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Monday, November 15, 2004

Undercover with the Bush campaign

Matt Taibbi describes his ten weeks undercover with the Bush campaign in Orlando. Excerpts:
Republicans are everywhere, but everywhere is not a good place to look for them. For my purposes I wanted to try to catch them in their ideal habitat. That was why I chose Orlando. For me, it is hell on earth, the worst city on the planet, a place that would make me long for Kinshasa or Volokolamsk. But for Republicans, it is ideal: a scorching-hot paved inland archipelago of garish shopping malls and stadium-size steel-and-glass Baptist churches, a place with no nonhuman life apart from the caged animals at the theme parks, and an entire economy organized around monstrous temples to fake experience.
If you've ever hung out with the Tricia Enrights and Joe Trippis of the world, you know that the operative vibe of the Democratic insider is wisecracking cool. It is not a reach to say that the ideological vision that mainstream Democratic politics has offered America since Clinton has been the supercool high school, the party of the popular kids. For all the talk about the Democrats being the party of inclusion, it really doesn't feel that way from the inside.

That's not true of all Democrats, of course. I thought it was very different, for instance, in the campaign of Dennis Kucinich. For the most part, these people were motivated by something other than ambition, and just being part of that campaign meant you were in a besieged minority, with the whole world out there laughing at you. Kucinich supporters stuck up for one another, because they had to.

You get that same besieged fraternal feeling in a Republican campaign office. There is no M*A*S*H ensemble-cast repartee. Nobody wears T-shirts that mean something, and nobody looks cool. As I would later find out, most Republicans hate "cool" ("They all think they're so cool and artistic," griped one woman as she watched Fox coverage of Democratic delegates arriving in Boston). Many of the parent volunteers I met were especially bitter because they think that cool is what liberals use to lure their children away. Which they might very well be right about, of course.
During my time on the campaign, I noticed an unusual phenomenon. The more involved a person was with the campaign, the more likely he was to be politically moderate. Most of the core group of our office -- Vienna, Rhyan, Ben, Don -- were quietly pro-choice or socially liberal in some other respect. It was the casual volunteers and the people whose only involvement was a bumper sticker who were likely to rant about liberals being traitors and agents of Islamo-Fascism who should be exiled from the country or jailed, etc.

I saw this clearly one weekend at a local gun show, where we were manning a voter-registration booth. I rotated with Rhyan and Vienna that weekend, and all three of us were quietly freaking out at the sight of all these fat weirdos from the sticks buying huge assault rifles and Confederate bumper stickers with messages such as IF I'D KNOWN THIS WOULD HAPPEN, I'D HAVE PICKED MY OWN COTTON.

"Man, I'm glad I'm a socially liberal Republican," whispered Rhyan at one point, laughing.