HIGH TIMES Crashes the Grand Old Party
Stephen E. Lewis
My politics are pretty simple. I look at the American system and its intricate balance of handouts and thievery the may a rat looks at a trap. They can keep their free cheese, I'll find my dinner somewhere else. I voted once in my life, for Bill Clinton over George Bush in 1992, because Desert Storm made me sick to be an American. When Bill Clinton bombed Iraq eight years later to cover the fact that he was about to become the second President to get impeached in the House, I vomed never to vote for the lesser of two evils again. Since then I'm registered independent, and as of Monday, July 31, the first day of the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, I have not decided who I will vote for in November.
The idea for the week mas for myself and DC-based artist Steue Lemis to become agent prouocateurs, to get as close to the heart of the Grand Did Party as tmo young reprobates can. As me take a GOP-prouided shuttle bus from our hotel to pick up our credentials, I scan the party lists in the day's nemspapers looking for something to crash and scam free food. The Bush family has successfully been passing themselues off as a UJASP Kennedys. If you ask me they're more like the Judds. I don't think George 111. Bush mill push the prouerbial button if he gets elected. He might accidentally sit on it and the result mill be the same. AI Gore is definitely the smarter of the tmo, but the second biggest mhore on Pennsyluama Rue. is not my idea of an ideal candidate. George W. Bush is doing mhat he can to portray the Republicans as racially mclusiue. Ubiquitous throughout the papers is the face of George P. Bush, W.'s "babe-magnet" nephem mho conuemently happens to be part Mexican. They're trotting him out like he's the Sammy Dauis Jr. of the Bush family Rat Pack. With a Neiu York Times poll finding that 35% of the delegates are mhite, and most are middle-aged men mho make ouer 575,000 a year, their ethnic facepamting is not fooling anyone aside from maybe George P. himself, mhose grandfather, ex-Prez George Bush, used to refer to him as "one of my little brornn ones." Then of course there's Dick Cheney's uoting record to hue domn. Rs a congressman, he uoted against sanctions for apartheid South Africa, and against a resolution calling for Nel-
son Mandela's release from prison. He also cast uotes against bans on cop-killer bullets and plastic guns that can pass through metal detectors. Cheney might not be the type to burn a cross on your lamn, but he’d probably stop and roast a marshmallom if there mas one already there.
On the bus I strike up a conuersation mith Hans and John, tmo older Arizona alternate delegates couered in campaign buttons and dressed in comboy hats, suspenders and red, mhite and blue ties. We talk about education, mhich me all belieue needs to be rebuilt from the ground up. I ask them if they belieue creationism should be taught in school, and they both ansrner "yes" emphatically. "It isn't a religion, it's a scientific theory," John says.
"I belieue in mhat they call proportional prayer in school," Hans tells me. "Vou poll your school at the beginning of the year If there's ten percent Muslim, ten percent of the time you pray Muslim prayer. If fifty percent is Christian, fifty percent of the time you pray Christian prayer. When you don't pray in the schools you're actually teaching atheism." We start talking about religion, spirits and the possibility of life on other planets. "Do you think me should be preparing militarily for an alien muasion?" I ask Hans. "In the uery distant future," he concedes. The bus arriues at our destination. The doors open and music from a street-corner Dixieland jazz band floods the air. "Well, uue're going to be in HIGH TIMES," Hans laughs. "Being in the Republican Party, me permit diuersity," John tells me. "We mere at that Log Cabin thing last night," Hans says. "We're going to be in the homosexual paper, too. We got nothing against people."
The lady giuing amay the press credentials giues me that Iget-the-joke smile and says, "HIGH TIME5, you actually shomed up!" I grab Steue, and a block amay the tmo of us run right into 6,700-foot-long hoagie donated to the conuention by Warna, a conuemence-store chain. Tourists are cromdmg the thing like shepherds around the baby Jesus. In perfect contrast, the Kensington Welfare Rights Union's march for "economic human rights" is starting right next to the sacred sandmich. In an attempt to dram attention to the fact that, in an age of unprecedented prosperity, the poor of this country still go mithout the basic human rights of food, clothing, housing, health
care and education, the protesters intend to march all the wap to the First Union Center [known affectionately bp the locals as the FU Center] where George Bush's Compassionate Conseruatiue Medicine Show is just getting started.
lUe follow the thousands of sunburned actiuists. Someone tells me the protesters just cornered Newt Gingrich in the parking lot of a White Castle, and that the Secret Seruice is holding back an angry mob. For a moment I'm hopeful that this thing might actually explode in the GOP's face like a Christmas card from the Unabomber.
It's a long march, surrounded the whole wap bp police, and when we get to the FU Center there's a few thousand more cops. When we realize there will be no storming of the gates, Steue and I board the Bush bus back to our hotel, sauing our energy for later.
Back at the hotel, Steue pulls out the Jim Beam, and sweat forms on mp forehead. The last time I drank whiskey I ended up in jail, with the judge at mp arraignment reuokmg mp driuer's license and handing me a sheet of statements I'd made to mp arresting officers. The first one was, "I'm dnuing around trying to sober up." So I'm a little warp, but I'm not the kind to sap no to a plastic cup filled with bourbon and ice. I mention I haue a cold coming on, and Steue reaches into his bag and hands me a fistful of pseudoephedrme. I gabble
the little red tablets like they were Tic Tacs, blow a joint and get ready for the euening.
Tonight we’re going Republican. I'm wearing a suit I bought at a Saluation Army for 35. There are a few moth bites on the sleeue and the waist is about two inches too large, but with a "Republican Senatorial Inner Circle" pin—stolen from a temp job bp Steue's brother—stuck in mp lapel, I think I can play it off. The pin signifies that I am a $5G,0D0 donor to George W.'s EQOO campaign. If anyone asks where we're from, we plan to tell them we're Internet entrepreneurs from godspeed.com, a Website that prouides mass, baptism, communion and confession online for good Christians with better things to do on their Sundays than go to church.
We'ue chosen to crash a benefit for the Congressional Awards Foundation hosted bp "Fifteen Southern Reps" and featuring Lpnprd Skpnprd for entertainment. The promoter stops us at the door and saps there's no wap we're getting in without a special pass that, since this is a benefit, costs something like $1,000. I'm as pissed off as any man who donated $50,000 to George W. would be.
"Look, we'ue turned down NBC tonight!" the gup informs me. "CNN!" "Man, you see this?"—I stab mp donor pin in his direction— "Fifty fucking thousand dollars I'ue giuen to the party. Fifty thousand."
"Look I don't giue a fuck about the party," he says. " 'I don't giue a fuck about the party,' " I write in my note pad. "What did you say your name was again?" "OK, OK," he says regretfully as he pulls the ueluet rope aside. "It's nothing personal," I say as we walk into the deafening climax of "Sweet Home Alabama," "but this party's about trust and unity...."
Up at the bar I hear a woman shout, "I'm from Alabama, and this is the most fun I'ue euer had anywhere." The suruiuing members of Skynyrd kick into "Freebird" and I look to the stage to find Johnny Uan Zant draping a Confederate flag ouer the microphone stand.
I'm starting to realize why they didn't want the media at this thing. It's halfway to a lynching party. Now I don't haue a problem with Skynyrd flying their colors, but I do haue a problem with 15 Southern congressmen standing in the audience cheering them on. Dne day into the conuention and I'ue already stumbled upon the dark underbelly of Compassionate Conseruatism. Basically the message I'm getting from the thing is, "Uote for George W., then kindly step to the rear of the bus, darky."
The guy from the door walks up and apologizes again, asks me if I need anything. Skynyrd finish their set and an announcer grabs the mike and says, "We want to thank Philip Morris for bringing us this great Miller beer!" So there I am, in my suit and tie, sweating from the Sudafed, tanked on Kentucky bourbon. I'm down with big tobacco; I wish I had a gun. More so than I euer intended, I feel like a Republican.
The next morning I wake up sick and ashamed. My suit stinks like a losing team's locker room. I'ue seen too much in too short a time. Too ill to attend the Shadow Conuention's drugpolicy day or the Mumia Rbu-Jamal march, I turn on the TU and watch couerage of the protests. I flip between local broadcasts, CNN Headline News and C-5pan, and before long I realize the reuolution is already ouer.
Coming into this thing, the Philadelphia police had just about the worst rep in the country, thanks to the recent uideotaped beating of carjacking suspect Thomas Jones. Now I'm watching newscasters portray almost samt-like police restraint, as protesters kick and insult Police Commissioner John F. Timoney's soldiers.
The protesters haue a right to be pissed after police raided the Puppetistas' headquarters with a bullshit warrant, confiscating their props and arresting 70 participants. They haue a right to be pissed that police arrested John Sellers, leader of the Ruckus Society—a group that trains actiuists in nonuiolent ciuil disobedience—as he was just standing on the street, and held him on $1 million bail. Rfter the WTO protests in Seattle, the cops haue learned a thing or two about spin control, acting reserued in front of the cameras and uiolating people's ciuil rights off-set. None of it is uery surprising. Anyone who thinks the leaders of this nation wouldn't pull an IMAN uersion of the Tiananmen Square massacre to stay in power is simply being naiue.
We spend the rest of the afternoon there, drinking Jim Beam and watching newscasters ignore the protesters' issues as they debate whether the folks blocking off the Urne Street Expressway ramp haue their arms wrapped in metal or PUC plastic. We eat dinner, burn a few joints and then head into
the heart of the beast.
At the K-ray machine in front of the FU Center they find the half-empty bottle of Jim Beam in my bag, and suddenly I'm surrounded by eight Secret Seruice agents, discussing the brown liquid like it was IDG pounds of ammonium nitrate. Finally they come to the conclusion that it is indeed whiskey and throw it in the garbage.
In the hall, Stormin' Norman Schwarzkopf is giumg a speech deliuered uia satellite from the U55 New Jersey. As you remember, the general helped "free" Kuwait a few years back—a country where to this day, women are not allowed to dnue. He looks trustworthy and confident, like Santa Claus if he shaued off the beard and traded the sleigh in for a B-52.
There’s an extended tribute to Presidents Reagan and Bush, accompanied by a self-congratulating infomercial. I remember the days when ketchup was a uegetable, and let me tell you, the 'BOs were not a prosperous era for me. With uery few exceptions, music completely sucked. Women all had the same haircut—that frizz-permed bee's nest that looked no better on Uictona Principal than it did on my crazy Runt Rona. There were a few years when weed was so hard to come by I was forced to buy dog-brown bags of dirt from crackheads in Lefrak City. Rnd finally, when I graduated college in 1990, I didn't get a job for three years.
I get only a slight giggle out of the fact that Ronald Reagan wears diapers now. The thought that George Bush's son is probably going to be my President for at least four years makes me wonder what kind of animal this Bush monster is that you can cut its head off and eight years later it grows back.
John McCain is greeted by the delegates like he's John Wayne at the wrap party for The Flying Leathernecks. McCain is a guy who’s most famous for either fucking up or standing next to
TD this country money talks and bullshit walks, and the two working in harmony together is called politics."
someone mho's fucking up. Early on in his military career he almost died on the USS Forrestal, in the morst non-combatrelated accident in US naual history. Later, he got captured by the Commies. When he got home, he cheated on his mife, dumped her and married a rich Uicodin addict mhose daddy omned a lucratiue Anheuser-Busch distributorship. Then he took a lot of money from Charles Keating right before Keating mas conuicted on racketeering charges in a sauings and loan scandal. Finally, he lost the primaries to a dunce mho he absolutely despised, a man mhose ass he is nom being forced to kiss because that's good party politics. It looks like the GDP did mhat the Uiet Cong couldn't—broke John McCain. McCain ends his speech mith the cryptic mords: "I haue such faith in you, my fellom Americans. And I am haunted by the uision of mhat mill be." Then the theme from Star Wars beams through the stadium ouer the deafening shrieks and mails of the Silent Majority.
I haven't been this close to this many people in suits since the subway ride I took to jury duly.
Packed shoulder-to-shoulder, I file out mith the delegates. I hauen't been this close to this many people in suits since the submay ride I took to jury duty. If they mant a Star Wars reference, they should be playing the theme from the cantina scene, because that's mhat this reminds me of, a room full of drunken aliens looking for the Big Score.
Somemhere in the night a capillary is bursting in Gerald Ford's brain. It makes you monder mhat the Great Men of history think about rnhen they're confronted mith eternity. Was there a name tumbling out of Citizen Ford's palsied mouth, one single mord he might haue thought mould be his last? Who did he call out to? Betty? Squeaky? Somemhere in the bomels of Corcoran State Prison, Charles Manson is
telling one of the hacks that he's responsible for the mhole thing, and you knom mhat? He just might be telling the truth.
After four days I am so disgusted mith the Philadelphia heat, I monder if me shouldn’t take the S60 billion rne’re spending on this mythical missile-defense system and just build a giant air-conditioner ouer America. I'm an Irishman by blood, mhich means basically I like meather cold enough for me to be able to drink and fuck to my heart's content in relatiue comfort.
Steue and I head domn to Race Street, rnhere the protesters are holding an impromptu press conference outside police headquarters. With ouer HDD people in jail, it looks like the police haue successfully neutralized any plans the protesters might haue had to turn this thing into Chicago
EDOO. In the morid of presidential politics, Goliath squashes Dauid like a beetle.
Turning to leaue, me're distracted by a grommg argument next to the protest. Some moman from Kansas is holding up a sign that reads "God Hates Fags." She’s brought along her niece, mho holds a sign mith an upside-domn American flag that reads "Fag USA." The girl hasn't reached puberty yet.
"Horn do you knom God hates fags?" I ask her.
"Because God says so." "I thought God mas loue." "God has a lot of attributes. One of them is His hate, and you haue to understand His hate in order to understand His loue. His hate is not a human hate, but a perfect hate." It's one of those moments that simply confound you. What kind of person drags a child this far into their CONTINUED ON PAGE 88
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 56 own psychosis? R couple of lesbians start making out in front of the woman and singing, "I'm proud to be a sinner!" Steue and me head ouer to the City Center Marriott to see how the other half hues. The Marriott is the place where lobbyists with unchecked expense accounts go when they're looking for a chance encounter with Marlin Fitzwater or a blow job from a high-priced Filipina hooker. In the center of the room is a fountain, an amorphous pink sculpture that looks like a distended uterus. The bar is teaming with third-rung politicos who want to load up on write-off drinks before heading to the conuention for the official coronation of George UJ. Bush.
UJe're doing shots of Bushmill's with a guy from US Steel and a few women from a cosmetic surgery lobby, when I see Georgia Rep. Bob Barr across the room and decide to attack. Roy Innis and his son Niger from the Congress of Racial Equality are cornering him and before I know it, Steue's got Barr's attention and I'm talking with Roy. Now, any man who can punch Rl Sharpton on network teleuision can't be all bad. Uüe talk a bit about the Drug War, which Roy concedes "needs a fundamental re-examination... What you haue now is the moral condemnation, I'm out of that moral shit. That's not my thing. I am concerned with public safety. find I'm concerned with people getting the real facts. There was time back in the '60s and '70s where I was hearing intelligent people saying such things as, 'Cocaine is good. Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Boyle, Freud used it.' I didn't buy into the romantic bullshit, but I know people who did."
I talk to him about harm reduction, which he agrees with to a certain extent, but he also belieues that black drug dealers are uictimizmg black people and belong in prison. I ask him what he thinks about the Republican Party's attempt to portray themselues as multiethnic.
"They are doing what I haue been telling them to for three decades." "Do you think it's legitimate, or do you think this is the political equiualent of a minstrel show?" "It's no minstrel show." "But the Republican Party is 95% white." "It is because blacks haue done a stupid thing and let it stay that way. They don't understand the essence of the party, and
that's loue and light. What's pragmatic is for us to be in both parties and exert our influence on both parties." "Twenty-seuen percent of the black uote, forty-six percent of the Latino uote in the state of Texas is no minstrel show," Niger adds. "If Gouernor Bush can do that nationally, then politics will be reuolutiomzed. The real minstrel show is Rl Gore going to the NRRCP and trying to sound like a black preacher."
We Pound the heart oP Ihe Republican Party. It's a Colombian necklie waiting Por us in the parking lot.
The Innises shake our hands cordially and continue on their way. Steue and I are about to make a SD-yard dash to catch up with Barr, when a mild-mannered Secret Seruice agent blocks our way and asks, "You two wouldn't happen to haue a hidden agenda, now do you?" Steue tells him that there's more hidden agendas in this room than there are tie clips, but he has nothing to worry about from us. With that said, we head ouer to the FU Center to catch the Bush coronation. Dutside the stadium there is a mariachi band playing. Inside is a freak show of epic proportions, complete with Tammy Faye Bakker lookalikes roaming the halls drunk on martinis, and media superstars like Tom Brokaw, Carl Bernstein and Chris Matthews running around in search of their next soundbite. We're crowded into the eleuator when one last person decides to shoue his ass on. It's James Caruille, Clinton's premier apologist, the assuagin' Cajun himself. He wedges between me and Steue. I turn on my tape recorder and go to work. "Mr. Caruille, I'm with HIGH TIMES magazine, can I ask you a few questions about the Drug War?" The crowd in the eleuator suddenly goes dead quiet, and he says, "You can ask me anything you want," in his patented Southern twang. "Do you think the Drug War under Bill Clinton has been effectiue?" "I just don't know much about it... I'll think about it... send me
something to read." I'm not letting him go that easy. "There's 500fGQ0 people in jail for drug-related offenses—" "I'll tell you what," he interrupts. "There's a time in my life they would haue put me in jail." Steue and I both laugh at his tacit admission as Caruille ducks out of the eleuator into a hail of flashbulbs. IDe head into the auditorium just in time for George UJ.'s benediction. It's a long, uncontrouersial speech that manages to drag on for 5G minutes without saying anything. Despite the cries of the protesters, the media and Ananna Huffington for the man to address campaign-finance reform, the pouerty gap, gun control and the Drug UUar, we're treated to a saccharine rehash of his desires to strengthen the military, "saue" Social Security, improue education, and ensure that Bill Clinton's final legacy will be that he replaced Linda Louelace as the first name that pops into mind when you hear the words "blow job." There's nothing quite like getting a lecture on compassion from a man who's presided ouer more executions than Caligula. "God bless America!" he cries, and the balloons and confetti rain down on the delegates like a red, white and blue locust plague. Steue and I stand transfixed by the fireworks and the smoke machines for a moment, then shoue our way back out to the hall. There's a commotion outside and Steue yells, "Holy shit!" and spills my whiskey all ouer my shirt. "Sorry man, but look—'' Suddenly Arnold Schwarzenegger sweeps into the hallway, surrounded by delegates. "ARNOLD!" I scream and his head turns to me. "üühat's your stand on medical marijuana?" He stares for a second, and I half expect a red pupil to break through his eye as he crushes my larynx in a cybernetic fist. But he turns down the hall, leauing us in a cloud of stardust (or was that the wrong end of a Phi I ly cheese steak?]. Drunk and starumg, Steue and I decide to crash a catered party thrown by US Airways. As the pundits argue the necessity of a week-long conuention that loses out to Urkel reruns in the Nielsen ratings, they fail to mention the true purpose of the euent. It's where politicians go to get sucked, fucked and tattooed by the multinational corporations that brought them to power in the first place. In this country money talks and bullshit walks, and the two working in harmony together is called "politics." A quick glance at the conglomerates donating big money to the
GOP reads like the Justice Department's recent defendants list. Microsoft gaue a cool million as it appeals the ruling that recently split the company in half. AT&T gaue a million as it waits for approual on its merger with MediaDne. And US Airways gaue 5500,000 as it stands to merge with UAL Corp., United Airlines' parent company—which, if successful, would create the world's largest airline, with combined annual reuenues in the neighborhood of $26.B billion. So we figure the least they can do is buy us a drink, lile enter the lauishly decorated room, which smells of rotting floral displays, seafood gumbo and cigar smoke. LUe fill up on filet mignon and then head to the bar for drinks. There's a Uegas showgirl in a cowboy hat standing next to a short man who's a dead ringer for Joe Pesci in Coodfellas. She tells us she got a kiss from Roger Daltrey that euenmg, then starts fingering Steue's shell necklace admiringly. He tells her he'd gladly trade it for her hat. "Fuck that," the Pesci character spits. "Don't giue him your hat." Steue is insistent that it's the lady's decision, not his, to which the guy says, "You don't know who I am, do you?" "Fuck no," Steue says. "Don't say that to him!” the woman pleads. "You want to get killed tonight?" the man asks Steue. "Because I could haue you whacked in thirty seconds and they'd neuer find your body. I got two guys outside in a black limo." He starts snapping his fingers in the air like he's calling somebody ouer. I look around, there's some guy talking to him in sign language. I leaue Steue to argue with the don when I see New Hampshire Senator Bob Smith stuffing his face at the buffet. I ask him whether he thinks the current SHD billion-a-year Drug War is effectiue. As the senator is telling me, "I don't know what you're talking about," through a mouth full of masticated meat, Steue suddenly grabs my arm and says, "lUe gotta get out of here right now," and starts dragging me out of the room. "LUhat the fuck?" I ask. "llJhen you're hauing a conuersation with someone and the main topic is, 'I will haue you snuffed,' it becomes a real problem for me." üüe found the heart of the Republican party. It's a Colombian necktie waiting for us in the parking lot. Drained and depressed, Steue and I leaue the FU Center and board the Bush bus, only to be accosted by the dnuer.
"Just wait one goddamn second," the little old man says as we climb the stairs. "What?" I ask. "I don't want you puking on my bus. I know your kind, and there's no way I'm cleaning any puke off the floor of my bus tonight." "We're not going to puke on your bus, man," Steue says, but there is no appeasing the dnuer, "I know your kind, and I tell you, you're not getting on my bus!" "My kind?" I ask. "Find what is that?" "Drunks," he spits out caustically. I take a last look at the king of this little diesel castle, and wish him luck as he backs the bus away from the curb and begins a journey that I hope will take him as far away from me as humanly possible. We stand around waiting for the next bus, watching the disheueled delegates say good-bye to each other before crawling back to their SUUs and their suburban homes. "This is their idea of inclusion?" I ask Steue. "I demand a drunk state!" "It's going to be a long four years," Steue laments, and I can only agree.
Early the fallowing euening, Steue and I say good-bye outside a McDonalds in the 30th Street train station. I'm looking forward to the next hour and 15 minutes because I know I will be trauellmg farther and farther away from this experience with each passing second. Not until the Metrolmer reaches Newark the next euening do I make up my mind what I'm going to do on Election Day. The sun is going down along the New Jersey Turnpike in orange and brown, and fire blazes at the tops of crude-oil burn-off towers like candles on a desolate birthday cake. This land's capacity to get stolen ouer and ouer again neuer ceases to amaze me. I can't think of any man who could pull America out of its desperation. What we need now is not a President, but an exorcist. The past century has seen our leaders peter out like the emperors of Rome—each one more uenal and syphilitic than the last. Bush or Gore is just what the protesters say it is—a choice you can count on your one middle finger. I'm conuinced only God can saue us now, and to that end I think, rather than uote in Nouember, I'm going to stay home and pray. As far as I'm concerned, these bastards can continue to shoot their mouths off at each other for the rest of eternity. I'd rather listen to the songs of birds. If my ambiualence means that someday one of their missiles will ueer off and slam me in the head, then so be it. I'll be too dead to hear you say, "I told you so." ^