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Hullabaloo


Thursday, July 29, 2004

 
Blasphemy

Robert George, conservative pundit for the NY Post, just said on Larry King that unless Junior gets his message together this speech may have been the acceptance speech of the next president of the United States. And the reason is that the speech is likely to appeal to swing voters. I feel strongly that this is correct --- and perhaps it is even more correct, although George won't admit it, that it may appeal to a fair number of moderate Republicans.

Ron Reagan's new article in Esquire (thanks Susie) explains why:

It may have been the guy in the hood teetering on the stool, electrodes clamped to his genitals. Or smirking Lynndie England and her leash. Maybe it was the smarmy memos tapped out by soft-fingered lawyers itching to justify such barbarism. The grudging, lunatic retreat of the neocons from their long-standing assertion that Saddam was in cahoots with Osama didn't hurt. Even the Enron audiotapes and their celebration of craven sociopathy likely played a part. As a result of all these displays and countless smaller ones, you could feel, a couple of months back, as summer spread across the country, the ground shifting beneath your feet. Not unlike that scene in The Day After Tomorrow, then in theaters, in which the giant ice shelf splits asunder, this was more a paradigm shift than anything strictly tectonic. No cataclysmic ice age, admittedly, yet something was in the air, and people were inhaling deeply. I began to get calls from friends whose parents had always voted Republican, "but not this time." There was the staid Zbigniew Brzezinski on the staid NewsHour with Jim Lehrer sneering at the "Orwellian language" flowing out of the Pentagon. Word spread through the usual channels that old hands from the days of Bush the Elder were quietly (but not too quietly) appalled by his son's misadventure in Iraq. Suddenly, everywhere you went, a surprising number of folks seemed to have had just about enough of what the Bush administration was dishing out. A fresh age appeared on the horizon, accompanied by the sound of scales falling from people's eyes. It felt something like a demonstration of that highest of American prerogatives and the most deeply cherished American freedom: dissent.

Oddly, even my father's funeral contributed. Throughout that long, stately, overtelevised week in early June, items would appear in the newspaper discussing the Republicans' eagerness to capitalize (subtly, tastefully) on the outpouring of affection for my father and turn it to Bush's advantage for the fall election. The familiar "Heir to Reagan" puffballs were reinflated and loosed over the proceedings like (subtle, tasteful) Mylar balloons. Predictably, this backfired. People were treated to a side-by-side comparison—Ronald W. Reagan versus George W. Bush—and it's no surprise who suffered for it. Misty-eyed with nostalgia, people set aside old political gripes for a few days and remembered what friend and foe always conceded to Ronald Reagan: He was damned impressive in the role of leader of the free world. A sign in the crowd, spotted during the slow roll to the Capitol rotunda, seemed to sum up the mood—a portrait of my father and the words NOW THERE WAS A PRESIDENT.

The comparison underscored something important. And the guy on the stool, Lynndie, and her grinning cohorts, they brought the word: The Bush administration can't be trusted. The parade of Bush officials before various commissions and committees—Paul Wolfowitz, who couldn't quite remember how many young Americans had been sacrificed on the altar of his ideology; John Ashcroft, lip quivering as, for a delicious, fleeting moment, it looked as if Senator Joe Biden might just come over the table at him—these were a continuing reminder. The Enron creeps, too—a reminder of how certain environments and particular habits of mind can erode common decency. People noticed. A tipping point had been reached. The issue of credibility was back on the table. The L-word was in circulation. Not the tired old bromide liberal. That's so 1988. No, this time something much more potent: liar.


I have no statistics and no data to support the idea that there are moderate republicans out there who are ready to jump, but like Ron Reagan, I have seen a vast amount of anecdotal evidence in my own life.

An investment banker friend of mine who reports that formerly rabid GOP colleagues will not vote for Bush again. He's perceived by these macho masters of the universe as a loser.

Veteran friends of my father who haven't voted for a Democrat since Truman cannot vote for Bush. His arrogance on the world stage is offensive to them.

Libertarian relatives who have never voted much but who are afraid of the Bush's overly warm embrace of the religious right and are talking to their friends about voting for Kerry.

An active Republican neighbor who is disturbed by the fact that there turned out to be no WMD in Iraq and expressed a very unusual desire to hear Kerry speak tonight.

I don't know if there are any significant numbers of these people out there, but I felt the same shift in the zeitgeist when all the accumulated weight of "mission acomplished" and "whoops no WMD" and "Abu Ghraib" and "hair on fire" all seemed to suddenly weigh down the Bush juggernaut and wake up all those people in the middle who had been floating along with the left-over 9/11 conventional wisdom.

Kerry's speech tonight spoke directly to those people, people who have serious concerns about whether a Democrat can adequately handle a national security crisis but who also see that things are not going well under Bush. Those people may have tuned in to see a Democrat speak tonight and saw a president instead.