10/04/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Ties, Sport Coats and Chinos - Welcome to the Republican National Convention

Other than an energizing jolt, I didn't really need anything from last week's Democratic convention. I've been firmly planted in the Sen. Barack Obama camp since before he announced that he would run. I watched it gavel to gavel, of course, blown away like millions of others by its substance, style, and the ferociously positive message that charged the air over Mile High Stadium.

Eager to see what the Republicans would offer in response, I tuned in to their Tuesday night kickoff party. PBS or C-SPAN are usually best for events like these. Last week, the Cable Talkers blathered over all but the headliners. (Best whiff: Olbermann & Matthews wondering how Obama would answer the Commander-In-Chief issue while, in the background of their 2-shot, more than a dozen former generals and admirals marched onstage to proclaim unheard that Obama was the man for the job.) But in St. Paul MSNBC laid low whenever anyone was onstage, so I stuck with them. As the cameras panned the crowd, I was struck by how different - visually and audibly different - these conventioneers were from those of the previous week. Row upon row of blue sport coats over neatly-pressed shirts. LOTS of chinos. The Republican uniform. Every so often, the line was broken by a Faithful Follower in a flag-print sweatshirt. You can actually buy these, apparently. One delegation sported red shirts and cowboy hats, the latter thrust skyward occasionally, in unison, with chants of "USA, USA, USA." I kept listening for a fight song. At least two or three times, the camera found an African American face in the crowd. And I swear I saw an Asian couple.

Very... tidy, I thought. Very... orderly. Almost... military. Finally, I found the word for how this crowd as a whole looked to me; very...


Even the young people looked old, in their sport coats and chinos (and TIES - who wears a TIE to something like this?). Last week, words from the stage in Denver brought waves of joyous celebration. WAVES. People of every race and creed and living generation crawled over each other to reach for the sky at the mention of hope or reconciliation or justice or uplift. The sound of their exhilaration built to a deafening wash over and over again. Tears trickled down smiling, glowing faces. But even in the television images on this night in St. Paul, the palpable sense of indoctrination hovered like a cloud. The message, "Life Is War, We Win Wars, John McCain Knows War," swam through every paragraph that crawled the teleprompter. And it rang true in the ears of the old. Old from birth, old like the face of a refugee child. Many of the biggest applause lines ended in war words: "Enemies!" "Fight!" "Fear!" "Win!" At each, the sport-coat army dutifully (and in orderly fashion) rose to its feet and... clapped. I'm sure I didn't hear an actual "Huzzah!," but whatever noises the crowd made sounded just as quaint. This wasn't the sound of inspiration, of joy, of welcoming a bright, inclusive future like I heard from Denver. It was the sound of subdued but simmering anger. The sound of lingering resentment and retribution. A jealous sound, and OLD. The sound of ten thousand canes tapping.

How old? Four years, almost to the day. It seems strange that a people could age so much in such a short time, but the sport-coat army did. In 2004 we were scared and confused, and Bush and Cheney used that as fuel to chase a greasy mix of glory and petroleum. They convinced even some thinking Americans that 2001 was 1941, that the Twin Towers were a sort of vertical USS Arizona. And off we went, looking for Iwo Jima and Hiroshima somewhere in the desert. This is the message of John McCain; that we are and always will be at war, and all we need in any difficult time is a good soldier.

Today many who voted from a defensive crouch in the last election are less willing to see the heinous crime committed on 9/11 as "war." They are more cautious than scared, more thoughtful than confused. And they understand that there is no place to effectively drop "The Big One" this time. But some stayed in the crouch, and the crouch became a hunched, aged stance. Whatever their age, they are old. These are the ones we saw and heard in St. Paul tonight. Tap, tap, tap.