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Palin, Santorum and Perry Remind the NRA Convention of America's Greatness and that Greatness Comes from a Gun

Ted Cruz kept the NRA Convention's audience enraptured through his legal explanations of the Second Amendment.
Ted Cruz kept the NRA Convention's audience enraptured through his legal explanations of the Second Amendment.

There was a point in Rick Santorum's history lesson, a point in the former Pennsylvania senator's spiel last Friday about the horrific transition President Obama has yet in store for America, when the 20,000-strong audience at the 2013 NRA Convention sat perfectly silent. Bathed in blue flood-light, all the star-and-stripe hats and silk-screen shirts remained rapt. They listened to Santorum rage on the secularism of the Obama Administration, of the parallels between the "godless" French Revolutionaries, the ones who "burned churches and killed clergy," and all that's coming from the White House.

"Obama's vision for the US is the same vision running wild in Europe for the past two centuries!" Santorum thundered, a bit grayer than last year, just as much faith in his oratory as before. "It's is a secular culture -- it's a dying culture!" That's why the French opted for fraternité -- brotherhood -- rather than paternité -- homage to the Father, to the Creator above. That's why it failed. That's why Napoleon, rather than Jésus-Christ, ground the French under his heel.

And just before Santorum's coup de grâce, just before Santorum -- whose speech was easily the best of the afternoon's lineup -- jumped the audience into its thirtieth standing ovation of the day, a quick scan of the crowd revealed a group of thousands soaking in the juxtaposition, soaking in the history, as much as possible. This was a group of people for whom citing America's greatness carried no sense of irony. This was the group for whom discussing America's position as the last and best bastion of freedom -- so long as we're not discussing gay marriage, or drug usage, or reproductive choice, or gambling in Texas -- was a given. This was a group that saw no daylight between the Second Amendment and an undying faith in democracy -- this was a people, to paraphrase Obama, who cling to guns as religion.

Hands were clasped. Backs were erect. Eyes were wide, and a handful were moist. And as Santorum, silhouetted against a 30-foot by 150-foot American flag behind, reached for his kicker -- "We won the American Revolution because we wanted it more!" -- a lone flag thrust up in the middle of the crowd, circling back and forth: "Don't tread on me," it read. The lights above changed to red, and suddenly the crowd was on its feet, charging Santorum on, cheering him forward. "Something big is happening in America!" Santorum prodded. "They're trying to transform America! From what it is! ... They're trying to erode who we are!" Applause, screams, approval. And a flag continuing to fly faster than before.

So it went through the afternoon. The handful of speakers ran around the themes of persecution and cultural change and a usurper in the White House. There was the horrific John Bolton, a former ambassador, somehow, to the United Nations, discussing Obama's bent for ceding sovereignty to a body of unelected internationals, mustache trembling in his righteousness and inanity. There was Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, trying his damndest to perfect his Southern accent, the only one comfortable enough to use the word "race" through the entire afternoon. There was Jeanine Pirro, a barbed Fox News prosecutor, spinning numbers about the criminals run wild and the lawful, gun-totin' Americans suffering under the yoke of any gun regulation that would seek to prevent sales of assault weaponry. (To any non-Fox viewer in the audience, Pirro instantly lost credibility the second she said Tamerlan Tsarnaev was from Chechnya. Facts are funny things, lady.)

Rick Perry, of course, couldn't afford to be outshone; a minutes-long video intro showed him kneeling in collared shirt and safety goggles, setting his semi-automatic at a dozen targets 50 yards away. After hitting every single one -- of course he hit every single one -- Perry stood, looking backward, lock-jaw, staring over the troops he'd just inspired. The camera remaining knee-height. Here was the Spartacus we'd always wanted. Here was Marc Antony. Here was the warrior-diplomat we've long gone without. "[This administration] has done nothing but make it harder for law-abiding citizens to exercise their Second Amendment right!" Perry said to his audience of faithful. "In Texas, we believe in freedom. [And] if you're not already here, consider coming to the place that still loves freedom!"  

Easily the highlight of the weekend's festivities
Easily the highlight of the weekend's festivities

(You find yourself wondering if there's a running bet for how many instances of "freedom" he can slot in. You find yourself hating the fact that you're wondering this.)

There's the one moment of authenticity in the entire afternoon's lineup -- Taya Kyle, widow of Chris "American Sniper" Kyle, discussing how much her late husband used his guns, enjoyed his guns, saved lives with his guns. "He loved his fellow man enough ... to stop the evil coming at him," she said, pausing, eyes welling. And after returning to the States, "he discovered a new use for guns: healing." Another of the freedoms America provides. The freedom to carry. The freedom to heal.

Unfortunately, Kyle's speech, moving as it was, was undercut by, well, just about everyone else through the afternoon, all of whom insisted on poking Obama and Feinstein and Bloomberg in the eye for exploiting the tragedy of Newtown to further a political goal. That's not to say that Kyle's story is unimportant, or not worth sharing -- it's simply that the political charges don't stop at partisan lines, guys. You can't both have your cake and blast it with a sub-machine gun. You can't shame political exploitation and then use it for your own benefit.

The largest applause of the afternoon, though, was saved for a pair of Tea Party favorites. There was our Esther, our Thatcher -- there was Sarah Palin, threatening to slip some dip in her lip, all because Bloomberg recently, and rightly, outlawed tobacco advertisements within certain stretches of New York City. "Emotion won't make anyone safer!" she cried. "It's not leadership. ... It's the opposite of leadership!" Naturally, media members blushed when she referred to us as "poodle-skirted cheerleaders" for Obama, and a handful of us found ourselves wrapped up in the audience's electricity when she began discussing how we've let the nation's moral framework slip, which has led, quixotically, to "freedom destroying itself." (The cognitive dissonance was as palpable as the fact that these people still thought the corrosive Palin had a shot at the White House.)

But while Palin was well-trod -- her speech was fine, but uncharacteristically tired -- a freshman senator from Texas made sure that the audience knew precisely where the legal backing for his Second Amendment rights came from. In four months of office, Ted Cruz, who opted for a professorial rather than purely populist mask this time around, has already begun surrounding himself with rumor of a 2016 bid. And it's easy to see why. The audience couldn't get enough. They couldn't offer enough standing ovations. They couldn't keep their affirmations to themselves. "The Constitution matters," he said, pacing the stage like none of his compatriots. "And that's all of the Constitution. You can't just pick and choose!"

It was, indeed, a refreshingly straightforward speech from Cruz. There was none of the hard-edge interaction that he's quickly become known for. And that Second Amendment? "It shall not be infringed!" Not part of it. Not a few guns, here and there. None of it. None of it now. None of it forever.

The lineup that afternoon was supposed to last two hours. The conference nearly doubled that. And as the speeches wound down, Palin wound the crowd up to its finally hurrah. "We are fighting the fight!" she intoned, the audience soaking her in like no one, thankfully, still does. "This is about what kind of people we are!" This is about the kind of people who had come to see her. This is about the kind of people who believe their rights come not from a government, but from a Creator, from a god. This is about the kind of people who believe their power comes not from a pact with fellow man, but from the barrel of a gun. This is about the kind of people who see themselves defending against a federal Frankenstein that is coming firstly for their guns, and then for their freedom.

This is about the kind of people who believe, as the video intro said, that America is the greatest country in the history of the world. That we are the ones who singlehandedly stopped the Nazis. That we alone brought democracy to the world of toilers and serfs, to the world of tyranny and terror. This is about the kind of people who see a world of good and evil, and nothing in between. "They still don't understand who we are, and what we believe!" goaded Chris Cox, one of the NRA's public faces. "And if the media doesn't like it," followed Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, "we know where they can go!"

And the audience stood, and cheered, and reveled in approval, bathed in the red and white and blue of the spinning lights above. And a flag flapping above informed those still wondering that no one, no one, was going to tread on those voicing their unflinching approval of this vision for the future and past and present of America.


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