July 13, 2004

In Search of the Republican Oath, Part 2

I still haven't found out who wrote the Oath originally. Out of curiosity I attended the monthly meeting of the San Diego County Republican Party last night. My hope was to understand the Republican mindset better: who attended these meetings? What were the talking points? How close to the spirit of the Oath were they? How much "liberal bashing" went on --- was it going to be like Fox News?

A Prayer and a Pledge
There were roughly 250 people in attendance, in a ballroom of the fancy Manchester Grand Hyatt in downtown San Diego. At the entrance, a woman was handing out flyers. I took a set. Color printing, double-sided, nice clean design.

The meeting began with a prayer, asking God for guidance to watch over the proceedings and get Bush re-elected. Did I hear right? It sounded like the prayer ended with a mumbled "in Jesus' name" slipped in before the "Amen." Then everyone was asked to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, and they all stood facing the gold-frilled flag which hung on its pole along the left end of the wall behind the podium.

Darrel Issa's in Da House!
This was a standard rules-of-order kind of meeting, with a banging gavel, and the party chairman Ron Nehring presiding (Nehring to date hasn't responded to any of my inquiries about the Republican Oath . . . nor has anyone else in the San Diego Republican machine). He asked the committee if there were any objections to the minutes of last month's meeting being introduced into the record. No objections. He then conducted a roll call to determine if there was a quorum. As he went down the list of elected officials, committee persons, and other GOP leaders, one name caught my attention: Darrel Issa. As Issa's name was announced, a "Here" could be heard somewhere else in the room. Issa is of course the guy associated with the Republican machine's successful effort that bought Schwartzenegger the seat of Governor of California last year.

The Clap
Then began an amazing thing: Nehring launched into a long recitation of the names of notable guests, VIPs, and other distinguished attendees, along with a brief title or organizational affiliation for each. But what made it remarkable was that he instructed the crowd (who appeared to need no instruction --- they all seemed to know what to do) to vigorously clap once after each name was read. And so down the list Nehring went, speaking as fast as an auctioneer. As each name and the person's affiliation was read off, Nehring would clap once, and the audience would clap exactly in time -- just once. Name and affiliation, CLAP! Name and affiliation, CLAP! Name and affiliation, CLAP! That went on for five minutes. At the end, there was a general applause for all, but I suspect the applause was also being shared for Nehring's performance as well as for the audience itself. As the applause died down, Nehring wiped sweat off his brow.

I've never seen this clap-one-time technique used before --- I suspect it comes from sales meetings or football team pep rallies or church groups or something. Don't know. But it was very powerful and effective at getting everyone focused, in sync, and charged up. Politics is about people, after all, and people like to hear their names mentioned. Nehring was very effective at mentioning as many names as possible. I got a sense that this is a group where every member feels they belong.

The Sit Room
Nehring then spent a few minutes chatting about his recent travel to Washington, D.C., boasting that he'd gotten a tour of the White House's Oval Office and West Wing. He mentioned that he went downstairs and and was shown an intimidatingly secured and bolted door next to which on the wall was a plaque which said "WHITE HOUSE SITUATION ROOM". He asked the audience, when the country has its next crisis, who do you want in that Situation Room, George Bush, or "that liberal from Massachusetts?" "George Bush," he said, as did the audience in unison and amid rousing applause. I suddenly felt like I was in that banquet scene in the sci-fi film They Live. If only I'd brought my sunglasses. . . .

Nehring described the Kerry-Edwards ticket as an "axis of liberalism". Over the course of the evening, the word "liberal" was used more than "Democrat", and both were always used as a pejorative. (I continue to wonder though: much of the Oath is quite Liberal, is it not? The Quest continues....)

Invoking His Name
Nehring then reported on last Friday's bus trip to the Library of "one of America's greatest presidents" (I'll leave it to the reader to guess who). 105 people made the pilgrimage, it turns out, filling 2 buses. The event was open only to members of the Reagan Club ($250 annual donation), Chairman's Circle ($1,000), or Founder's Circle ($ who knows how much, but no doubt a lot).

Reagan's name would be invoked numerous times during the evening --- always in tones of admiration and respect. Whereas Bush's name was never really mentioned in terms of admiration and respect, it seemed more like just an automatic, party-loyalty thing kicking in, as in "We're going to re-elect George W Bush" (applause) or "four more years" (applause) or "when we win in November" (applause). I didn't get a sense that this is a group especially proud of Bush or his Administration, but only because they never indicated so.

Reagan's name was mentioned about the same number of times as Barbara Boxer. Of course, in different terms. With Boxer, the phrasing was usually along the lines of "send Boxer packing" or "send Boxer back to Brooklyn". Um, this is a group of people who do not like Barbara Boxer.

Pursuing His Dream
Nehring handed out some awards, including to one gentleman named Tony somethingorother, whose brief remarks at the microphone included the fact that he was "born and raised in Sweden under socialism" which he decided was not how he wanted to live his life so he came to America. Another guy, Alex Holstein, the Executive Director of the organization, was invited up to give some brief words regarding his stepping down from the position of Executive Director to pursue his dream of becoming a fulltime novelist.

That seemed awfully odd. Think about it. It's July. 2004. An election year. An election that will be one of the most important, maybe the most important, American presidential election in decades. California is still strongly Democratic, and will most likely give its electoral votes to Kerry in November. The Republicans in California have a huge amount of work to do. And this guy, the executive director of the Party, picks this time to go off and write a novel (called The Monaco Affair if I heard correctly)!?!?!?

Doesn't sound right. Maybe it's true, but I'm going to assume "follow dream of writing my novel" is SD Repub code for "wanted to spend time with his family" a la George Tenet.

There were numerous mentions of the fact that Holstein's replacement was going to be mentioned but I didn't catch it. Unless the guy they introduced as the new "Chief Operating Officer" of the San Diego County GOP, whose previous post was chairman of the Merced County Rep Party, was in fact the replacement. It wasn't clear.

Gimme Money (That's What I want)
The SDRP Treasurer spoke briefly, mentioning that there was good news and bad news: the good news was that the party was $30k in excess of where they thought they were, but the bad news was, they didn't know exactly where they were, because the accountant at the firm doing the books for the Party turns out to not have been doing the books, and so the books are in disarray. The Party has some $100k cash on hand, a far cry, it was mentioned, from the $50k in debt just three years ago.

Keith Carlson, who has some larger role in the California GOP, then spoke some more about finances. It was a recurring theme throughout the evening. Money. Money. Money. He said that June statistics in San Diego County showed a .4% drop in registered Democrats, while there was a 2.65% increase in Republicans. That brought a cheer to the audience. He spoke about GOP county-level financial support and how it's been increasing in the past few election seasons. While he skirted "mentioning numbers", instead indicating how many quarter-million-dollar houses you could buy, he described a dramatic rise in monies for San Diego County, from around $100k for 2000, to $750k for 2002, and already $750k with only 6 months of 2004 elapsed, and more money to come before the end of the year.

A Serious Performance
Next there was a guy (Carl DeMaio, if I heard correctly) from an organization called The Performance Institute, which describes itself as a "private, non-partisan think tank based in San Diego." It may be private, it may be a think tank, and I'll stipulate that it's in San Diego, but I'm not sure about "non-partisan." The speaker clearly was in favor of the Republican agenda, and at one point used the word "fortunately" to describe the fact that there are not just one, but two, GOP candidates for San Diego Mayor in the 2004 election, which he hopes will go to the GOP.

The Performance Institute guy forcefully read off (at times I thought a little too angrily read off) a list of ten recommendations (see the list here at their own site). Most of them got warm, if not loud and immediate, applause. The recommendations reminded me of the Republican Oath. The emphasis was on fiscal responsibility, balanced budgets, and cutting wasteful spending. All fairly reasonable at first glance. I was surprised to hear the ninth recommendation: "Reduce Corporate Welfare and Subsidies to Special Interests." Wouldn't such a recommendation be fightin' words to a Republican organization? I mean, the tax breaks that American corporations get are astounding. From the gathered audience there was no applause after he read that recommendation. The room was so quiet, you could hear a cricket chirp, if indeed there'd been any crickets present (I guess all San Diego crickets are liberals because I didn't hear any).

Securing the Homeland
After all this, the meeting reached the main part of the agenda (this was a long meeting --- nearly 2 hours): a report on local efforts for homeland security. Four people on the panel: Bonnie Dumanis (the San Diego District Attorney), a guy from the SD Police Dept, a guy named Serge from the Dept of Homeland Security, and an FBI agent named Chris Meyer.

They spoke earnestly of the many "task forces" and programs in place since 9/11 to prevent terrorist attacks in San Diego. Dumanis spoke about how the unparalleled-anywhere-in-the-world American spirit was not diminished after 9/11, and she encouraged the audience to "show it again when we re-elect George Bush". The audience applauded.

Chris Meyer of the FBI alluded to the single-clap phenomenon I mentioned earlier when he got up to speak. I guess it was a first for him as well. He quipped something about that was one more clap than he got from the Democratic Central Committee when he'd met with them.

He spent a lot of his talk expressing frustration at the alleged misinformation being printed and publicised about the PATRIOT Act. First, he said, this ignorance was coming from the secondary or lesser-known papers, but now it was happening in "reputable papers like the New York Times, LA Times, and Washington Post." Before he'd finished his sentence, the audience was howling. One person yelled out "Reputable!?" He didn't mention Fox, I noticed.

He challenged the audience to find a single example of a violation of civil liberties in the PATRIOT Act, and if anyone did, "have them call me," he said.

Politics aside, this was a well-run, well-executed meeting. Nehring is a powerhouse: very effective and passionate. A mover and shaker. I was really impressed with how he ran the show. I suspect one day he's going to be graduating from San Diego to a higher position elsewhere.

Tonight, July 13th, it turns out, is the monthly meeting of the San Diego Democratic Party's central committee. I was hoping to go, to compare and contrast how things work with this GOP meeting. But it's not open to the public. "It's a business meeting," I was told when I called the party headquarters in San Diego. I asked if there were any monthly all-hands meetings for Democrats or people curious about the Democratic Party in San Diego. There are none. You've got Meetups and local Clubs and that's about it.

No single-clap all-hands group sessions for the Dems I guess.

Maybe they ought to start one?

Posted by brian at July 13, 2004 03:31 PM


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