On Sunday evening, my friend Julie and I met each other around the corner from Roseland Ballroom and went straight to the ticket booth to collect our invitations. “Do you pledge your allegiance to George W. Bush?” asked the woman sternly, holding our shiny, silver and black invites aloft and out of reach.
“Yes,” said Julie, a liberal, Jewish, Berkeley graduate who had spent the morning marching up Seventh Avenue for abortion rights. “I pledge allegiance to George W. Bush.”
The woman then turned to me.
“Um, yes! I pledge my allegiance to George W. Bush!”
She handed over our invitations, and after slipping past the street barricades and the security guards and submitting to two bag checks and a pat down, we were in…and free to observe the Republicans in their natural habitat.
A liberal-minded person such as myself probably would not, by any direct means, be invited to a party like this. But when the opportunity arose—through a circuitous network of friends, acquaintances, and coworkers—for two slots on the guest list to “R: The Party,” the Bush twins’ pre-Republican National Convention soiree, I pledged my attendance.
I could not, however, pledge my money. Not to the Republican Party, mind you—I would never do that—but toward a Republican part-ay. My bank account was, in a very Reaganomical way, showing too few digits to the left of the decimal, so I was looking forward to a cheap night of celebrity-watching and totally non-conservative drinking. The Republicans had no problem crashing the party that was the 1990s, and I had no problem crashing the party that was R.
But my reasons for being there were not merely selfish; they were both selfish and altruistic. I hoped, in some illogical, naive part of my mind, to drunkenly bond with the Bush twins. Who knew what could come of such a meeting? Would we become close pals after a round or three of margaritas, and in the end have the power to change our country’s political and social landscape? Or better yet, would they do something hideously inappropriate and we’d make the front of every tabloid in the nation? Or PLEASE BOTH?
So as Julie and I surveyed the crowd on the main floor and I daydreamed about ways to extract royalties from Star magazine, I looked over at the door to see, much to my great disappointment, Jenna and Barbara being whisked inside and straight upstairs into the impenetrable VIP lounge. Wait! Babs, Jenna, where are you going? Margaritas! America can do better!!!
We were stranded, dazed, surrounded by a throng that was equal parts frat party, country club, debate meet, and, to quote Julie, “really bad bar mitzvah.” We gazed out at everyone, blinded equally by the flashing strobe lights from the stage and the women with their bland, blond flip hairdos and matching purse-shoe-suit ensembles. The men, a sea of navy, wore blue blazers, blue suits, and, in some cases, seersucker. And appropriately enough, there were many diagonally striped “GOP” ties in evidence.
Hell, it was time to mingle.
We approached the bar and were shocked to learn we would have to pay for our drinks. Julie whispered into my ear, “Is an open bar considered part of the welfare state?”
Chicken wings and other sundries were available in a buffet-style set-up along the wall—but like the drinks, were only available to those who would pay.
The country music onstage, however, was absolutely free. And loud: The ballroom reverberated with twangy vocals and lyrics sprinkled with words like “God,” “Jesus,” and “heaven.”
“That is so typical,” fumed Julie. “They can’t even keep their religious right agenda out of their songs!”
We may have had little success in finding free food or drinks, we may have been regaled with music we neither understood nor liked—but we were a big hit with the Republican men. The young delegates, it appeared, weren’t just looking for political inspiration at the RNC—they were looking for love with like-minded (or so they thought) women.
“Ladies, ladies!” exclaimed one navy-suited man as he approached us with a plastic cup of beer in hand. “Why are you girls looking so unhappy?”
We looked at each other. What was the correct answer? Was “Abu Ghraib” off limits? How about “national deficit”? Instead, we giggled and shrugged. Undeterred, the man moved on in search of more receptive delegates. Not five minutes later, another young man strolled by, pointed at me, and winked. Then two guys came over and one of them tapped me on the shoulder. Julie and I turned around. “Do you girls know who this band is?” they asked.
“No!” we shouted above the roaring din. “Not a clue!”
They smiled broadly and nodded. “It’s bad!” one of them commented. We grinned. At least we had this much in common.
As the evening wore on, some delegates were moved enough to dance the Electric Slide en masse; some slow-danced and groped each other while other clusters stood around and watched. It was a high-school dance turned upside down. Weren’t these supposed to be the popular kids?
With each passing song, the music grew louder and louder and more and more hellacious. Bored with being hit on, tired of being stone-cold sober, we decided to ditch the very party we’d crashed. Whatever fun there was to be had, it was only to be had by the true Bushies, or at least by the ones who had thought to sneak in a flask—or snatch some walking-around money from their parents.
Party on, delegates.