10/11/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Barack vs. the Bully Brigade, Part 1: Playground Politics at its Worst

If you were subjected to the whims of a bully or two in your youth, and especially if you're a parent today who frets for your kid's emotional safety, you probably recognized the behavior on display in prime time last week from Minnesota. Politics is really not that different from the schoolyard. Especially for Republicans.

On the schoolyard, what do bullies do when they can't get their way? They lash out. They call people names, take swings at them, and generally cry and complain and make life miserable for everyone else. They make themselves the center of attention, but not through anything positive or remotely fun. They make themselves the center of attention by being mean. By being ugly. By going negative, and hoping that will bring the other kids around. Coercion and tantrums.

Sounds kind of like the Republican National Convention. Fred Thompson, who could barely stay awake for the task of having any idea where to lead the country back when he was allegedly running for president on the Sominex platform, suddenly morphed into a red-meat eating tiger when given the role of bully. Rudy Giuliani, the biggest bully the fair city of New York has ever seen (and that's saying something), came onstage and did pretty much the only thing he's good at: mocking a more honorable person through unsubstantiated ad hominim vitriol. Charming back in his Brooklyn youth at the playground, I'm sure. Equally so from the stage of the Xcel Energy Center.

Ever the hopeful little shit in knee pants, Rudy whipped out 9/11 again, the way a bully whips out his cool toy - "wanna play with me? I have this great model of the burning towers with action figures of me and W standing next to it!" Still, as the delegates all rose for one more toxic play date with Rudy, all the cooler heads watching from home had to be appalled: Do our kids really need to turn the keys to the family car over to a crowd of sugar (oil)-addled children shrieking "Drill Baby Drill!" and cackling along as Rudy lies and calls Obama names?

Can you say Lord of the Flies?

And then there's the lady of the hour, Sarah Palin. Is it just me, or did she seem like the girl who would hang out smoking cigarettes and take other girls' lunch money during recess - sort of a roughneck remix of Heathers? Judging by the way she baited and taunted and lied about the guy who nobly said that her family should be off-limits to the media, she didn't get that name Barracuda for nothing back in high school.

My daughter has known a bully or two in her young life already - kids who can't figure out how to be part of the gang and have fun, so they whine and yell and hit people. Barracudas. I don't know about you, but I tell my daughter to stay away from people like that at all costs, no matter how charismatic they are or how nice it feels when they decide you're one of the cool kids.

The talking heads on CNN were so cowed by the fact that Palin could effectively deliver the overwritten nastiness of the generic RNC faux populist speech, that they failed to notice it was just another variation on the theme this party of bullies always resorts to when things aren't going their way, when Americans decide they'd maybe rather play with someone else. That theme is all about how the Democrats are elitist, celebrity whore-mongering, pointy-headed socialists who aren't patriotic enough, aren't hard working, and have nothing in common with all the decent people who quietly go about the business of fighting the nation's wars and working in its factories and farms. It's a tired ploy from a bunch of people who love to throw around words like "maverick" and "gunslinger" but who, at the end of the day, are way MORE elitist than the Democrats. The difference is that the Democrats are, again in playground terms, generally nice people who will go over to someone who fell and skinned their knee and at least offer a hand. The Republicans will never stop being what they are, no matter how many mavericks or hockey moms they put at the top of the ticket: bullies.

When you can't win an argument on the merits, change the subject. And when you can't get your way, lash out, kick, cry and punch, then tell the teacher it was the other kid who started it. Not what I teach my kid, but pretty much what the Republicans have been doling out for 20 years. Nice family values! Here's hoping that the Dems this year can walk that fine line, and neither shrink from the fight nor turn into the churlish little thugs they must stand against toe to toe. And here's hoping that most of the American electorate isn't taken in again by these sucker-punching, pathetic little schoolyard cowards.

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