions of Americans will put the Real Housewives and other “reality” television shows aside this week in favor of a new series opening tonight starring Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan and the Republican Party. Although an actual hurricane has delayed much of the opening night festivities until Tuesday, the Republican Convention is a surefire Emmy nominee for the season’s best unreality show. Its climate-change deniers, concealed weapon proponents, Taliban-like anti-women fanatics, billionaire funders and anti-immigrant racists will be portrayed not as selfish or destructive but rather as hard-working Americans who simply want what’s best for the nation. The word “extremism” will be banished and the event’s demographic resemblance to the White People’s Party ignored. It’s all part of the media’s goal of avoiding charges of “liberal bias,” with truth as the casualty.

It’s fitting that the Republican Convention opens the night after the final show of the season for Aaron Sorkin’s HBO series, Newsroom. Sorkin’s fictional national television news anchor regularly lampoons the traditional media for sugarcoating and concealing the dangerous truths about the Tea Party, Koch brothers and other Republican interests, and the convention confirms the show’s message. It’s no coincidence that Sorkin used the Newsroom episode on the convention’s eve to offer his harshest indictment yet of the Republican Party’s sharp rightward shift in recent years.

The “New” Romney, Nixon, Bush, McCain

Recent history shows that Republican conventions are all about rebranding the party’s presidential nominee.

Remember the “new” Nixon in 1968? It joins the “kindler and gentler” George H.W. Bush, his “compassionate conservative” son George W., and “bipartisan maverick” John McCain in 2008. Ronald Reagan may be the only Republican non-incumbent since Nixon in 1960 that actually ran on his actual past record—-something Mitt Romney’s is especially unable to do.

For the next four days, Romney’s real identity as a vulture capitalist who fires people for profit will be forgotten. Instead, he will be redefined as a former missionary who has devoted his life to public service.

Romney’s birth to the head of a major automobile company who went on to become Michigan’s Governor—-exposing him to the classic Molly Ivins’ line about George W. Bush being born on third base but wanting credit for hitting a triple—will also be downplayed. Romney will instead personify the classic Horatio Alger story, someone who used hard work, grit and pluck to fulfill the American Dream.

Unfortunately for the GOP, Obama campaign attacks have likely inoculated undecided voters from the canyon-wide gap between the convention media’s depiction of Romney and reality. And Paul Ryan’s obsession with Ayn Rand’s novels as his political template has already signified his distance from the reality world, resulting in a ticket with none of the authenticity voters seek.

The GOP’s 1968 ticket of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew would be flabbergasted at the party’s 2012 nominees having to reinvent themselves on the eve of Labor Day. As likely would Sarah Palin, who knew who she was and whose only problem was that the voters did as well.

Akins Intrudes on Unreality

GOP leaders attacked Missouri Senate Candidate Todd Akin’s comments on rape not because it reduced chances for Republicans to take control of the Senate—despite recent polls, Akin is still at worse a tossup in the race—but rather because it exposed the reality of Paul Ryan and the Republican Party’s opposition to any rape or incest exception for abortions. Akin’s sin was exposing GOP reality just as the convention’s unreality show was to begin.

And because Akin continues to speak out on the issue, it puts convention stage managers and their media lackeys in a bind. It’s not easy to sell the GOP as the party of middle-America when it forces victims of rape to give birth, and has a range of policies attacking women (by the way, remember when Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos fame was attacked for exaggeration when he titled his 2010 book on the Republican Party, American Taliban? If that book came out now he’d been credited for foresight).

Yet even Akins will not prevent the media from promoting the chief unreality of the convention: that Republican tax-cutting plans will create jobs and boost the economy. Viewers will hear little the next four days about the failure of the Bush tax cuts to do either, and how they increased inequality and caused the massive budget deficits the Romney-Ryan ticket claims to oppose.

The media can’t question this unreality without being accused of promoting “Democratic” talking points. “Reality” is no longer connected to actual economic performance, just as the science of climate change or conception must be “balanced” against what others believe to be true.

“We Feel Great About Our Chances”

After Sarah Palin’s 2008 convention speech I heard all of the confident predictions of victory that followed. Polls showed a post-Palin bump, leading the media to echo claims that Palin’s selection was a stroke of political genius that could win McCain the presidency.

The media promoted those preposterous claims without reservation. And they did so despite Democrats expressing glee from the moment McCain announced Palin as his choice, knowing her liabilities that the media would conceal through convention’s end.

In Tampa this week, the media will again allow convention unreality to control coverage. This means ignoring swing state polls strongly favoring Obama, along with Romney’s high unfavorability numbers. There are no factual restrictions in unreality television, and the media will justify its coverage by providing similar uncritical promotion to Democrats in Charlotte next week.

Randy Shaw is the author of The Activist’s Handbook and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century.

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