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