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Friday, Sept. 12, 2008

Small-Town Fakes

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Cedarburg, Wis., was the perfect place to begin the presidential campaign of Republican John McCain and his novice vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.The town is fake.

Oh, Cedarburg exists, all right. It’s a small town of about 10,000 people in Ozaukee County, 20 miles north of downtown Milwaukee. But back in the ’70s, some enterprising developers got the bright idea of recreating Cedarburg’s business district as a tourist attraction, a Disneyland version of small-town America.

It’s really cute. Hundred-year-old buildings and abandoned mills have been restored as old-timey ice cream parlors, restaurants and souvenir shops.

You can step back in time to the turn of the century, that idyllic, white-picket fence world Republicans long for when the woolen mills in Cedarburg weren’t bothered by pesky government regulations such as minimum wages and child labor laws.

Most of all, as E.L. Doctorow says in the opening of his great novel, Ragtime, about life in America in those bygone days, “There were no Negroes.”

The Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., came as close as any national political gathering in decades to recreating that glorious time that never existed when everyone was white and wealthy. If you thought the TV cameras kept focusing on the same handful of African Americans at the Republican convention, you were wrong. There actually were six handfuls.

Out of 2,380 Republican delegates, 36 were black. According to the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, it was the lowest number of African Americans at any national convention, Republican or Democrat, in the 40 years the center has tracked diversity.

Just four years ago, Republicans were able to scrape together 167 black delegates to renominate George Bush. As America grows increasingly diverse, the Republican Party is headed in the opposite direction.

It’s not back to the future. It’s back to the distant past. Previously, Republicans went out of their way at their conventions to showcase a few black elected officials. That wasn’t possible this year, since no African American has served as a Republican governor, U.S. senator or member of the House of Representatives since Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma left office six years ago.

This year, Republicans have dropped any pretense of trying to appeal to minority voters. McCain’s campaign is openly concentrating on white voters reluctant to vote for Democrat Barack Obama, the first African American in history to receive a major party nomination for the presidency.

Noting Obama’s appeal to large numbers of black voters and younger voters, Rick Davis, McCain’s campaign manager, said, “We can run our campaign the way we want to run it and not be in direct conflict with a lot of voter groups he is trying to get.”

That’s why McCain and Palin are staying away from cities like Milwaukee, with their bothersome minorities, and concentrating on Cedarburg, all dressed up to look like an 1890s America that never was, instead of the America that exists today.

McCain’s Empty Rhetoric

McCain’s political rhetoric as he accepted his party’s nomination for president was as fake as those brightly painted Ye Olde Whatever signs.

McCain actually dared to parrot Obama’s popular call for political change. This is the same McCain who belittles Obama as a “celebrity” because he excites and inspires crowds to believe that America really can change.

McCain, who is a poor public speaker, likes to suggest there is something wrong with Obama being a very good public speaker and exciting crowds. McCain dismisses that as Obama engaging in empty public rhetoric.

The definition of empty rhetoric is for John McCain to adopt Obama’s call for change while proposing to continue Bush’s disastrous war in Iraq and the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy that have wrecked the economy.

The only change McCain has really embraced is changing his own political beliefs to appeal to the Republican far right wing. McCain voted against the Bush tax cuts, calling them too tilted toward the wealthy. Now he supports them. McCain proposed a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants living in this country.

Because right-wingers despise Mexican immigrants, McCain now opposes his own bill. McCain supported the congressional ban on offshore drilling. Now he opposes it. Equally amusing as McCain’s call for change while advocating policies that amount to a third term for George Bush are his absurd claims that he is going to drive special interests out of Washington.

It has been well documented that McCain’s entire campaign is run by Washington lobbyists. For a while, many of his top strategists worked both on the campaign and as lobbyists. When that became too embarrassing, they took temporary leaves of absence from their big lobbying firms.

Cedarburg was the perfect campaign stop for McCain and Palin. Fake calls for change and fake attacks on Washington lobbyists fit right in with the fake 1890s decor.

What’s your take? Write: editor@shepex.com or comment on this story online at www.expressmilwaukee.com.

Correction: In “Secret Plans for MPS,” by Joel McNally (Aug. 28), McNally said those responsible for the failed Neighborhood Schools Initiative, including the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, the Mayor’s Office and other power brokers, were meeting behind closed doors to create another plan for Milwaukee Public Schools.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said he was aware of the private meetings, but neither he nor any member of his staff has participated.