HELL JUST FROZE OVER
This entry was posted on 10/9/2008 3:55 PM and is filed under uncategorized.
"I don't know who else to call," said my friend Robby. "I don't know anybody else who would understand."
My friend Robby. We love each other; call each other "big sister" and "little brother," and I adore his little FDR-Democrat mama and his two beautiful children.
But Robby is, in his own words, "So right-wing that I could reach around and touch your left hand."
So right-wing, in fact, that on his MySpace page, his photo is looking straight up the business end of a double-barrell shotgun with his fierce face glowering down. Did I mention he's a card-carrying member of the NRA?
Robby and I had a few tense moments back during the Clinton Crucifixion, and because, as he says, "I love George W. Bush," we sniped back and forth a time or two during the two previous elections.
But all that began to change during the Iraq war, when my son deployed with the Marines.
Robby had called me up that week in November of '04, just to see how I was doing. Although we didn't know it for sure at the time, Dustin's unit had deployed specifically for the ferocious Battle of Fallujah. Dustin had known that "something big is about to happen," and had called his dad and warned him to "keep Mama away from the T.V. news," although his dad pointed out that he'd have to lock me in a (padded) room in order to pull that feat off.
But moms know stuff, you know? I didn't need to see the battle plans drawn up to understand that my son was in Fallujah, where the insurgency was raging, and that his life was in danger every moment of every day. I even had a vivid dream where I was sitting in on a tactics session with Marine Corps and army officers, and one said, "We call them 'Ghost Soldiers,' because as soon as you see them, they disappear, blend in with the innocents. You can't tell who the enemy is."
So, when Dustin made one brief call home before the battle, I said, "Watch out for ghosts."
So Robby had called that week, and as I was saying how hard it had been to remain cheerful during a chat with my son that could have been the last we ever had, I suddenly burst into tears. We'd known one another for 20 years by then and he had never seen me cry.
After that, Robby called every single week of Dustin's deployments--both of them. He sent care packages, and once sent Dustin a Texas flag that he folded up tightly and carried with him everywhere he went in the bottom of his rucksack. After the battle, Dustin and his buddies from Texas posed in front of the infamous Blackwater Bridge, which they had reclaimed from insurgents, with the Texas flag. That photograph is one of Robby's most prized possessions.
Robby put up with a lot of rage from me during those deployments. I had been opposed to the Iraq war before my son even enlisted, and the attitudes of the Bush administration, all the happy-talk and Rumsfeldian mindlessness, combined with daily terrified anxiety over my son and his buddies, was driving me to the brink of madness.
I daresay I crossed over that line from time to time. I know I sure felt crazy.
But I think our talks during that time gave my friend Robby pause as to just what was going on over there, and he developed a much more reasonable mindset toward it than the people he listened to daily on conservative talk-radio.
At the same time, I appreciated the fact that, politics or no politics, he never forgot that my son was in harm's way. You'd be surprised how many people did. And how badly that hurt.
Because Robby's job entails a great deal of driving, he listens to conservative talk-radio all the time.
Which is what made today's phone call such a hell-froze-over moment.
"I don't know who else to talk to about this," he said, "but I just turned off the radio."
This was stunning news indeed.
"I mean for God's sake, what is WRONG with these people?" he raged. "I keep hearing people that I would otherwise consider intelligent, thoughtful people, and they keep saying this CRAP, and I think WHAT KOOL-AID ARE YOU DRINKING?"
I told him I had the same thoughts sometimes, from people on the far left who sound as wacko in their ways as people on the far right. It seemed like the right thing to say, rather than screaming, WHAT HAVE I BEEN TELLING YOU ALL THESE YEARS???
Robby's never going to change his political persuasion, and neither am I, but what we both hope and pray to see one day is two entire SETS of people--Republican and Democratic--who can talk to one another with the mutual respect that Robby and I have been able to show one another all these years.
After all, we've seen what 20 years or so of partisan gridlock have accomplished.
From the beginning, Robby has been very respectful of my candidate, Barack Obama. Maybe, in part, because I was aligned against Hillary in the primaries, which made his little conservative heart glow. Or maybe just because of the kind of man Obama is. But Robby has told me several times that, if Obama were to be elected, "I would not be devastated. I don't agree with most of his policies, but he seems like a reasonable, intelligent man who would at least listen to our side, and consider our concerns."
And it seems that, more and more, Robby is not alone.
Since Dustin's first deployment, I've made it a habit to read conservative columnists and op-ed writers as much as progressive ones, because I consider it a barometer on which way the thinkers in the Republican party are leaning. At first, I was in a rage every time I read one of them, because especially where the war was concerned, it was All Kool-Aid, All the Time.
But over time, all but the most dogmatic of them began to give more serious considerations to what the thinkers on the left had long been saying where the war was concerned, but especially toward Bush's fiscal policies.
None of them, of course, liked John McCain, but they did their best to support the ticket.
The first serious cracks began to appear during the Republican convention, when John McCain suspended the first day of the convention in order to race off to the Gulf states and pretend to be presidential as Hurricane Ike threatened.
They knew that was bullshit and most of them said so.
Then came Sarah Palin.
Some of them, like David Brooks--at least in the beginning--tried to get on board the Straight-Talk Express and back Palin as fresh and energetic and a great way to revitalize a demoralized base. They liked her convention speech, for the most part.
Then came the Charles Gibson-ABC News interview with Palin.
And they were horrified. Some of the loudest protests I read came from conservatives.
The thinking ones knew, right then, that this was someone chosen as an impulsive campaign gimmik, and that she was sadly underprepared for such a high office. The Katie Couric interviews only confirmed that opinion for most of them.
Then came the economic meltdown, followed swiftly by the McCain Meltdown. The so-called suspension of his campaign, his racing back to Washington and subsequent disastrous derailing of discussions, followed by the refusal of even the party caucus to go along with his vote...and overshadowed, completely, by the calm and measured approach of Barack Obama to the crises, convinced all but the most ridiculous Kool-Aid drinkers that Serious Times Called for Serious Measures, and that John McCain Was Not Serious.
After the first debate, other conservative thinkers weighed in that Obama had passed the test of "looking presidential." He had held his own, even on foreign policy, and he had done it with grace, dignity, and intelligence, while McCain couldn't even force himself to look at his opponent.
I think most conservative thinkers were willing to give McCain the benefit of the doubt and to think that he'd just had a bad night, just as they gave Sarah Palin a small measure of credit because her head didn't explode during the Biden debate. But they were not reassured, and some, like Kathleen Parker, came right out and said so.
As most of us know by now, she paid for her honesty with death threats from nutcases within her own party, provoking her to make the wry comment, "Dixie Chicks, I hear ya."
But this most recent debate, capping, as it has, a McCain campaign so vicious and mean-spirited and blatantly false--not to mention out of touch with real voter concerns--seems to have finally tipped the balance of careful conservative thought away from their own party standard-bearer.
George Will, in a piece called, "McCain in a Bear Market," for the Washington Post
"Time was, the Baltimore Orioles' manager was Earl Weaver, a short, irascible, Napoleonic figure who, when cranky, as he frequently was, would shout at an umpire, 'Are you going to get any better or is this it?' With, mercifully, only one debate to go, that is the question about John McCain's campaign.
"In the closing days of his 10-year quest for the presidency, McCain finds it galling that Barack Obama is winning the first serious campaign he has ever run against a Republican. Before Tuesday night's uneventful event, gall was fueling what might be the McCain-Palin campaign's closing argument. It is less that Obama has bad ideas than that Obama is a bad person.
"This, McCain and his female Sancho Panza say, is demonstrated by bad associations Obama had in Chicago, such as with William Ayers, the unrepentant terrorist. But the McCain-Palin charges have come just as the Obama campaign is benefiting from a mass mailing it is not paying for. Many millions of American households are gingerly opening envelopes containing reports of the third-quarter losses in their 401(k) and other retirement accounts -- telling each household its portion of the nearly $2 trillion that Americans' accounts have recently shed. In this context, the McCain-Palin campaign's attempt to get Americans to focus on Obama's Chicago associations seems surreal -- or, as a British politician once said about criticism he was receiving, 'like being savaged by a dead sheep.'"
And it's not just George Will and Kathleen Parker who are fed up.
Also in the Post, Howard Kurtz chronicles a common conservative complaint in his op-ed, "Slipping Away?"
"After watching Barack Obama hit his stride at a boisterous Indiana rally Wednesday, I fired up the old laptop and came to a realization.
"There is a growing acceptance among conservatives that Obama will probably be the next president of the United States.
"You know how it goes after a big debate: Each side praises their guy and picks apart the other candidate. But if there's anyone seriously arguing that John McCain won the second debate in Nashville, I missed it.
"Some pundits say McCain did well. Others challenged some of Obama's assertions. But many on the right were candid enough to say that Obama had won the evening."
(quoting the Weekly Standard's Stephen Hays):
"'John McCain had a very strong debate. It's too bad for him that it came on a night when Barack Obama was nearly flawless.
"'The debate began with questions on the economy and for thirty minutes Obama answered those questions with the kind of substance that I suspect anxious voters wanted to hear and with exactly the right tone -- empathic, aggravated, and determined. Most important, he spoke to voters in their own language.
"'Obama's test in the first debate was to present himself as a plausible president, as a guy who didn't seem out of place on stage at a presidential debate and wouldn't seem out of place delivering a State of the Union address. Much as I'd disagree with the policies in such a speech, it was clear that he passed that test. Tuesday night, his job was to persuade voters -- particularly independents -- not only that he could be president but that he should be president. I suspect polling in the next couple of days will provide evidence that he passed that test, too.'"
(quoting David Frum):
"'Those who press this Ayers line of attack are whipping Republicans and conservatives into a fury that is going to be very hard to calm after November. Is it really wise to send conservatives into opposition in a mood of disdain and fury for the next president, incidentally the first African-American president? Anger is a very bad political adviser. It can isolate us and push us to the extremes at exactly the moment when we ought to be rebuilding, rethinking, regrouping and recruiting.'"
David Brooks has seemed to be the classic conservative paradox. Writing for the New York Times, he has often said very flattering things about Obama, whom he considers very intelligent and thoughtful, but he has also tried very hard--especially after the vice-presidential debate, to be a Party loyalist.
But he got caught on-camera recently at a local New York event expressing how he REALLY feels:
Brooks called Palin a "fatal cancer on the Republican party," and added that she is "absolutely not" ready to be vice-president.
Another conservative, whose name escapes me now, commented in some place I read today that, although he disagreed with most of Obama's policies, he was very impressed with the people Obama had surrounded himself with to deal with this economic crises. He made a comment along the lines of, "In a time of crises like this, these are just the kinds of minds I want thinking about how to handle it."
Sarah Palin has tapped into a frightening core of redneck hatred, racism, and fear-mongering that has led to the crowd frenzies we've witnessed in recent weeks, and John McCain seems to delight in it as well, even though he presumably knows better. So vicious have some of the shouted comments gotten that even the Secret Service has started to investigate. Joe Biden has stated--rightly so--that at this level of presidential politics, those who head the ticket have a responsibility to set the tone and discourage that kind of nastiness.
So it's easy to listen to the loudest voices on their side of the aisle--aided and abetted by right-wing talk radio, FOX news, and viral e-mails--and despair. It's easy to think that at least half of our country's population is just plain NUTS.
But my friend Robby lets me know that this is not the case.
My friend Robby TURNED OFF talk radio when even he knew it had reached the level of absolute idiocy.
This is why I keep referring to "thinking conservatives." Because for every thinking conservative who GETS what this election is really about, there are TEN moderate Republicans and Independents out there who get it as well.
I like to joke that there will be many "closeted conservatives" who will enter the voting booth, pull the curtain, glance around to make sure they are alone, and pull the lever or push the computer-screen button for Barack Obama for president. (And take the secret to their graves.)
These are people who do love their country, and they love their Party, and they know that, somewhere along the line (Karl Rove/George W. Bush), the values their party stands for got seriously derailed.
As Robby put it to me, "We have plenty of principles on our side that we should be able to stand on proudly. We shouldn't HAVE to get into this bullshit about Obama being Muslim or hanging out with domestic terrorists or whatever crap it is. Most of us know that stuff's not true. We're better than this."
I do believe that the conservative movement, and the Republican Party overall, needs to enter into a serious phase of introspection. Some of their most cherished beliefs have proven to be disastrously wrong. Some have proven to be too idealistic to function in the Real World. Some need to be adjusted, not just to reality, but to voter's longings.
In other words, the days of Donald Rumsfeld are over. It's time for Bob Gates. I'm talking about a flexible realism about the world and this country that sheds much of the rigid ideological thinking that caused so many of these problems, and embraces more wide-ranging solutions.
As David Frum says, they need to rebuild, rethink, regroup, and recruit--not chase around after the first serious African-American presidential candidate in history with torches and lynching ropes.
There are plenty of conservatives who understand this, and are humble enough, and concerned enough, to admit it.
I believe that a Barack Obama administration would be willing to listen to what they have to say--and the smartest among them have said that they believe he would too.
This is where we start the healing of a country torn apart by war, economic disaster, and years of partisan attacks and counter-attacks.
My friend Robby, right-wing though he is, is a decent man. If he can turn away from the shrillest voices in his party, then I believe there are thousands more out there just like him. Maybe millions.
Like Robby, they may disagree with Obama on policy, but like Robby and other thinking conservatives, they, like the rest of us, are ready for some common sense.
Robby said something else that stuck in my mind. When I mentioned that McCain had embraced Karl Rove and his tactics in this election and that I thought Rove's time had passed, he said, "Karl Rove's time has passed the way Jesse Jackson's time has passed."
Clearly, it's time for a new era, a new generation of thinkers who have seen that hatred and fear just don't get the job done. Progressive and conservative, they're looking to a candidate who has that flexibility and common sense and who has not wasted a moment of his life on hatred, and his name is Barack Obama.
I think they will vote for him, and I believe he will be our next president.
Only then will the loudest voices realize that, at long last, no one is listening.