Sep 9, 2008

On Location at the Republican National Convention

by Jennifer Schmidt

Watching her on television, regular viewers considered Governor Sarah Palin’s speech last Wednesday night to be a strong presentation. From my seat, however, five rows up and to the left of the main stage, my respect for Palin far surpassed that of the average listener. With my privileged view, I could see that the teleprompter had malfunctioned, and yet Palin managed to never skip a beat. Here was just one example of how attending the Republican National Convention (RNC) provided a whole different dimension for those of us who experienced it in person.

I was invited last minute in mid-July to attend the convention, since the other eight Liberty students who attended the convention were government students and were notified in March. Government professors along with Roy Jones were able to raise enough money through donations to send nine students and four faculty members on an all-expense paid trip to the twin cities of Minnesota where Sen. John McCain would officially accept his party’s nomination.

My job was to act as the media representative — I had the expensive camera, four pens and two notebooks. The other students were originally planning on volunteering as official convention staff. But as a result of hurricane Gustav, the first day of the convention was all but cancelled, and most of Liberty’s s

tudents were no longer needed as volunteers.

With some advantageous planning, we were granted guest credentials that allowed us full access to the Xcel Center for all of the sessions. Our seats were just a few steps from the main floor and directly under the boxes where print journalists set up their laptops.
“There were famous people just walking around and we could go and introduce ourselves and meet them,” senior Jeremy Lemon said explaining his interactions at the RNC. “Instead of being far away like I thought, we had the opportunity to witness the convention up close.”

While I was enjoying the environment as well, I did not fully understand what actually happens at conventions. I had watched them on television and knew that there would be prominent republicans and national leaders giving speeches, but as far as delegates and nominations were concerned, I was at a loss.

By Tuesday, I had realized that most of the process was nothing more than an elaborate show. Each state sent its token amount of delegates, who would then pledge some or all of their votes to McCain.

A fifth time delegate, Dr. Drew Ivers from Iowa told me, “A national convention is a 4-day paid pol

itical live TV ad. That’s the reality of it.”

Following Palin’s speech, we stayed at the Xcel Center to watch as representatives from each state and territory dedicated their votes to McCain and Palin. Though it all appeared to be a brilliant surprise when yet another state representative announced the votes for McCain, everything was precisely calculated. Mid-way through the process, states started to pass instead of pledge votes. Eventually the process worked back around to Arizona, McCain’s home state, allowing that delegation to pledge the votes that put him over the required total.

Seeing Palin and McCain speak were two of the main highlights for the trip, but such an event attracts a host of famous figures. Senior Scott MacDonald noted the television personalities that he just happened to run into on the floor.

“Walking around on the convention floor and being able to meet people that I see on television . . .Trent Lott and George Allen, just bumping into them – it’s a different environment,” MacDonald said.

Junior James Kimmey prizes the photo he took with Henry Kissinger, former secretary of state for Richard Nixon and a Nobel peace prize laureate. Kimmey studied Kissinger’s life and achievements in a government class last year.

Perhaps Dr. Kahlib Fischer, a business professor who came as a chaperone, summarized the trip best. He said, “As Christians we walk a fine line between being too cynical about politics or being too wrapped up in the hype – of which there is a lot – but it’s a mixture. Some are there to work political connections . . . but there were also just a lot of good people there who were excited and enthusiastic, and I would throw these (Liberty) students in that category.”

I will attest to the hype, the political finagling, and the pasted smiles. But there were ordinary people underneath it all. Take Wendell Walker, a Virginia delegate hailing straight from Lynchburg. He would trade his credentials with us on numerous occasions allowing us access to the floor during televised sessions. Due to his generosity and selflessness, most of us were able to experience the convention in the midst of the delegates, even sneaking up within a few feet of the main stage when Laura Bush spoke.

One of the greatest surprises was the excitement that greeted us as convention guests. Delegates and media alike were excited about the presence of young students. A few of the female students were interviewed by Glamour magazine, and junior Sarah Blanzy along with senior Grace Woodson were interviewed for an MTV special called “McCain Decoded.”

“I see the Republican party taking a stride forward,” Woodson said, “and the importance of young people becoming involved.”
New Jersey delegate Jim Curcio also noted the influence of young conservatives.

“We have good young people coming up and that’s the key in the next few years. They bring the energy and the fresh ideas that we need.”

So in between photos with political celebrities and speeches encouraging us to elect John McCain, the “Liberty Delegation,” as we termed ourselves, witnessed history in an up-close-and-personal manner that few ever experience.

 


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