The buses have finally left, the barricades are being sent to wherever they came from, and Tampa is getting back to normal, whatever that is.
I took my wife and kids to several events at progressive rallies, independent rants and conservative venues, ending at the last show of Hardball with Chris Matthews at midnight on Thursday at Channelside. We felt that this was a rare event close to home and a great way to see all sides and show my two youngest daughters a view of the political process, so we went for a view of the widest scope, finally getting home at 2:30 a.m. on Friday morning.
First, I must thank Ms. Arianna for inviting my family and myself to the Huffington Post Oasis. It was a fantastic experience and a pleasure meeting her, her lovely sister and the Huffington Post staff and writers that were there. There was absolutely delicious, low calorie and nutritious, complimentary food from LYFE kitchens. Everything we tasted was fantastic. LYFE Kitchens offer a wonderful mix of food with a culture of wellness. The Oasis had fantastic yoga, meditation and massage services from Off The Mat (Into the World), great information on sleep from the Harvard School of Medicine and a fascinating look at a new form of stress relief and biofeedback from GPS for the Soul. I highly recommend this experience to my friends and delegates attending the DNC in Charlotte who get an invitation.
I also had a very interesting set of conversations with the Ron Paul delegates from Hawaii and Wyoming who could not believe that their party treated them with such disdain, just because they came here in support of the candidate who was not the presumptive nominee. Noni, one of the delegates from Hawaii mused, "How can you be a party who believes in defending personal liberties, when they don't want you to think on your own?"
We attended a progressive rally that included impassioned pleas to the Republicans to support Planned Parenthood and prevent voter suppression, and enjoyed the rants of a man with a rubber boot on his head named Vermin Supreme. I listened to the broad range of conversations at Channelside and even took in a discourse with a Birther who claimed that the Detroit Riots were caused by a communist insurgency to promote black-on-black violence.
Here are some of the feelings and thoughts that came to me while listening to our guests in Tampa Bay and my own observations:
Responsible Spending: On Sunday, our little town of Wesley Chapel had some new visible guests -- multiple police cars and security units at all major intersections. I inquired around and discovered that Saddlebrook Golf Course and country club was being guarded for two reasons -- the RNC had co-oped the course for the use of elected officials and candidates and the Louisiana and Texas delegates were being housed there. Saddlebrook is definitely a nice place to stay and play (average non-member green free is $150). The Florida delegates were staying at Innesbrook -- another one of Tampa Bay's top-notch and top-dollar country clubs. My question: if the Republicans want to poise themselves as the party of fiscal responsibility and better stewards of tax dollars, why not have the delegates stay at a moderately priced hotel like Doubletree for a fraction of the cost? Examples of excessive spending don't impress me. A similar thought occurred to me at the finale -- a balloon drop large enough to fill a new landfill was unnecessary. They had screens showing beautiful displays of fireworks all over the stage and arena. Those fireworks could have gone off all night with only the cost of electricity already being used and not left a ton of non-degradable garbage.
Tampa as host city: I thought that Mayor Bob Buckhorn and the Convention Committee did a fabulous job on a project with immense logistics. All those involved in security were professional, respectful and amiable to all those they encountered, and took proactive measures to make certain all went well. All those involved in rallies and protests were made aware of the importance of not engaging those who would try to cause problems. On the downside, I spoke with delegates and guests who felt that our downtown was too inaccessible for pedestrians, and the lack of light rail and public transportation made it difficult to see and do more in our metropolitan area. Limos and taxis choked the streets, reminding me a little of New York City. The big difference is that New York City has more public transit for everyone else to ride and walk, making it a more accessible city. We need to work on that, not only for our guests but also for the people in the Tampa Bay/St. Pete area. Whether it impacts our commerce or our local residents' ability to get to health care providers, it effects us all.
The Speeches: At this point I would like to apologize to Chris Matthews, who went through the crowd asking for insightful comments on the last show of the last night of his remote broadcast. When he came to me, I went with a silly joke about Clint Eastwood starting his career singing, "I Talk to the Trees," and ending it with "I talk to the chair." It was low-brow and quite frankly, too easy. I had a "Chandler Bing" moment. What I should have said and what I would like to say now is that I was expecting Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan to give moving and inspirational speeches, as should be done by a candidate for president and vice president. Even though I lean towards progressive ideas I am an Independent, and look for a reason to vote for a candidate. However I cannot be inspired by a speech that contains obvious misinformation. I didn't need a fact-checker (although I am a big fan of Politifact in St. Pete) to know that many of the things mentioned, such as Republicans rallying around Obama after his win, and inaccuracies regarding the Affordable Care Act to know that they were trying to inspire me with lies.
As far as Mr. Eastwood was concerned, the scene opened up to a big picture from the outlaw Josie Wales, went on to looking like Dirty Harry was approaching the stage, and when the lights hit him, we had Rev. Jim Ignatowski from Taxi. He may have been going for comedy, but his insinuated vulgar replies by the president were inappropriate for a convention and disrespectful. The venue for that speech was all wrong. He must have confused it with the Press Corp dinner. (There, I got that out of my system.)
I was also put off by the various narratives painting the speakers as starting from poverty, followed by complaints that the Dems had no right claiming success and affluence as bad. Many of those speaking grew up in affluence, and that is not bad, either. It is my opinion that it is still "living the American dream" even if your parents or grandparents made the first fortunes. Just be good stewards with those fortunes, and maybe be philanthropists. The concept of "noblesse oblige" is important. Living frugally is not the same thing as living in poverty, so those stories don't work for me. My wife Monique noted that the image of eating off an ironing board in Ann Romney's speech seems to have come straight from Barefoot in the Park. I thank goodness that no one claimed that their grandfather was a poor milkman in Russia, who had to pull his own milkcart when his horse went lame. The Romneys lived not too far from Monique's home, although the folks in the "Sherwood Forest" subdivision (which makes the "Romney-hood" quip even more ironic) where the Mitt lived would rarely cross Seven Mile Road to her neighborhood. Cranbrook Academy was one of the priciest private schools in Michigan. If their first desk was a door on two saw-horses, that was a choice, not a necessity. Although no one even tried to mention it, I should add that I am also sure that no one in their family were ever turned away from a doctor's office at the receptionist's window after being told that they don't take Medicaid. However, if a path to public service starts in a mansion, is not a crime. It wasn't for Roosevelt or Kennedy, but they showed that they as president could still help the poor, create a safety net and improve our economy for all. Just don't claim poverty to try and connect to the voters. Honesty would be a better course, and would go farther to getting my vote.
To The Daily Show folks: I get it. Tampa is hot and humid and has a few dozen strip clubs. Here's the deal. It's Florida in August, and nearly every city in Florida is like that. With all due respect, I also believe that New York City has quite a few strip clubs, as well. I am a major fan of the show and have been for as long as it has been on the air, and was crushed when the seats for the show disappeared in hours after the announcement. But damn! It was funny as heck the first few times, but it got old. Aasif -- you have no excuse -- you are from Tampa. I will accept an apology in the form of a few good cracks about the humidity in North Carolina.
Finally: With all of the vitriol and mud-slinging that has been a part of our political system for what seems like such a long time now, I wasn't sure what to expect when a left-leaning Independent like myself went down to the RNC. Within the grassroots movements, I saw clear thinking as well as a bunch of crazies on both sides. There were peanut-throwing bigots in the Forum and the rants of Vermin Supreme. But there was also excellent conversations about concerns with our economy and the accessibility of health care and the importance and future of Medicaid and Medicare.
I also saw a lot of gentility from many of the political and journalistic celebrities that were here from both sides of the political spectrum. I had some very nice conversations and photo-ops with Rep. Jack Kingston, Lawrence O'Donnell, Howard Fineman, David Korn, Meghan McCain and more, but Monique and I were most pleasantly surprised to discover that Michael Steele was one of the nicest guys you would ever want to meet. He was one of the very few individuals who asked Monique about how she was faring in dealing with her fairly recent blindness. We may not agree on a lot of things, but I found him to be a warm and caring individual, which brings me to my "Last Word" (with apologies to L. O'Donnell).
During the convention, a right-wing friend recounted on Facebook the story of Tip O'Neill visiting Ronald Reagan after he was shot in April of 1981. In this narrative, my friend stated O'Neill was Reagan's "arch political enemy" and then went on to say that Speaker O'Neill, "walked directly in, grasped the President's hand, kissed him on the forehead, knelt, and prayed the 23rd Psalm. Through tears, O'Neill said, "'God bless you Mr. President, we're all praying for you.'" I have no doubt that the story is true, but I doubt for a moment that either gentleman thought of the other as enemies. That has been the change in political discourse.
This is America and we all have the right to agree or disagree on any point of opinion, but to confuse someone with a differing viewpoint as an enemy is wrong, and I held that misconception when I worried about my upcoming encounters with Republican grassroots and political figures. It is easier to listen and understand when we do not look at them in that way. We need to make that mind-shift both in and out of the political arena, if we are to grow as a nation during these trying times.
Thank you to all I encountered at the RNC. It was an enlightening experience.