CNN is doing something odd, off-key this Republican convention.
Right before some of its nighttime convention programming, CNN is running longish, heavily produced introductions. These are not the five or 10 second “music and show title” segments we’re used to; they’re more like mini-dramas that describe the theme of the night, with a deep voiced guy intoning things like “Tonight it’s all on the line for Paul Ryan, as he accepts the Republican nomination. Can he make the case for Mitt Romney?” All the while graphics whiz by, and a string section that’s about to explode plays.
Where have we seen this before? Simple. It’s a straight steal from the intros that run right before football in prime time. Same look, same feel. Substitute Obama and Romney for Giants and Cowboys and you’ve got it.
So why is it off-key? Because instead of three hours of football, you get three hours of…CNN, a network that can’t find its purpose with both hands. Watching CNN – which has a lot of good, smart, talented people working for it – is almost always a dis-spiriting experience. There’s something random about Piers Morgan interviewing Michele Bachmann. (First question was along the lines of ‘Wouldn’t you rather be on the stage?’) Conventions promise more than they deliver – excitement, purpose, an emotional connection. CNN’s weird attempt to cake extra make-up on the old whore has the paradoxical effect of revealing all the more her age and sadness.
But then there’s Rand Paul, who came close to going far from the reservation in his speech Wednesday night. He pointed out that Republicans have to acknowledge that not all military spending is good spending, a position common among his dad’s supporters but not what the party at large believes, not at all.
Then he decided to get dangerously specific about a favorite Republican word, ‘liberty.’ ‘Liberty,’ wielded the way Republicans do, is what the smart guys call a ‘free floating signifier.’ Absent larger context, it’s just there, as in “Something, something, Obama, something, something liberty!’ (Cue the applause.)
Paul briefly threatened the all-purposeness of the word with the following, which if I were a Republican I’d take pretty much as an insult. He said “We must never, never trade our liberty for any fleeting promise of security,” which was a pure shot at 2001-2008 and all that we gave up in the name of fear during the war on terror. He got some applause, and no boos. The crowd could not have been listening, and Paul immediately reverted to standard issue convention speak. It was, in its own way, incoherent. It was perfect for CNN.