Frieda Wallison: Conventional wisdom
September 3, 2008
MINNEAPOLIS ” Monday’s activities at the Republican National Convention, where I am an alternate delegate in the Colorado delegation, got under way with a breakfast meeting of the delegation.
In addition to a briefing on the upcoming events of the day by Colorado Republican Party officials, several interesting speakers addressed our group. Heather Wilson, the congresswoman from New Mexico who is also the only woman veteran serving in Congress, focused her remarks on the need to assist the residents of the Gulf Coast states in the face of Hurricane Gustav. The congresswoman was followed by Jim Nicholson, a Coloradan who is the former head of the Republican National Committee and former head of the federal Department of Veterans Affairs; Dirk Kempthorne, former Idaho governor and U.S. senator and currently the secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior; Gov. Jon Huntsman of Utah, who has been on the campaign trail with John McCain from the start; Col. Tom Kirk, a member of the Colorado delegation who was imprisoned in the “Hanoi Hilton” with McCain; and Andy McCain, McCain’s oldest son.
The two speakers I found most interesting were Kirk and Andy McCain because of their firsthand accounts of the candidate as a prison mate and as a father. Kirk was in prison in Vietnam with McCain for what sounded like a comparable period of time (he was shot down only two days after McCain), but they did not meet until Kirk was taken out of solitary confinement after two years of captivity and put in a cell with more than 40 other prisoners, including McCain. He spoke of McCain’s intelligence, leadership and wit as attributes that helped the other prisoners through their ordeal, and he noted that, in the absence of reading materials, McCain’s ability to recount history (a favorite subject of McCain) was a key factor in helping all of the prisoners preserve their sanity. Andy McCain was 11 years old when his father returned from Vietnam. He talked about lessons his father taught him, and the glimpse he provided of this particular father-son relationship was enlightening.
Monday was also the first session of the 2008 Republican National Convention. Because of Hurricane Gustav it was significantly shortened, from a planned seven hours to two (and, in reality, only about an hour of business). The convention is being held at the Xcel Center in St. Paul, normally the home of the Minnesota Wild ice hockey team.
The arena was decked out in typical political convention style, with flags, lights, column signs for the various state delegations, and media booths ringing the hall. And when the arena filled up with all of the delegates, guests and media participants, it was very exciting to be there. In contrast, however, to the Democratic National Convention venue, the decoration in the Xcel Center was, I thought, subdued. This could change as the convention resumes its full schedule and a more festive air is likely to prevail. Monday’s session was a time for reflection on the plight of the residents of the Gulf Coast.
The seating plan for the delegates is telling as to the importance the Republican Party attaches to various states in the general election. Colorado’s delegation has a prime spot on the floor, right behind Ohio and Pennsylvania. Our state delegates are flanked on the left by Florida and on the right by Michigan. The New York, California and Illinois delegations are seated in the hinterlands. The alternate delegates are located just above the floor, and our group from Colorado has the Alaska alternates immediately above us. This is an interesting location for us because we have a chance to hear about Sarah Palin directly from residents of her state. When her name was first announced at the session Monday, the Alaska alternates behind us went wild, and the roar of approval from them was deafening given our proximity.
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The Colorado Republican Party has made sure that we Coloradans stand out in the crowd. Yesterday we were decked out in our navy blue polo shirts with Colorado state insignia. Tuesday, we could wear whatever we wanted, but Wednesday we will be wearing snazzy black and white Western shirts and Thursday, bright red Western shirts. All that’s missing are our boots and cowboy hats, and I’ve seen some of those. Not to be outdone, the Florida delegation has tropical shirts with palm trees and other beach scenes, but from a short distance the shirts create the impression of camouflage outfits.
The theme of the convention is “America First,” particularly apt in the face of the disaster confronting (once again) the Gulf Coast states and particularly, New Orleans and its surrounding area. All of the current governors of the five Gulf Coast states ” Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas ” are Republicans, and four of the five governors videotaped messages that were shown at the convention Monday.
These were very inspiring. The only Gulf Coast governor who was not able to send a message to the convention was Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, who obviously had his hands full with the situation in his state. When Haley Barbour, the governor of Mississippi, cited the efforts of all of the volunteers from other states who helped in the Katrina crisis, I was reminded of the support given by residents of the Roaring Fork Valley to the citizens of Pearlington, Miss. The session was topped off by surprise presentations from Laura Bush and Cindy McCain, both of whom received prolonged standing ovations and both of whom spoke eloquently about the need to come to the aid of our Gulf Coast neighbors.
It was a high note on which to end the official business of the day.