1:35 pm: I'm in Dallas, sucking down a cigarette between planes on my way to New York City for the 2004 Republican National Convention on a mission to discover how this foreign culture has fun. You'd think the route from Portland to New York would be a more northerly one, but apparently you can't get to the Big Apple without first planting your boots, however briefly, on Lone Star soil. Maybe everyone attending the convention has to make this token pilgrimage to breathe George Bush's Texas air, much like a newly initiated vampire laps at the blood of the coven's senior member. (Not that I'm partisan, mind you.)
3:57 pm: Six miles above the ground, it occurs to me that a terrorist with a less-than-perfect understanding of our modern hub-and-spoke air-travel system might assume that a Dallas-to-New York flight on the eve of the GOP convention must be packed with Bush-loving Texans eminently deserving of a lesson in Allah's wrath. I pop a Valium and try not to think about it.
6:20 pm: I head to the shuttle, keeping my eyes peeled for happening young neocons who might be able to direct me to the good parties. After all, Republicans can't all be blue-rinsed suburbanites. As we pull from the curb, I see a prosperous-looking gentleman of around 80 making his way--frankly, "doddering" is the word I want--to his seat, behind a plump matron of about the same age in a white straw sun hat. "Did you pay?" asks the woman. The man, in a practiced gesture, leans forward, ear first. "Did you pay!" the woman bawls, equally practiced. Both sport Party badges. This could be tougher than I thought.
Sunday, Aug. 29
7:40 pm: It's not exactly cocktails with the Saudi royal family, or even cocaine with P.J. O'Rourke, but I managed to wangle an invite to what amounts to a Republican Amateur Comedy Night. Since all the professional comedians are now working for Air America Radio, it's left to lobbyists, members of Congress and Fox News journalists to do shtick for the party faithful. As I'm waiting for the opening act, a short, bearded guy walks up to me, sticks out his hand, and says, "Hi, Grover Norquist." I shake his hand while I process this. Holy crap--Grover Norquist! President of Americans for Tax Reform, the progenitor of the phrase "starve the beast," referring to a policy of spending the country into so much debt that all social programs will have to be abandoned forever. I pause, starstruck, like I've just gotten Hitler's autograph. I don't know whether to never wash my hand again or cut it off.
Midnight: Tonight's "hot ticket" is something called "R--The Party." Putatively hosted by First Party Girls Jenna and Barbara (the Younger) Bush, this disco extravaganza almost has to do without me due to some confusion regarding my press credentials. (Specifically, the GOP media-relations department's phone message: "We're not giving you a press ticket.") Approaching the venue, I see police have blocked off the entire street and I realize my plan of bullshitting my way in is not going to work. What does work, however, is giving 10 bucks to a scalper. You gotta love New York.
12:12 am: Inside, there's no sign of the daughters Bush. My chance at a slow dance with Jenna is dashed, as are my hopes for confounding my expectations about neocons. Young Republicans at play are, if anything, more like what you'd expect than I imagined. All the guys look like Chandler from Friends, all the women look like Anna Nicole Smith. To put it another way, the guys are jocks and the girls are cheerleaders, which probably isn't that surprising for a party that caters to the prejudices of self-identified winners. The event breaks up early, and as the rising stars of the GOP grab cabs back to their midtown suites, I catch the subway back to the Brooklyn squat where I'm crashing. The digs may be squalid, but tonight at least they're not crowded--my host is nowhere to be found, so I get a whole floor to myself.
Monday, Aug. 30
7 pm: My missing friend finally resurfaces--he's managed to distinguish himself by being one of only 250 protesters (out of a field of 500,000) to be arrested. After hearing his report, it's hard to escape the suspicion that in a way he had more fun last night than I did. While I was making strained conversation about education policy with pasty, boozed-up wonks at the Roseland, he was playing Red Rover with peace punks in a temporary lockup. I never even saw Jenna wave; my buddy saw full-on lesbian spin-the-bottle in the women's cell across the way. And while I was wincing at the sellout "indie" bands at the Bush party, he was being regaled with showtunes performed by queer kids in drag. Except for the not-letting-you-out part, even jail seems preferable to doing the Republican boogie. Conservatism is about order, security and stability, which can be valuable qualities--no one wants an impulsive brain surgeon--but they don't make for memorable parties.
The conservatives should probably keep their risk-averse, family-oriented act in the prosperous gated communities where it plays so well, and abandon the streets to us Volvo-hardened, NPR-crazed liberals: Not only do we put on a mean bacchanal, but afterward we neatly sort out all the empty bottles, golden calves and spent virgins for easy recycling.
Marty Smith is a lifelong Democrat and editor of the online magazine www.limetea.net