Talking to Republicans (They’re Sorta Like Us)

I spent last night amongst “the enemy,” red-blooded, real Republicans, who were gathered in bars in St. Paul watching the headlining show. At upscale steakhouse Kincaid’s in downtown St. Paul, I sipped from a martini and slurped oysters and tried my best to fit in even though I was not at all dressed appropriately. I had come from the AntiWar March and figured for that occasion, I should wear comfortable clothes and look like a regular person, lest I get arrested. I gave up on the protesters, who were still having a sit down when I left (they later got arrested), and because the apartment where I was staying was literally at the end of the street that was being blocked by the protest, I had to walk all the way into downtown. This meant, basically, I looked like a scummy lefty dirtbag. One thing I’ll say about the Republicans: They are always dressed nice. Some aren’t necessarily stylish, but the men are always looking pretty sharp in suits. It made you almost want to try it (the men and dressing up) out for size.

At Kincaid’s I ended up talking with a man I’ll call Stan who was a driver for a legislator from a key battleground state. He told me some funny stories, including the fact that the man’s campaign staff, “young pups,” as he called them, always made fun of his foibles when he wasn’t around.

Stan was a local, a genial Minnesotan, who drank a bottle of O’Douls as he ate his food. His son was one of the police who had to deal with the protesters. Stan helpfully shared some tips on getting into the parties.

Unlike at the Democratic National Convention, the parties were closed off due to potential disruptions from Democratic protesters. I had set out to find actual Republicans and go to official events but without a credential, I was persona nongrata. Stan told me to wear my best party dress and as people were walking in ask if you could go in with them; he’d seen it done several times, with success. Alas, his advice came too late; as it was Thursday, I never go to try it out.

His funniest story, though, had to do with two men. They crashed the party by donning black suits and sunglasses (at night), and stuck a black earpiece complete with coil around their necks. They sailed in claiming they were part of the Mayor’s detail.

To my right, I was sitting with a delegate from another battleground state who was still in the bar one hour before McCain’s speech. He was an alternate but had a nice seat on the floor and was putting off going inside. His female companion piped up and said, “Trust me, it’s really boring for the first few hours.” By the time the main speeches started he had somewhat reluctantly bailed.

For a change of scenery, I headed to a frat sports bar down the street called Wyld Time. They were loaded up with TVs, but stupidly, none of them were set to close captioning. The bar was slammed when we walked in, but by the time McCain was on it had cleared out, save for a few frat types, a lone Republican couple, and a trio of kids, one of whom appeared to be doing Sarah Palin in drag. You heard it here first: Sarah Palin will be this year’s big Halloween costume.

The energy in the bar was as dead as McCain’s speech. As I suspected, he (mostly) played nice; there were two instances that were outright potshots, one of which was a cockamamie load of shite. He snuck in a jab at “The One,” which I thought was beneath him; but the other one was more egregious and he should be ashamed of himself. He insinuated that a government-supported health care program would be tantamount to socialism and asked if we’d like to have to deal with a bureaucrat getting between us and a doctor. This is such a huge falsehood and also demonstrates the huge disconnect with his reality (that of a rich and powerful politician) and regular people. John McCain, let me introduce you HMO’s. There are already a number of bureaucrats between me and my doctors; and what’s worse, it’s expensive and limiting. This makes your argument toast.

On my way back to L.A., I sat next to a man who was head-to-toe in McCain regalia, wearing a McCain hat and t-shirt (which said Californians for McCain). He turned out to be a really nice guy who was also Jewish. He described his politics as social libertarian, fiscal conservative. He was yet another one of the Republicans I had encountered in my Excellent Adventure With the Enemy (to paraphrase Mike Huckabee’s speech) who did not care for the social wedge issues being used to hijack his party. He too believed that the Bush administration had committed some egregious errors concerning Iraq and the economy, and that McCain would get the party back to center, where it belonged. He was working on a documentary, and though he was a delegate, spent much of his time chasing politicians on the floor. He said he had talked to a woman from the Christian Coalition and had pointed out that her pushing Christianity in the party made him-as a Jew, feel uncomfortable. He said, she wasn’t so nice to him after that.

He’d been a longtime fan of McCain, but had voted for Clinton and Reagan. I argued with him about Palin, who I think has been chosen because she’s a woman and because she’s being used as a gimmick. If McCain wanted to fire up the social conservatives of the base and appeal to the average Joe, he could just as easily picked Mike Huckabee, but he didn’t. He picked Sarah Palin because Barack Obama did not put Hillary Clinton on the ticket. My seatmate did agree that if Clinton had been the VP pick, we’d never heard the words, “Sarah Palin.”

He also defended the notion that McCain has changed his stances; I am not as well read on the subject as he is, but he said that McCain hadn’t flipped positions on immigration (that they had been given a pamphlet of policies, and that it’s the same as it’s ever been), so it’s just a media position. He also defended McCain’s switch on drilling: five years ago, he explained, it was not a necessary action, as it is now, and that he’s changed his opinion to fit with the situation, which seems fair enough. Of all the Republicans I’ve ever seen, McCain (or, at least the version offered up in 2000) is probably the only one I would ever consider voting for. The problem now is I have no idea who he really is. Will the real John McCain stand up?

As we exited the plane, a man who looked like a cop or a firefighter, asked him: “Did you convert her?”

“No,” said my seatmate. “But I did pretty good.”