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The Pathology of Republican Passion

August 3, 2004
By Doug Snider

Passion for a political campaign is something totally new to me. Mine grew from a conviction four years ago that George Bush must be limited to no more than one term in office. Standing and speaking, for the first time in my life, in opposition to a war of choice (that was absolutely the wrong choice) was the real beginning of my journey. The Democratic primary season was the first opportunity to seriously consider precisely how Bush would be removed from the office in which he had already done so much damage.

Of the contenders we initially had to replace Bush, John Kerry was not my first choice, but certainly on my short list. The early primaries and the inevitability of the nomination forced me to take a closer look at the man and his record.

I liked what I saw and I can now honestly say that I am more passionate about seeing John Kerry elected than I am about seeing Bush sent home to Crawford or wherever he will go when the fiction of his presidency ends. Like many I have met, I have become actively involved in a presidential campaign for the first time in my life. Kerry's masterful acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention was the icing on the cake and hopefully a point of decision for many undecided voters.

The hardest thing for me to understand through all of this has been the passion of Bush's supporters, faithful disciples of a man many people see as an incurious dolt and an inarticulate pretender to the highest office in the land. Some are family and some are friends. These are not all ill-informed or unintelligent people.

Some are professional Republicans and supporting their man is part of their job description. For many it is case of brand loyalty. They have always voted Republican and would not think of picking a Democrat over their party's candidate no matter how incompetent or laughable the Republican candidate might be. There are the core of his political base who are able to narrowly focus on his appeal to their values and issues, ignoring the flaws in his character and the folly of his policies, even when they are detrimental to their own best interests.

It is baffling that what I see, and most of the rest of the world sees, is apparently invisible to almost half of likely voters. If we understood the pathology of Republican passion, Democratic victory in November would be assured.

How do you possibly persuade those who see as heroic a man who, if not a deserter, was at best a military dropout? These people would look past a decorated combat veteran to a man who, when given the chance to serve bravely and honorably, formally requested that they send someone else. For them the image of a man standing on a rubble heap with a bullhorn in the aftermath of the greatest failure of his presidency is all the heroism they need. For them their man parading in a flight suit on the deck of an aircraft carrier was not the obscene joke the rest of us saw.

How do you appeal to the patriotism of those who are content with a bitterly divided nation? John Kerry's pledge to unify and strengthen our nation is less appealing to them than Bush's attempts to unite and strengthen his own political base against all others. The people who brought us Bush are promoting so many wedge issues we won't just be divided, we will be sliced and diced. Thankfully the wave of opposition to Bush has united previously unaligned movements and given them reason to fairly consider and support each other's positions.

How can you reason with those who have bought into Bush's fantasy that God whispered in his ear and told him that he would be president? These people are beyond reason. They need only hear Bush's born again code words and they are reassured that he is doing God's work. They have added intolerance to their list of virtues and see no problem with a narrow faction of a single religion dominating all three branches of our carefully crafted democratic process.

How do you enter into a civil dialogue with ideologues who have set a new standard for incivility in politics? They see no hypocrisy in using vile tactics and gutter language in defense of their righteous cause. They come armed with closed minds and a list of screaming points. You won't reach these diehards with calm reason and flawless logic. You won't reach them at all.

How can you combat the overwhelming power of fear that has frozen so many minds to the mentality of September 11, 2001? They readily accept the concept of generations of war and perpetual fear as a reality that we must live with. They are afraid to move forward and fear a change of leadership no matter how badly the current leadership has served them.

How do you bring last century minds to accept 21st century realities? People who have retreated to the convenient distraction of television reality shows are not likely to ponder the most serious problems we face. Waging war for an obsolete and rapidly dwindling energy source makes more sense to them than developing sustainable energy resources and perfecting conservation technology. To them our petroleum cowboys will always be heroes.

Wasting time and energy trying to make converts of Bush supporters is counterproductive and ultimately frustrating. Enlightening the small number of undecided and uncommitted voters is worth the effort given the likelihood of a very close election. Mobilizing the large percentage of eligible voters who never vote is where the real prize is to be won.

Not only can these disenchanted or disenfranchised citizens carry the election, they can become part of an enlarged and motivated base of rational voters for future political confrontations. We know from recent history that the likes of Newt Gingrich and Jerry Falwell do not go away when the lights are turned on. Winning in November will be the beginning of a healing process and a growth process for our nation, but the struggle of ideas and passions will continue unabated.

Doug Snider is a Vietnam veteran and serves on the Oregon steering committee of Business Leaders for Kerry-Edwards.

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