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Ten weeks undercover in the grass roots of the Republican Party
By MATT TAIBBI
I never felt any longing to go to Orlando, Florida. What I felt, in traveling south to volunteer for the campaign of George W. Bush, was an obligation. Let me explain by first saying something about the critics of our president. A great many of them like to laugh at George Bush for not reading books and for being uninterested in visiting other countries. But a lot of those same people are guilty of the opposite offense. They prefer to read books and travel abroad rather than actually getting to know their own country face to face.
These critics do a terrific job of mocking his mental deficiencies and dismissing his supporters as hapless morons, but they do not do a very good job of explaining the nature of his support. The few dissident commentators who bother trying to explain the Bush phenomenon seldom do more than reach for the nearest Marx-inspired academic cliche. They will tell you, for instance, that Republicans are a vast intellectual underclass cynically manipulated by the rich through a mesmerizing cocktail of yahoo enthusiasms, xenophobic fears and ancient superstitions -- and those same people will insist, if forced to offer an opinion on the subject, that one should feel sorry for most of them.
This is the wrong approach. As a professional misanthrope, I believe that if you are going to hate a person, you ought to do it properly. You should go and live in his shoes for a while and see at the end of it how much you hate yourself.
This was what I was doing down in Florida. The real challenge wasn't just trying to understand these Republicans. It was to become the best Republican I could be.
One of the great cliches of liberal criticism of the Christian right is the idea that these people are wrongheaded because they profess to know the will of God. H.L. Mencken put that one best, and perhaps first: "It is only the savage, whether of the African bush or the American gospel tent, who pretends to know the will and intent of God exactly and completely."
These criticisms sound like they make sense. But I think they are a little off-base. The problem not only with fundamentalist Christians but with Republicans in general is not that they act on blind faith, without thinking. The problem is that they are incorrigible doubters with an insatiable appetite for Evidence. What they get off on is not Believing, but in having their beliefs tested. That's why their conversations and their media are so completely dominated by implacable bogeymen: marrying gays, liberals, the ACLU, Sean Penn, Europeans and so on. Their faith both in God and in their political convictions is too weak to survive without an unceasing string of real and imaginary confrontations with those people -- and for those confrontations, they are constantly assembling evidence and facts to make their case.
But here's the twist. They are not looking for facts with which to defeat opponents. They are looking for facts that ensure them an ever-expanding roster of opponents. They can be correct facts, incorrect facts, irrelevant facts, it doesn't matter. The point is not to win the argument, the point is to make sure the argument never stops. Permanent war isn't a policy imposed from above; it's an emotional imperative that rises from the bottom. In a way, it actually helps if the fact is dubious or untrue (like the Swift-boat business), because that guarantees an argument. You're arguing the particulars, where you're right, while they're arguing the underlying generalities, where they are.
Once you grasp this fact, you're a long way to understanding what the Hannitys and Limbaughs figured out long ago: These people will swallow anything you feed them, so long as it leaves them with a demon to wrestle with in their dreams.
Saw this artice on the Rolling Stone site, i found it funny: