October 31, 2008
Republicanism 101: Learning it on the ground at Colorado
McCain-cum-Senator Schaffer Rally in Denver, Colorado.
Denver, Colorado. This is as ‘middle America’ as you can get, with brown, flat, wide spaces stretching on till the Rocky Mountains in the distance. Coming from Washington, DC, entering this city is a change of scenery. The city itself has about 590,000 residents. And a significant shift of political ideology as well, for me. DC is flagged blue all the way, with practically every analyst rooting for Obama in this year’s elections.
Here, the race has been closer. Colorado has not elected a Democratic Presidential candidate since 1992 (where it voted Clinton), although in the recent years its preference for the Democrats has been evident in its selection for Congress and Senate seats. As of 28th October, polls show Obama leading 50-44. The McCain campaign has hence needed to respond fiercely in the final throes of the fight.
Tonight I had the privilege of attending a local community Republican rally. I had expected it to be outdoors, like the Malaysian ceramahs, but it was in a warm hotel hall instead. About an estimated 400-500 people were present, an average age of about 45 years or older. Predominantly white, both males and females (but with one black lady running for State Senate). There were quite a few young people, although I suspect most were there because of their families. Nevertheless, those present were adamant about their beliefs.
I asked Dylan and Becka, two young Republicans, why they supported McCain although many of the young obviously were voting Obama this Elections. Their answer was that Obama was merely a showman without content, a good communicator. They believed in a limited government with greater individual freedoms for citizens to decide for themselves. They think mainstream media is too biased towards Obama and that Fox News is the only balanced news channel. I may disagree with them on some points, but I was generally impressed by their enthusiasm on political issues – they must have been about 18.
Boy scouts were called on to introduce the march pass the American flag, and the pledge of allegiance was read out followed by the national anthem.
There were several issues raised in the rally tonight that stood out. These points are obviously the same points being hammered all across the country. Although there are supposedly “50 Republican Parties in 50 States”, the national issues are standard:
- Loyalty to God: There were several references to faith and religion, and a preacher himself spoke at the podium. “God will help us to do the righteous thing”.
- National Security and Defence: A video was screened, showing military soldiers sacrificing their lives. “Let us put America back into a position of power”, “Obama wants open borders, We want closed borders”.
- Individual Freedoms: Strong emphasis was placed on American citizens’ right to individual freedoms, alluding that “this country” was the only remaining country in the world with freedoms.
They did quite a bit of mudslinging as well, saying that:
- The policies that Obama is proposing will not work in the long run, citing examples from Europe that have failed. I suppose they refer to social democratic structures resulting in large unemployment rates although these were not explicit (one may tend to differ in opinion on this as well, since I can think of several Scandinavian examples with effective results).
- Obama was not willing to place his hand on his chest during the national pledge/anthem, hence branding him an anti-nationalist. (hence the lapel pin issue that emerged in August this year)
Although this was exactly what I had expected at a McCain rally, it was still a good exposure campaign. I was, however, disappointed that there were not more reasonable arguments made. For example, the worrying points raised repeatedly were extremely telling of the continued conservative worldview of the right-wing Christian populace supporting Republicans. In my humble opinion, it becomes a dangerous thing when God is used as free license to qualify every possible proposal by Republicans. By encouraging citizens to pray for the “righteous” outcome, it sounded like voting for Obama would be the “unrighteous” thing to do. Such blatant dichotomies can only be reflective of a narrow interpretation of faith and religion. This ties automatically all McCain – or Senator Schaffer who is running in Colorado – policies to God and anything opposite is not, apparently. As a Christian myself, I find this view unpalateable.
Also, I was disappointed with the myopic inability to see that America has to initiate conversations with the rest of the world instead of promoting “closed-borders” to improve its foreign relations. The speeches tonight assumed that the US should always begin from a position of power, an elevated vantage point. This may not necessarily be in the best interests of all other countries, including Malaysia. Some opening space of rational bilateral dialogue needs to begin, which Washington Post columnist David Ignatius in his briefing with us, thinks Obama will definitely do.
Finally, the Firearms Coalition of Colorado issued a Legislative Alert. The Right to own guns is a key Republican issue. The first sentence of the above brochure says “As gun owners, we all need to turn out and volunteer to work for the election of pro-gun candidates”.
This has been my introduction into heartland politics of America. It’s raw, it’s in your face. The paraphernalia of McCain, Schaffer, Palin and all other Republicans running for State Congress or Senate reminded me of the Pakatan Rakyat rallies back home. One major difference though, is how willing local, everyday citizens are in taking up office. The elderly Suzanne Andrews who is running for State Senate held my arm and told me, “I’m just a mom, I bake bread for my children, I’m no lawyer or anything like that, but my friends asked me to run and I did.” Her brochure says she protects traditional conservative values. And she is proud of it. Welcome to the Republican World.
Tomorrow, I meet with both the Democrat and Republican Campaign Headquarters in Denver, Colorado. Should be an eye opener. Hopefully I’ll hear less emotive arguments to support McCain.
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