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Government, Politics & Issues

Blogging the Convention: A look back at the Republican convention

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: September 8, 2008 - Come down here. Step down the stainless steel stairs and out of the stands. Show your red delegate pass to the kind yet stern man standing guard at the bottom of the stairs. Step onto the thin red carpet.

Come walk with me on the floor of the Republican National Convention.

Stay close as we fight our way through the crowd. Hundreds are trying to move in this narrow walkway at the back of the floor, shoulder to shoulder. Standing still. Shoving. Wedging. A lady from Texas ahead of us, with a bright yellow dress and a soft accent, just saw an old friend from New York heading the other way, and both stopped to briefly say hello. The result was the same as a head-on collision on the freeway, with no movement in either direction and many unhappy travelers. Squeeze by them, and run into a pack of hungry political stargazers, waiting anxiously for a picture or autograph of Mike Huckabee. No movement, once again. Be patient.

Hold on. There is our aisle. Finally, we have reached the path to our state's triangular sign, the sign marking our delegation's territory. Step around the NBC reporter interviewing the man from Massachusetts, who sounds like a Kennedy but is hoarse from cheering for the Bushes.

Wave to the ABC camera, pointed at you just now. Smile at the staffers wearing the red McCain baseball hats, spaced every three or four rows. They will watch you to determine if you might be a protestor, and after deciding that you are friendly, they will smile back. Find your seat, the one with the black Sharpie number scribbled on white masking tape matching the number on your delegate pass. Before sitting down, smile at the solemn Secret Service agent standing motionless beside the platform. He will watch you to determine if you might pose a threat, and he won't smile back. Don't let that bother you.

Sit down, and then look around. Look at what the other delegates are doing. You already passed the autograph hounds. Now in the seats, see the three gray-haired ladies from Oregon, straining to hear every word, all the while wishing that the group of young boys from Michigan would quit talking so noisily in the aisle. Sit down, and be respectful. See the middle-aged man talking to the middle-aged woman in the New Hampshire section, probably about good car seats or youth soccer teams. See the politician in front of them, slumped over his Blackberry, oblivious to all else. Important e-mails, you know. See the man a few rows up, who looks exactly like Abe Lincoln. Has the top hat, beard, everything.

Now notice what people are wearing. Most men are in suits, with small elephants on their lapel and scores of elephants on their ties. Most women are in dresses, with sparkling elephants dangling from their ears, clasped around their necks and wrapped around their wrists. Everyone is adorned with buttons, purchased from the official store outside in the hallway. Some wear cute plastic parade hats, courtesy of Fox News.

Admire the states that coordinate their outfits. Texas shows everyone up, with their matching denim shirts, ties and authentic cowboy hats. Montana is wearing denim, too, but as vests, with their state name stitched in the back. Michigan sure is proud of their hockey jerseys. Colorado has Western shirts, with shooting red, white and blue stars on the back, near the collar. Florida wore tourist-looking shirts the first night, very colorful, but now they and Pennsylvania wave little towels. Florida's are orange, and it comes as no surprise that Pennsylvania's are yellow. Alaska is basking in their new-found attention, with hardhats that say, "Drill now," and construction vests that bear a picture of oil refineries on the back. Alaska has little state flags to wave, too.

Before you focus on the speaker, take another look at the signs around the convention hall. There are the crisp professional signs with "Country First" on a blue background on one side and "Security" or "Peace" on a red background on the other, the coveted "McCain/Palin" signs, the one-time use "We Love Cindy" signs. Then there are homemade signs distributed before the speech: "We love Mac," "Change you can trust," "McCain USA," "Raising McCain," and many more. There are also thin cardboard signs with Sarah Palin's name. Only Alaska's delegates received these. Around the rim of the arena, the words "Country," "Service," and "Peace" are emblazoned in large white letters, the message "Country First" in bright electronic text. There are flags everywhere, on the platform, on the video screen, hanging from the rafters.

Soak it all in. Listen to the speeches. Stand up and cheer. Shout. Wave a sign. Wave more than one. Chant in unison with the assembled throng at the top of your lungs. Feel the energy surge through the crowd. Share the moment with the person sitting next to you.

Celebrate as the next president and vice president move about the stage. Catch pieces of paper confetti as it flutters to the ground. Dance to the country song as the balloons rain down on you, and step carefully as you wade through the waist-high sea of red, white and blue balloons. Pop one or two, and listen as everyone else does the same, like popcorn in a giant microwave. Take pictures with friends to remember the moment. Laugh.

And when the music has stopped, the politicians have gone, and you have more souvenir confetti than can fit in your pockets, let's go. We have a bus to catch.

This is the Republican National Convention. This is history. You and I, we have walked the convention floor. Now, come on. Let's go home.

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