Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. – Anna Karenina
The GOP strikes me as a deeply unhappy family. The impression one receives of the national GOP is like the movie War of the Roses. Ostensibly about a disfunctional marriage, it becomes a black comedy about a deranged couple fighting over their house. It is at once wildly funny and deeply disturbing, like the surviving group of robots, fanatics and craven lunatics that comprise/d the GOP Presidential candidates. The corporatists and the creature they created in their lab have their hands around each other’s throats vying for dominance in a dying party.
Remember how the film ends? Oliver (Michael Douglas) and his wife Barbara (Kathleen Turner) have just fallen two stories into the foyer of their home, mortally wounded. With his dying breath, Oliver reaches out and touches Barbara’s shoulder. Barbara uses the last bit of her strength to knock his hand away. Is this how the story ends for the GOP? Tragically? Is it really that bad? I decided to find out for myself.
Washington State has an open caucus. It wasn’t always this way. Traditionally the GOP employs a primary, while the Dems operate a caucus. A couple of years ago, the Secretary of State decided to switch to a caucus instead to save money. It is illegal to ask party affiliation in Washington, so as long as you are willing to sign a sheet that states that you consider yourself a Republican and that you won’t vote in another caucus, all voters are welcome. With Obama safely installed as the incumbent, I figured I may not get another opportunity like this for another 8 years.
I felt excitement about the prospect of attending the GOP caucus. My wife could not have been more disapproving. When I asked who I should vote for, she just muttered; “I can’t believe you’d actually vote for one of these lunatics. It just better not be Romney (family complications) or Santorum (she loathes his attitudes toward women) or Paul (loathes his attitude towards humans)”. That settled it. Gingrich would be my man.
The location was an unassuming Middle School a few blocks from my house. Parking was very difficult to find, which made me fear a high turnout. Maybe GOP voters are more motivated than they seem?
When I walked into the school, I got in line to check in and noticed that the average demographic of the attendees broke down this way: Late 50’s, male, most with spouse in tow, white. I took my place behind three octogenarians to check in. A TGIFridays-inspired Ron Paul supporter was working his way up and down the line asking if anyone wanted a Ron Paul sticker before they went in. One of the elderly women in front of me shook her head and said: “No, he’s the wrong candidate”.
Paul Volunteer: “I think he’s the perfect candidate. We have 15 trillion in debt and its only getting bigger. Ron Paul has a plan to slash 1 trillion in year 1”.
Woman: “But will he take care of people like me? The elderly?”
Volunteer: “Of course. Ron Paul has said that he will make sure that he fulfills his obligation to those already on Medicare and Social Security”.
(this is when I had to jump in)
Me: “How? If he eliminates the income, cap gains, and estate tax, how is going to pay for that?”
Volunteer: “Cutting onerous regulations and refining the tax code is going to generate more than enough money to pay for critical programs”.
This could be harder than I thought.
Entering the gym, I eagerly sought out my lunch-table with my precinct table-tent. Finding it, I sat down with two pleasant-looking gentlemen, who it turns out, would be my only companions for the vote. Bob* (not his real name) I found out was a Romney supporter and our table captain. It was his first caucus and he was excited to participate. Bob is a gastroenterologist. Glenville* (not-his real name) was a retired, east coast transplant who was a declared undecided. They both warmly welcomed me as we sat down to discuss weighty matters.
Me: “Bob, why Romney?”
Bob: “Oh I don’t know, he just seems like the right guy for the job”
Glenville: “Romney is gonna get crushed by Obama. The guys got no spine. He’s got no strong positions”
Bob: “Well that is a problem that Romney has for sure. He would have some trouble in a debate…”
Glenville: “Trouble? He’s gonna get killed!!”
Me: “That’s why I’m pulling for Gingrich. He’s the only one that’s got a chance in a debate with Obama. We need him”
And so began my morning of selling Gingrich. Our conversations ranged far and wide. Healthcare, taxes, defense, Iran, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Glenville thought attacking Iraq was madness, and after losing a nephew in Afghanistan, Bob was in favor of leaving there. I had decided before coming that while I was supporting Gingrich, I was also going to maintain some ethics during my time there. Liminting myself to questions and observations would satisfy my curiousity. As I trolled the other tables, eavsdropping on conversation the main theme I heard over and over was how tough Obama was going to be, and who was going to have the best option to beat him. I heard no conversation at all about whether or not another candidate should jump in or whether there was to be a brokered convention.
Romney and Paul were the only candidates with volunteers. The only campaigns with material for that matter.
A position paper was passed out to every table. The State GOP was polling the caucus to determine what caucus-goers thought about various state and federal positions. They ran out of copies, so our table only had one to share amongst all of us. I offered to be secretary as we discussed each question and came to a consensus on what our answers would be.
What was fascinating is that by the time we were done, we had decided to keep Roe v. Wade, keep gay marriage, keep social security, keep gun laws unchanged, keep tax rates unchanged, start a state-wide uniform school curriculum, socialize medicine, build more mass transportation, and stay out of foreign entanglements. Which, if I am not mistaken looks quite a bit like the current President’s track record. I certainly don’t think I steered the conversation too much, but what was really interesting is that because we decided to come to a consensus, we had to discuss the pros and cons of each multiple choice option and come up with what we felt was the best answer. By the time we finished, we ended up with what could be described as a centrist Dem platform.
I did also manage to win Glenville over Gingrich, which made the final tally Newt 2 Romney 1. Take that Rom-bot!
I was very tempted to try move on as a potential delegate in the district and state elections. How far could I take this? All the way to Tampa??? In the end, I fought off my darker impulses. We elected Bob to be our delegate to the district elections. He was thrilled.
The last thing that we agreed on was that the President was a loser, in over his head, a failure, and had to be stopped. We also agreed he was a good man, a good family man, meant well, was bright, articulate and trying to do his best.
The caucus over, I wished both of my precinct-chums a good day. They were good company. The conversation was spirited and respectful, all one can hope to get out of a political discussion with a neighbor.
To recap: My precinct settled on a Democratic platform / Agreed that Obama was doing his best, was a good man and is a formidable candidate / And that he had to be stopped at all costs before he destroys the nation.
As I walked back to the car, I reflected on what I had experienced:
Maybe most of us outside of the evangelical knuckle-foamers aren’t all that far apart on basic policies
Maybe my district in my purple city in my blue state has more reasonable Republicans
Maybe the small sample size of my district yielded voters outside the GOP norm
Maybe I “poisoned the well” and unduly influenced the direction of the conversation and policy choices
Maybe a combination of all of the above. Maybe what I really found is that conservatives aren’t that far away from where we are when you can talk to them face to face. Maybe its the GOP and FOX that poison them. Maybe they are good people that willingly make bad choices, like choosing to remain ignorant, like choosing to willingly and knowingly live in a parallel reality to the rest of us. What does that make them? Victims? Culpable? Tragic like Oliver and Barbara?
All I know is that it is gonna take more than a divorce to fix this family.