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Ask Auntie Pinko
July 1, 2004

Dear Auntie Pinko,

A couple of friends of mine who have been staunch Republicans all their lives are making noises about being unhappy with Bush. Is there anything I can do to get them firmly on our side? They've never been Rush listeners, but they support a lot of neo-fascist things like locking up marijuana smokers, paying women less than men (because men should be 'breadwinners') and other right-wing garbage. And they love the Bush tax cuts, naturally, because they're well-off.

I want to have them vote for Kerry, even though I don't want to see them at the next Democratic Convention. How can I pull it off?

Lincoln, NE

Dear Megan,

Your friends aren't the only ones having doubts about Mr. Bush. The last time Auntie Pinko heard so many of her own GOP friends expressing doubts was in 1974. We can only hope that those doubts will last through November.

There are three possible outcomes in this situation:

1. The doubters can go ahead and vote for Mr. Kerry;

2. They can just stay home; or

3. They can vote for Mr. Bush, in spite of their doubts.

Of course, #1 is the preferred option. Still, #2 would not be bad. The main thing we hope to avoid is #3 - but that's still a very likely outcome for many of the doubtful ones. So is there anything we can do to make #2 or #1 more likely? I think so. But the key is to avoid tripping the always delicately-balanced flight/fight response.

I find that what works best, when you hear an equivocal, or even outright doubtful remark from one of Mr. Bush's supporters, is to ask them for more information about why they feel that way. It may be tempting, but don't rush right into reinforcing their doubts with some remark about what a terrible president Mr. Bush has been, or some factual example of a Bush Administration misstep. Just ask them to say more about their feelings.

In doing this, you're offering them an opportunity to reinforce their own inner dialogue - which is much more effective than any external reinforcement you can supply.

It's very unlikely that the most die-hard fans of Mr. Limbaugh and his ilk will be voting for Mr. Kerry, even if they think Mr. Bush isn't conservative enough for them. The best you can hope for in the case of these individuals is that they will stay home and not vote. The more they hear from you - the liberal 'enemy' - the more likely they are to be reminded that all Democrats are just terrible and so they should vote for Mr. Bush even if he's not quite as right-wing as they'd like.

And among the more moderate conservatives, the thing that is most likely to worry them is extremism of any kind - in fact, that dislike of extremism is probably part of why they are feeling doubtful about Mr. Bush and his friends. So the more passionately you try to influence them to support Mr. Kerry, the more likely they are to worry about Democratic 'extremism.' And they'll stay home, which would be a shame, because they're the ones most likely to go ahead and vote for Mr. Kerry, if not scared away.

So concentrate on getting them to reinforce their own doubts. Then, limit your comments to two general themes:

First, that they should trust their own judgment - they're usually pretty smart and level-headed about such things, and they should make up their own minds.

And second, that even though the options may not be very appealing this year, they really can't leave the election up to the extremists - their participation is still important.

These two ideas, presented thoughtfully, should be very helpful to more moderate conservatives who are increasingly uncomfortable with the actions of Mr. Bush and his administration. Save the horror stories about rape of the environment, foreign policy meltdowns, treaty abrogation, embroiling the country in the disaster that is Iraq, etc., for your fellow-Democrats, especially those who think Mr. Kerry is too moderate, and would prefer to see a really "progressive" third party candidate get some attention. While Auntie Pinko supports third-party initiatives in general (they are generally very beneficial to democracy) the stakes in this particular election are high enough to make Democratic unity extremely important.

Good luck, Megan, and thanks for asking Auntie Pinko!

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