Shrill Republicans devoid of issues

ST. PAUL

There’s one chant the delegates at the Republican National Committee didn’t need prompting to start.

While the red-hatted whips had to encourage delegates to wave signs that said things such as “Peace” and “Country First,” any speaker who mentioned energy was immediately greeted with, “Drill, Baby Drill.”

But while that was a popular button and triggered the most exuberant crowd response inside the Xcel Energy Center, it seems indicative of how limited issues are going to be in the two-month sprint to Election Day.

After a week in Denver where Democrats actually talked about renewable energy, economic stimuli and higher education incentives, it was a little disenchanting to come back down to cynical politics in the Twin Cities.

Speaker after speaker mocked Barack Obama as an inexperienced “community organizer” who will simply raise taxes and prevent us from winning the war in Iraq.

As for ideas, we didn’t hear a peep about wind or solar or biomass or fuel efficiency. Just drill, baby. Drill.

The Alaska delegation wore hardhats Thursday night with the words: “Drill here, drill now.” On the back of their day-glo vests was a picture of an oil refinery with elk reclining nearby.

The sum total of the GOP’s solution — at least as presented at the convention — is to increase domestic oil exploration. Experts widely believe drilling is part of a short-term or bridge solution to high oil prices, but hardly a long-term fix.

But you didn’t hear about any long-term solutions at all from the RNC.

Nothing about Afghanistan.

On Thursday, some talk about Islamic jihadists and, from NASCAR team owner and former NFL coach Joe Gibbs, lots of talk about God being the coach of the team.

A few speakers Thursday actually said they couldn’t talk about issues because of the bad treatment Sarah Palin has received.

Rosario Marin, the former treasurer of the United States and an unsuccessful Senate candidate in California, said “I wanted to talk about government reform and taxes, but felt compelled to discuss the treatment of Sarah Palin.”

We did hear numerous times about John McCain’s character-building experience as a POW and how that experience made him a better choice than Obama.

Sen. John Ensign essentially said only McCain could be commander in chief because of his service in Vietnam. (Funny how I never heard that about Purple Heart winner John Kerry.)

“It is impossible to imagine the horrific experiences he survived as a prisoner of war in Vietnam,” Ensign said. “But I can guarantee one thing: John McCain knows what it means to be free. If we fail to elect leaders who understand that, we also fail as freedom’s keepers.”

And despite all the talk about changing the tone in Washington, what we got at the RNC was heavy on the kind of cynical tone that remains the hallmark of Washington.

Numerous Nevada delegates said they felt a new energy for the campaign with the addition of Palin. Those who had caucused initially for Mitt Romney told me Palin lifted their spirits. And Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, chairman of the McCain campaign in Nevada, said Palin could mean the difference in the Silver State. “It’s welcome energy and it couldn’t have come at a better time,” Krolicki said. “Rural Nevada is just wowed.”

The election in Nevada has thus far been about a crush of newly-registered Democratic voters. Washoe County has seen huge increases in Democratic voters and Democrats have doubled their voter registration edge in Clark.

Lance Whitney of Elko, a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, said he thought the city of Elko might go for Obama this year. “Not the county, but the city might surprise some people,” Whitney said in Denver.

Krolicki thinks the addition of Palin to the ticket halts Obama’s momentum. “I know there’s been a big effort to Obamanize Elko County and make in-roads,” Krolicki said. “This halts that.”

It was talk about renewable energy and the promise of good green belt jobs that has gotten Elko energized. We’ll see what wins — the hope of new policies or the fear about changing the old ones.

Of course the cynical nature of the next few weeks won’t be limited to the McCain-Palin ticket.

In the hours after Palin spoke last week and before McCain gave his acceptance speech, the Obama campaign put out three e-mail requests for donations. What do you think they’re going to use all those “resources” for?

Krolicki promised Palin and McCain will make multiple visits to Nevada in the remaining weeks. And it’s unlikely, given the razor-thin race in Nevada, that Obama and Biden will let them campaign unchecked.

We’ll see if anything substantive comes out of this, or whether the Republican ticket continues on the assumption that this election is not about issues.

In response to Palin’s speech last week, Sen. Harry Reid’s staff put out a statement decrying what they called “shrill” and sarcastic remarks. So for the next eight week we might still be focusing on drill and shrill, but I have a feeling Americans and Nevadans are looking for more.

Contact Erin Neff at (702) 387-2906, or by e-mail at eneff@reviewjournal.com.

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