Party faithful worship at Emporium

San Diego Diary
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Journalists checking in to cover the Republican National Convention in San Diego were each pleased to receive, along with their media passes, free commemorative canvas bags embossed with the Republican Party logo, an elephant. But they were baffled to discover that the bags were stuffed full of - not convention documents - but, among other things, a box containing 20 small plastic food "storage bags" manufactured by a company called Hefty; a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese ("boil 11 to 13 minutes, or until tender, stirring occasionally"); a white cotton polo shirt, courtesy of a finance company called Nicholas Applegate Capital Management; a plastic beer mug marked "Budweiser"; a bag of tortillas; two small bags of California raisins; and a certificate "entitling the bearer to one free admission to the Ronald Reagan presidential library and museum". Very nice, but what did it all mean?

A clue lay at the Convention Emporium, a carpeted marketplace the size of an indoor football pitch where delegates take breaks between speeches to indulge the all-American ritual of shopping. Observe the Republican faithful jostling for merchandise on the Emporium floor and you will see that while yes, to be sure, they venture on these four-yearly convention pilgrimages to voice their support for the presidential candidate du jour, what drives them deep down is an imperative at once more solemn and more enduring: to pay homage to the free market and to honour the memory of their patron saint, Ronald Wilson Reagan.

The San Diego Convention Centre is the delegates' temple, but the Convention Emporium is their shrine. The range of goods available at the stalls, rows upon rows of them, is immense. But the themes are always the same: God, Country and the Grand Old Party. The children's cuddly toys are all elephants bedecked in Stars and Stripes; the men's ties, the women's waistcoats, the unisex hats, the babies' bibs - all embroidered in more elephants, more Stars and Stripes; and then there are the Stars and Stripes golf balls, earrings, fountain pens. And the watches with carved golden wrist- bands spelling the words "Jesus loves you"; the Christian rock band CDs; the posters of Reagan, alongside the posters of John Wayne, at $12 (pounds 7.75) apiece. The Reagan stall is the biggest in the Emporium, selling, apart from the mandatory T-shirts and baseball caps, videos featuring extracts from the actor-president's greatest speeches; Ronald Reagan piggy banks; and Ronald Reagan yo-yos.

Those who love Good, the Emporium merchants know, detest Evil. And Evil, if you are a true Republican, has a face. It is the face of a woman whose screaming portrait adorns the middle of a fake three-dollar bill marked "Queer Reserve Note" and "the Feminist States of America". Jezebel's name is Hillary Clinton. A pad of 25 "Hill bills" sells for $3.50, a case of 3,750 for $262.50. Yes, people do buy this stuff. The manufacturers have a catalogue. And there is plenty more anti-Hillary paraphernalia, mostly bumper stickers along the lines of "Don't blame me, I didn't vote for Hillary", and "I don't trust President Clinton, or her husband."

Reclining at the feet of the Queen of Pandemonium is not only Bill "Clintonocchio" Clinton but that other Democratic fiend, Senator Edward Ken-nedy. Two bumper stickers lampooning the late president's brother reveal that the Emporium merchants, set as their sights are on the higher good, are not beneath stretching the boundaries of good taste. Here are a couple of samples: "Teddy, I'm pregnant, but we will cross that bridge" and "Vote for Ted Kennedy: a blonde in every pond".