I went to the Palin rally. It was both a colossal waste of 4 hours and a great exercise in self-control. I am not sure how many people were there, but I am sure the GOP was happy with it. Frankly, I was bored. The difference though between what Mom saw watching it on television at home and what I experienced being there is worth noting. Mom talked about the adoring crowd, yet I was sitting betwixt and between a bunch of the faithful and I can honestly say, she was not electrifying. They weren’t all clapping and hanging on her every phrase as I expected. And surprisingly her skills with a crowd are not so great. Having seen her on television exclusively until now, I was unaware that she doesn’t really understand how the microphone and PA work. Sitting in the audience, I couldn’t hear what she was saying on more than half a dozen occasions because she started talking while the crowd was still clapping. Probably she knows that they are not really there to listen to her words. It is just about her celebrity. If they have heard her at any campaign stop on TV, they have heard it all before. It is all about the buzzwords: liberal, socialism, values, higher taxes, etc.
Before going in, I waited outside for an hour and a half in the churning sea of republican-ness. I was extremely aware that I was not one of them, but for the most part they were not taking aim at the left except for the Obama supporters across the street. At one point, yelling broke out between the two camps and I heard the end of an exchange. An Obama supporter yelled,”I have to work 3 jobs to get by.” And out of the McCain crowd a guy stepped to yell and point at her,”See, she’s taking our jobs.” I wish there was something jokey about it, but he seemed downright serious.
Back in the sea of conservatives, there was one Biltmore Forest type (I knew I’d see them there) who was bragging to a friend about a prayer circle he had participated in with Huckabee just outside the entrance to the Biltmore Estate. He was definitely feeling very superior to those Obama people, joking that he’d like to go get his car, drive up to the Obama group and honk as the other supporters had done, and then (here is his evil plan) he holds up a McCain/Palin sign. Oh, that will really get them, he giggles. He tells his friends that Palin “has the most amazing countenance — she never gets tired.” I am biting my tongue; I’d so like to ask, “Why should she look tired with a $11,000 dollar a week stylist?” Another nice woman outside, when I say I am local, says to me, “There are more of us here in Asheville than you’d think, but we just keep a low profile.” Does she think that Republicans are looked down on here in Asheville? Up by the doors someone breaks into a patriot song and the crowd joins in, “From sea to shining sea.”
The seats are mostly filled when I get inside and so I am relegated to the nosebleeds section. I sit between a large woman with her equally large daughter who stare at me (maybe they can smell the liberal on me) and a nice woman and her husband who I chat with the rest of the evening. She is a local, went to Enka High, saw George Wallace speak on the city/county plaza in 1968 and has traveled to some interesting places. As we sit waiting she remarks that it is a “good white Anglo-Saxon protestant crowd” here tonight. I am not really sure how to reply to this statement, but immediately notice one black guy sitting not too far away and imagine he must really feel like an alien here. The party volunteers have given the crowd long blow-up tubes, used for noise making and good TV visuals (makes the crowd look more active.) They gave these out at TV shows in China and it crosses my mind that these too must be Chinese. What happened to Country First/Made in America? In front of the crowd, volunteer cheerleaders lead the masses in chanting “Sarah, Sarah.” And the crowd does the wave. Thankfully my seatmate is not into the cheering or waving. A man in the audience nearby who bears an uncanny resemblance to G. Gordon Liddy yells, “No surrender!” to no one in particular.
The programs begins. First up we have a prayer for the election of the the “right” candidate. Then we are expected to say the pledge of allegiance. I don’t think I’ve done the hand over the heart thing in years, but Big Mama is giving me the eye and so I mumble along, skipping the Under God part. There is a huge whooping cheer afterwards which strikes me as odd. Isn’t that what you do at a baseball game? And then “oh, say can you see?” I cannot sing along with this crowd. This song is beautiful, but it is about more than love of the flag and I’m feeling in this crowd that “we’re bigger patriots in our narrow sense of the word than those liberals outside.” It is an almost religious patriotism. And it really creeps me out.
The first speaker of the evening is a woman who owns a local business. She explains that unless we elect McCain, the nonprofits will lose. I don’t get the connection, but she goes on to say that “spread the wealth means spread my income.” I am guessing that somehow her logic is that Obama is going to tax small business more so they won’t be able to give money to their favorite charities. Does she really think this is true? The audience believes it.
Next up is a local man who my seatmate recognizes as someone she went to high school with. I think it was Nathan Ramsey. He begins by explaining that Country First is all about real Americans. He goes through American history from the Founding Fathers to the present and shockingly, I was unaware that women’s suffrage and MLK’s “I have a Dream” speech were really all about country first. So by his logic, the anti-suffragists and segregationists were all anti-Americans. I think that might come as a surprise to many of their base. He went on to warn, “We are at a crossroads of freedom and servitude.” Wha? “It is not the words of the tree, it is the fruit it bears. Who does he hang around and what kind of fruit does it bear.” At this point G. Gordon yells again, “No surrender.” I look at my new friend next to me. She shrugs. The speaker finishes up with, “It’s about values.” This gets a huge cheer. Values? What kind of values? Seems the word itself is worthy enough for this crowd. Then he slips the word “liberal” into his closing remarks, which gets an equally loud boo.
Next up is country music star Gretchen Wilson. She sings a couple of songs I don’t know, though one of them sounds a lot like Lynyrd Skynyrd, and mostly it is more 80’s Metal than 00’s Country in my opinion. She ends the set not a moment too soon with Barracuda (which they continue to use despite the fact that Heart said they did not want it associated with Palin) and then we all know what is coming.
Palin emerges onto the catwalk with Todd in tow and is introduced by Senator Richard Burr who wants us all to know that “She’s just like us. She’s one of us.” Tonight, like all of us, she is wearing jeans. Earlier in the day at a rally in Florida, my seatmate tells me she was wearing a beautiful pink jacket. I mention that she has a lot of clothes in the belly of that plane of hers and she will probably change before this rally. “If it were a man, nobody would be talking about it,” she replies. I bite my tongue again. Palin says hello then quickly reintroduces her favorite singer and her favorite song, her theme song it turns out, Gretchen Wilson singing Redneck Woman. The woman sitting beside me agrees that it is an insulting song to sing here and a poor choice. We are definitely not redneck women. Perhaps hillbilly or mountain women, but decidedly not redneck. After the rollicking has ended she gets Gretchen up on stage to lead us all in a rousing “Happy Birthday” to her mom at home in Alaska. Aww!
Finally she is ready to speak. I am ready for her insightful, deep, well-thought take on the problems facing America today. Instead I get Plain Palin. She is less than electrifying – no charisma to speak of. There is nothing new in her speech. Nothing to this woman. I listen for a while, then take my camera and go in closer for a few more shots of Herself and head for the door. I am not the only one leaving early.
Outside, Obama supporters have morphed into Zombies. Tonight is the annual Zombie Walk. The route they take through town just happens to pass right in front of the auditorium and the timing is just right for the exiting Sarah fans to be greeted by Zombies for Obama. It is kind of the perfect end to the event.