Darth Vader vs. Bin Laden: Losing my mind at the Republican National Convention

YO! Youth Outlook, Commentary, Published: September 5, 2004

Early in my trip to New York for the Republican National Convention, I was sitting in the lobby of the Hotel Mercer having a political discussion with George Lucas. I told him how impressed I was with the level of passion and dedication of the young Democrats I met in Boston. And as I paused for a sip of ginger ale, he said to me, “The world is run by crooked old men and idealistic young people.”

So I jumped right to the Star Wars analogy: Yeah, Darth Vader is the crooked old man and Luke is the idealistic young guy. The difference, though, is that they never joined forces. In fact, the opposing sides in Star Wars were the young idealists and the crooked, old establishment.

A few days later, when I met some of the young Republicans, I saw what happens when the crooked and the idealistic band together. You get a presidential election decided months before anyone casts a vote and the Death Star is done ahead of schedule.

The reason this crooked/idealist superteam doesn’t work for the young Democrats is because they don’t believe in their leader. They love the party and its ideals, but even they look at Kerry as an alternative rather than a savior and they whine about not being able to run Bill Clinton again. The young Republicans believe in their leader. They love George Bush and they share his vision for America and the world. That’s why he’s gonna win.

There are more forces at work in this saga, though. The day before the convention started, 400,000 leader-less protesters paraded past Madison Square Garden with clever signs to send the message that there are plenty of Americans not in line with the president’s vision. A few Republicans watched nervously from their windows at the Hotel Pennsylvania, expecting the protesters to scale the building King Kong style and snatch Jenna Bush away from the mini bar. Instead, the march trickled off and America breathed a sigh, relieved that the noise of dissent would never be too loud to ignore.

One brave young Republican named Ryan watched the march roll right past him, wearing an un-ironic “Bush is my Homeboy” t-shirt and fielding taunts from the marchers. He told me, “Our culture is at a crossroads. Bush is my man because of his faith and because he’s a man with moral clarity.” Ryan is 19, so this is the first presidential election he’ll be eligible to vote in and he’s confident he’s casting a vote for the victor. “Bush is gonna win. I don’t wanna go out and start talking smack yet, but America has seen the hatred of the Democratic party.”

The next night, the convention started and in case you forgot that firemen are cool and terrorists kill people, the Republicans were ready to remind you. The storm trooper delegates waved their cowboy hats in the air every time somebody said “war” or “freedom” and all across Manhattan, dissenters were herded into orange nets by the NYPD and taken to a temporary jail at pier 57 for crimes like “hanging out at the library.”

And that’s pretty much what happened every day: the Republicans greased the wheels of their runaway victory train and the protesters either shut up or went to jail. I’m not sure what I was trying to figure out by going to New York, but the experience has pretty much ruined me. By the last night, I was a sleep deprived, emaciated, unbathed madman lurking in the press box as the Rebel Cleric George W Bush brought Osama Bin Laden out on a leash, put panties around his neck and cancelled the election.

I’m not trying to dissuade anyone from voting. There are a lot of rappers working overtime to get young people to flex their political muscle and I don’t want to stifle their progress. But damn–blowing up the death star is a lot harder than it looks.