Pasadena’s Politicon is the Woodstock of Politics
She had given a fairly coherent speech earlier in the day. But it was accomplished with a teleprompter. Now Sarah Palin was in an unscripted “conversation” with Democratic pollster turned college professor James Carville inside a darkened convention hall full of people attending a two-day event called “Politicon.”
Palin was just finishing an impassioned defense of the AR-15 when former Mexican President Vicente Fox quietly slipped into the hall and sat before her in the front row shadows. Ignoring Carville’s cautionary gesturing, Palin changed topics and began going rogue on the topic of immigration.
“How can you have a country without a secure border,” she asked, as Carville continued his subtle nudging. “The federal government refuses to hold people (illegal immigrants) accountable for breaking the law.”
When Palin finally recognized Fox, she broke into a glorious smile, flashed him a V sign and doubled down on her criticism of Washington’s failures. “We are surrounded by betrayal,” she warned. “The Republican establishment doesn’t care who wins as long as it keeps its power and purse full. They lose election after election but remain dismissive of the rank and file.”
Most conventions are regimented affairs where speeches are decided weeks before the first delegate arrives. Not Politicon.
Billed as the “Coachella of Politics”, the Pasadena conference recently attracted thousands of political junkies, many of whom paid upwards of $300 to hear politicians, pundits, podcasters and satirists bloviate on the national trauma that is Election 2016.
Coachella, of course, is a Sonoran Desert music festival that owes more to Burning Man than Woodstock. Politicon offers far less alcohol and fewer hook-ups, but there was no shortage of heat in hour-long sessions like “Is Trump A Psychopath?”, “Misogyny & Sexism in Politics”, and “The Political Insult Comic.” The non-partisan nature of the event, however, was underscored by keynote speaker Gary Johnson, the former New Mexico governor who is the Libertarian candidate for president. “Isn’t this the craziest election ever?” he asked by way of introduction. “You may be looking at the next president.”
Despite the firmly held beliefs of attendees, there was little invective or heated debate. Democrats and Republicans alike both admitted their political leaders in Washington had ignored working class concerns on international trade and illegal immigration. Some immigrant communities drew collective ire over their failure to assimilate. There was also general consensus that the Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. FEC is a cancer on the body politic that needs to be reversed.
Neither major candidate escaped unscathed. Hillary Clinton was criticized—mainly by men—for her desultory campaign, lack of transparency and embrace of Wall Street money. But most of the ribbing was directed at Donald Trump, who was called “verbally incontinent” by former Clinton administration operative Paul Begala, denounced as a leader of the “upper crass” by James Carville, and characterized by National Journal editorial director Ron Brownstein as the “beat poet of politics” whose unfiltered tweets read as if written by “Jack Kerouac typing all night on one sheet of paper.”
Based on noise alone, many of the 8,000 people attending Politicon were Bernie Sanders diehards. Only gradually are their “We Wuz Robbed” sentiments being replaced by demands for student loan forgiveness and the desire for marijuana legalization. If Sanders’s minions felt ignored it probably was because most attention was focused on coltish Ann Coulter, whose ridiculously short skirt and propensity for crossing and uncrossing her legs kept attendees of both sexes spellbound whenever the conservative author sat on stage.
Every political fair needs a midway and Politicon’s was located in a cavernous hall called Democracy Village toward the back of the Pasadena Convention Center that contained a display of political art work, a vending machine dispensing faux degrees from Trump University and two young women from DreamWorks Pictures touting the candidacy of Shrek, the Green candidate running to be President of Far Far Away. “Shrek believes that with hard work and help from friends like Donkey he can restore Far Far Away to its former glory,” they insisted.
One of the more engaging vendors was Lady Parts Justice, a troop of female comediennes handing out information on abortion issues and free uterus tattoos. As a member of the working press I sadly had to decline their offer.
I was unable to resist, however, the appeal of Decision 2016 Trading Cards. A spiffy collectible certain to find its way into the Smithsonian, the $30 boxed set contains pictures of 70 politicians plus cards depicting spouses (Melania would go in Round One if voters could draft candidates), “Influencers”, and “Future Stars.”
A separate 18-card series sold in foil packets in most baseball card shops, as well as Target and Walmart, is called “Trump Under Fire.” It commemorates memorable missteps including but not limited to Trump’s pledge to build a wall, his dust up with Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, the threat to ban all Muslims, and his observation that “Hillary got schlonged.”
“Trump changed the political game, turning it into a real blood sport,” says Decision 2016 Trading Cards president Brian Wallos. “Political stars have loyal fans just like sports stars,” he adds, “and Trump stirs passions among his fans just as much if not more than most athletes.”
David DeVoss is editor of the East-West News Service