The Republican National Convention has brought with it a slew of celebrities from both the political and entertainment worlds, and everyone on the streets of Tampa is on the lookout for VIPs. Yesterday I watched a camera crew film a mysterious Secret Service escort of black SUVs despite not being able to see who was inside. (Paul Ryan? Mitt Romney? One of the Koch brothers? Todd Akin? How important do you have to be to get one of those?) A waitress confided to me Jeff Bridges had been at the bowling alley near the convention promoting the charity No Kid Hungry, which seeks to end child hunger. I’ve heard rumors that Grover Norquist has been popping up at a lot of parties, although I definitely would not recognize Grover Norquist. For all I know he's been following me around all week.
If you're not on the convention floor or invited to big-bucks donor parties, however, your chances of seeing a real live VIP are pretty slim. Unless, of course, you go to the stage in Channelside Bay Plaza, the weird outdoor mall area near the convention center, where Chris Matthews is hosting MSNBC's coverage. Here, you're treated to MSNBC's audio and video streams, as well as the sight of Chris Matthews watching speeches. It's sort of like he’s an animal in a zoo. It's also one of the main destinations for Florida Republicans passionate enough to come to the convention decked out in Romney/Ryan or anti-Obama gear but too unimportant to get invited inside. These aren’t the well-coiffed evangelical Texas matrons or the expensive-suit types who get to be delegates—these are the guys who scare the hell out of Europeans with their loud noises.
They were out in the dozens last night to watch, in particular, Paul Ryan's speech, during which he accepted the Republican nomination for Vice President and engaged in some alternate history. The GOP faithful also took the chance to engage in the sort of reasoned discussion that usually only happens on RedState comment sections. One man was talking loudly about how Newt Gingrich “would have wiped the floor with Obama.” Another guy, who was doing nothing in particular, kept saying that one of his friends should tweet about him. A third dude, clearly old enough to be on Medicare, kept getting compliments on his shirt, which compared Obama's health care plan to that of a third-world country. Everyone took it upon himself to argue with the two black women present.
Special attention was given, in fact, to proving to one woman that she had built her small business herself, without government aid. (These people were big fans of saying “You didn’t build that,” that out-of-context Obama line.) The woman politely agreed that she did build her business but said she still supported Obama. Newt Gingrich bro, however, continued to argue, pointing out that stuff like roads and bridges were built by the people, not the government. “We built that too, with our tax dollars!” he said, unitentionally echoing the president he hates. Or maybe he was saying he's outraged his tax dollars went towards roads?
Meanwhile, Chris Matthews was doing his Important Job: watching Ryan's speech, reading a transcript of it, and, like any good American, taking a break to grab a sandwich. The audience watched in rapt attention as Matthews ate it, slowly lifting the meaty assemblage to his mouth, carefully scarfing down each fry as though it were it an opposing pundit's argument. The debate raged: Was this sandwich steak and cheese? Buffalo chicken? Something else entirely? Would Chris Matthews remember to wipe the sauce off his chin before he went live, or would this spark an embarrassing meme? I’m happy to report that the moment in question is on already on YouTube. Look at him pound that sandwich into his face! Looks like some good eats.
Matthews, by the way, is no stranger to attention from the right. Almost as soon as he polished off his sandwich, a few convention Republibros, high off Paul Ryan's intoxicating fumes, came running by to heckle him. The ringleader, a guy in a red-checkered shirt and blue sneakers, ran up to the stage and started shouting, “Tinkle leg! Tinkle tinkle!” a reference, presumably, to the widely-circulated misquote that Matthews's leg tingled after Obama's inauguration speech (the actual quote was that he felt a “thrill” going up his leg).
Even though he had misquoted even the misquote, the Republbro ran off and started high-fiving his friends and a few random Republicans who were equally pumped. To be fair, these were the same guys whose favorite moment of Paul Ryan's speech was when he mentioned AC/DC (who, as Australians, are stealing jobs from hard-working American arena rock bands). Leaving, I was more aware than usual of the piles of horse shit that have decorated the Tampa sidewalks courtesy of the mounted police squads. Democracy!