A man in Michigan wrote to me last week and said, "Please go to hell or stay in Canada, whichever you prefer."
His suggestion arose because of remarks made here about Democrat John Kerry, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and the general state of the American media.
Now I have news for the man in Michigan. Recently, I succeeded in staying in Canada and simultaneously visiting hell. I have been watching coverage of the Republican Convention.
There are many horrible ways of inflicting pain on oneself, but this has got to be one of the worst. You get agitated and then worried that you're getting all those side-effects that you're warned about on those American commercials for prescription drugs -- headache, nausea and hypertension. Your stomach churns, you turn numb. You learn that Vice-President Dick Cheney is now America's granddad.
The tactical point of this Republican convention is to show the allegedly "compassionate" side of the Republicans. It's working. What makes a viewer particularly nauseous is watching the television media roll over to have its tummy rubbed by Republicans.
I'd been watching since early Monday morning (it's all on CPAC here in Canada, and a lot of it is on CNN and MSNBC) when someone, whose name escapes me, declared the shindig under way. Then came Ed Koch, the most irritating man in the world. New York's current mayor, Michael Bloomberg, followed him. It occurred to me that NYC voters, obviously proud of being offbeat, and deluded that they live in the most important city in the world, have now elected the most boring man in the world as their mayor. He welcomed everyone and emphasized all the shopping discounts to be had.
By mid-afternoon, over at MSNBC, some guy was interviewing Liz Cheney, one of Dick's daughters. He asked her if her father got "irked" about suggestions that the Halliburton company (which he used to run) benefited greedily from the war in Iraq. Liz Cheney said "no" and it was all John Kerry's fault anyway.
Then, Lord help us, Cheney's little granddaughter was interviewed. "What's the best thing about your grandfather?" she was asked. "He's very nice," was the answer.
If you thought that was weird and creepy, you should have heard NBC's Tom Brokaw interview Karl Rove.
He's the alleged brains behind everything in the Bush administration. Tom asked Karl about the polling numbers. He said that 49 per cent of Americans polled didn't think the removal of Saddam Hussein was worth the cost and the American casualties. He said that 61 per cent of Americans polled didn't believe the economy was improving for middle and working-class Americans. He put it to Karl that these were "tough numbers." Karl smiled and said, "Well, look, I'm not sure I agree with your numbers as being indicative of anything." Tom smiled too. Things went nowhere from there. Brokaw carried the air of a man defeated by the smiling, say-nothing face of the Republicans.
Then on MSNBC, a fella named Joe Scarborough was relishing the opportunity to interview Andrew Card, the White House chief of staff. In fact, he was so keen to confront Card that he took the opportunity to josh with him about the Boston Red Sox. That's where the nausea set in.
On Monday night, Senator John McCain was jawing on about courage. He said filmmaker Michael Moore was disingenuous. The crowd booed Moore, who waved at them. Then McCain went on to justify the war against Iraq on the basis of what Saddam Hussein might have done. He used the words "may" and "might have" over and over. Across the dial, the pundits and reporters wondered if McCain hadn't "inadvertently" helped Moore's cause. Yes, on MSNBC, Chris Matthew got McCain to admit he hadn't actually seen Fahrenheit 9/11, but it was a jokey, not a gotcha, moment.
It's not the smugness and the sanctimonious speakers who get to you. It's not even the frump-with-a-facelift aesthetic that you observe in the crowd. It's the meekness of the American media.
On Tuesday, Liz Cheney was back on the air. This time there was no cute little kid, but there was footage of Cheney with his children and grandchildren. He moved toward the kids with this weird look on his face, as if unsure who they were.
Tuesday evening it was Arnold Schwarzenegger telling implausible stories about the Soviet menace in the Austria of his boyhood, and extolling the United States as if it was the only country with jobs, business opportunity and freedom of the press. Austria is now a member country of the European Union, with better guarantees on health care and wages than any state in America. Nobody mentioned that.
Then came the Bush twins. The twins were on-stage, giggling and making a joke of their wealth, ignorance and indolence. On Wednesday morning, when MSNBC reviewed the twins' appearance, a gossip columnist from a New York paper was interviewed about their fabulous partying. You could feel the envy in the attitude of the reporters. Next came their mom, Laura Bush. To underline the success of her husband's policies, she cited "the only woman to own a tow-truck company in all of Iowa."
Lady, women all over the world have been owning and running businesses for decades. Your country is no beacon of hope in that regard. Not that anyone among the TV reporters and analysts was going to say that.
Tonight, George W. Bush himself takes the podium. Watch and see the American television medium get its tummy rubbed real good.
I'm obliged to the gentleman in Michigan (well, he did say "please"), as I am often obliged to American readers. I am obliged to them for the vigour of their condescension and the sinew of the insults. Now I've seen hell and I'd prefer to be here in Canada, thanks.