Transcript

139:

Ghosts of Elections Past
Transcript

Originally aired 09.03.1999

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/139

Prologue.

Ira Glass

Well election season is upon us again. We've all already endured the news of the first Iowa straw poll. Ahead of us, 14 months of pondering the choice of presidential candidates who seem to excite nobody who you ever meet. And it feels like, once again, all of us are left in a position where we want to feel inspired, we want to believe in something, and nobody is showing up to do the job.

And I find myself thinking about a candidate I met during the last presidential election. This wasn't anybody who made it big. His name was Chuck Wojslaw. He was a retired professor of electronics engineering running for office as a Republican in a mostly Democratic district of East San Jose.

I met him at the Republican National Convention in San Diego, standing in the afternoon sun, wearing a red, white, and blue bicentennial tie. He'd never run for office before this. And talking to him, you could tell. I mean, he was so much more emotionally present than any normal political candidate you meet. He looked you in the eye. When you asked him a question, he actually answered it. And he had none of that robotic, not quite human, pod people affect that so many candidates end up having.

Chuck Wojslaw

I retired a tenured professorship to run for office. So I could have been secure in academia as a tenured professor.

Ira Glass

Then why are you doing this?

Chuck Wojslaw

I love my country. I come from a really humble background. And my country, it has given me opportunity that all I had to do was take advantage of it. I'm the son of a coal miner.

Ira Glass

Are you somebody who's always wanted to run for office? You've always toyed with it in the back of your mind?

Chuck Wojslaw

No.

Ira Glass

When did the idea come into your head?

Chuck Wojslaw

Well, I had a family meeting. My daughter and a son, they're grown, college educated, off on their own. My wife and I got together and to my kids I says, it looks like I might want to take an early retirement. And so my daughter says, why don't you run for office? And I says, you got to be kidding. And I says, do you know what is involved with running for office? The mudslinging, and the long hours, and whatever.

Then, all of a sudden, my daughter came up to me, and this is what turned my mind, she says, this is our country. We love it. If not you, who then? If not you, who then?

Ira Glass

And that's when you decided?

Chuck Wojslaw

Yeah.

Ira Glass

He was spending $60,000 of his own retirement money to do this. And like a lot of people I met at the Republican Convention, what was most striking about Chuck Wojslaw was his idealism. He seemed completely sincere about what he was doing. This is the puzzle of the American political system. It's filled with lots of profoundly idealistic people working at all levels. And yet, it does not seem to produce idealistic candidates. I mean, what's the most inspiring thing you've ever heard Al Gore say, or George Bush junior, or Elizabeth Dole?

Well, today on our radio program, as we head into another election season, to keep us all from feeling dispirited by the staged media events, the negative ads, the issues that have all been pretested in focus groups, we bring you stories of political idealists, stories to make us all feel some small sense of hope about politics in America. All of these stories taken from election coverage we did four years ago, here on This American Life.

From WBEZ Chicago and Public Radio International, I'm Ira Glass. Act one of our show today, Upside Down World. We have a campaign diary from Michael Lewis from four years ago about a politician you'll be hearing a lot about in the next few weeks and months. And the story of a moment when the opposite of normal politics became normal politics.

Act Two, Kiss And Tell. A Walter Mondale voting, gay rights supporting, unrepentant liberal signs up as a Republican Party member and ends up a party functionary, a delegate to the state Republican convention, where he wreaks havoc.

Act Three, Pete and Repeat. How California Governor Pete Wilson's anti-immigrant policies found some supporters among immigrants themselves. We hear an explanation of the profoundly idealistic notion of self-deportation.

Act Four, Throwing Money at the Problem. You may recall a bestselling book from a few years ago called, There Are No Children Here, about two boys growing up in Chicago's Henry Horner public housing projects. Well those projects where across the street from the site of the 1996 Democratic Convention here in Chicago. And when the convention came to town, money poured in for a makeover of the neighborhood. One of the kids from the book, now grown up, gave us a tour showing us what got fixed up, and how the real improvements in the neighborhood all happened beneath the normal political radar. Stay with us.

Act One. Upside Down World.

Ira Glass

Act One, Upside Down World. We begin our program with this story of national politics as it is almost never practiced. To Michael Lewis, his campaign diaries from the last presidential race, were some of the most evocative and original reporting anybody did. His stories were novelistic, often very funny. This next story, which was first published in the New Republic magazine put Arizona Senator John McCain on the map for a lot of people in a way that he had never been before. It coincided with and it boosted a rise to national notoriety for McCain, who of course has now become a Republican presidential candidate himself. Here's Michael's dispatch.

Michael Lewis

April the 19th, I leave my hotel earlier than I need to and walk down from the Washington Monument to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Even at 7:30 in the morning, the mall is nearly deserted, the Lincoln Memorial empty. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, on the other hand, is teeming with people who appear to have up for hours, walking slowly along the length of the black marble slab bearing the names of the dead.

For the next 20 minutes, I sit on a bench dodging bird droppings and waiting for Senator John McCain, who has agreed to meet me here. In my attempts to spot him at a distance, I can't help but notice how differently ordinary people behave from politicians. Maybe 50 likely candidates pass through my line of vision, and not one of them could pass for a US senator at 100 paces. They comb their hair in public, scratch themselves, hold hands.

At 8:00 on the button, McCain appears at my side, looking very senatorial except for a pair of outrageously wide, black aviator sunglasses with some undignified name, hobby, hippo stenciled on the earpiece. McCain is the Dole surrogate most in demand as a speaker around the country, and it's not hard to see why.

What matters most to the people who wish to see McCain speak for Dole is the formative experience that the two senators ostensible share. Both nearly died in a war. Both endured indescribable pain and suffering. Dole's ordeal is at the center of his national campaign. To some extent, it is his campaign.

McCain's trials are less known. On October 26, 1967, when he ejected out of his navy jet and into a North Vietnamese mob, McCain suffered two broken arms, a shattered knee and shoulder, and bayonet wounds in his ankle and groin.

Robert Timberg's gripping book, The Nightingale's Song, depicts McCain, two months later, in his first prison cell. McCain weighed less than 100 pounds. His hair, flecked with gray since high school, was nearly snow white. Clots of food clung to his face, neck, hair, and beard. His cheeks were sunken, his neck chicken like, his legs atrophied.

McCain survived in captivity without medical treatment for the next five years, enduring torture so exquisite that even to read about it causes sweat to pop out on your brow. His captors would hang him by his broken arms from dangling ropes for hours on end, for instance.

But the astonishing part of McCain's experience was its voluntary aspect. McCain is the third generation of a distinguished military family. His father was an admiral during the Vietnam War. The North Vietnamese hoped that this famous prisoner of war would violate US military policy, which dictated that prisoners be returned in the order they arrived. If he accepted their offer of freedom, McCain would testify to the demoralization of the American troops. For five and a half years, his captors tried torture him into going home. For five and a half years, he refused to go.

We walk alongside the black granite slab against the oncoming traffic, then back again. The Park Service says that the memorial has become the second most frequently visited site in Washington, after the Capitol. McCain admits that at first he found it depressing and even faintly antagonistic.

But one day, he was passing through on his own-- he visits often by himself-- and discovered a couple of veterans running their hands across the inscribed names. Clearly the two men had never met before, but they had fallen into conversation, swapped war stories, and in a few minutes we're clutching each other and weeping. If that kind of healing goes on, says McCain, well, then it's a good thing.

Someone once said that an explanation is where the mind comes to rest. There's a feeling about McCain, one that seems lacking in Dole, that he has somehow explained his own experience to himself. He has assimilated his trauma differently than the candidate he's behind.

He says, this is the McCain theory, and I think it's valid. I was an adult when I was shot down, 31 years old. I'd had a whole life. He was 19. What were you like when you were 19? I believe that everything Bob Dole has done since the war was dictated by that experience.

The Vietnam veteran has achieved a kind of equanimity that is supposed to be reserved only for veterans of good wars. When Clinton arrived at the White House, for instance, McCain sent him a note saying that any time the President wished to walk down to the Vietnam's Veteran Memorial, the Senator from Arizona would be glad to walk alongside him. Clinton sent back a nice note.

Recalling this exchange causes McCain to break his rhythm. We were walking back towards the bench, and McCain is limping slightly, like a high school football star. He's remembering something else.

I don't know if you want to write about this, he begins. Back in the mid-'80s, a guy who protested the war came into my office. He said his name was David Ifshin. In December 1970, David Ifshin had led a group of American students to Hanoi, where he delivered an anti-war radio address to American soldiers engaged in attacks on North Vietnam.

Like other anti-American propaganda, this program was piped into McCain's prison cell from 6:00 in the morning until 9:00 at night. But McCain, who can generate anger in a heartbeat, shows not the faintest trace of resentment. He explains, Ifshin stood in my office and he says, I came here to tell you, I made a mistake. I was wrong. And I'm sorry.

And I said to him, look, I accept your apology. We'll be friends. But, more importantly, I want you to forget it, go on with your life. You cannot look back. Here he pauses, and I figure he's finished. But he's groping behind his aviator sunglasses for the point of his anecdote. That forgiveness is ultimately less self-destructive than the bitter desire for revenge, or perhaps that there's no such thing as revenge.

Five months ago, David Ifshin was diagnosed with cancer. The cancer has proved untreatable and has spread rapidly. David Ifshin is now dying. He's 47 years old and has a wife and three young children. Says McCain, when I heard about it, it did pass through my mind. Suppose I had told David Ifshin to get the hell out of my office? How would I feel about myself now?

April 23rd, I'm walking out the door of my Washington apartment, on my way to find David Ifshin, when John McCain calls. I made the mistake of telling his press secretary what I'm up to, and she's passed it along to the senator, who is seriously concerned. He says, look, I don't mean to insult you but be careful with this. If you wrote anything that hurt David, or Gail, or the kids, I'd never forgive myself. I'd forgive you, but I wouldn't forgive myself.

It's a half hour drive out of Washington to the Ifshin's house in the Maryland suburbs, where I find a gaunt, bearded man stretched out on a patio lounge chair, attended by his wife Gail. This afternoon, he's tired, and his voice is barely audible as he sketches his political career. The cover of Life Magazine of April 23, 1971 shows David Ifshin, age 22, at a war rally wearing a collegiate goatee. He's standing directly behind Jane Fonda, who has her fist raised. After his war protest, he worked on a kibbutz.

But when he returned to America, he also returned in national politics. He went on to work on the Mondale campaign and, to a storm of protest, was even tapped to head the Dukakis transition team. He spent 10 years as general counsel to AIPAC, the Israeli lobby.

He'd met Clinton briefly in 1972. 20 years later, when Clinton ran for President, Ifshin became general counsel for his campaign. Before he accepted the job however, he told Clinton he'd been attacked for his war record each time he'd joined a presidential campaign. He says, I brought it up with Clinton deliberately. And he said, he knew what I'd done, and he admired it then, and that he still admired it now.

These days, Clinton calls Ifshin two or three times each week, even when he's traveling. A few months ago, the Ifshin family spent the night in the Lincoln Bedroom. In pictures of Clinton playing with the Ifshin children, the President's ruddy good health seems almost obscene besides Ifshin's drawn face. Yet, when I called him , David Ifshin did not hesitate to rise to the occasion.

He says, I'm very proud of this story, and it's never been written. I ask him about his feelings towards McCain. He says, one of our true, political heroes. He's a giant. Ifshin's version of their story differs from McCain's in its important details and in its spirit.

The way McCain tells it, Ifshin is the hero. He decided he made a mistake and bravely took responsibility for his actions. The way Ifshin tells is, McCain is the hero. As I listen to him, I realize that this is the reverse of the usual Washington investigation, in which the reporter visits each interested party to collect the dirt on the adversary. Here is a case where each is needed to explain the other's nobility of spirit. I've never heard two political allies, much less two political opponents, cast each other in a more flattering light.

Ifshin begins, I'd always wanted to apologize but didn't know who to apologize to. His moment to act, he decided, came at an AIPAC meeting around 1986 at the Washington Hilton. Ifshin spotted Senator John McCain at a distance and decided that he was the man who deserved the apology.

Ifshin says, I hoisted up my courage and went over to him. And before I could get a word out, McCain says, I owe you an apology. A couple of years earlier, during the 1984 presidential campaign, McCain had given a speech in which he attacked the Ifshin's war record. Basically, someone had handed him a script, says Ifshin, and he read it. He was sorry he did it and said, he wouldn't do that kind of thing again.

Then he asked me to stop by his office, which I did. And normally wouldn't do. It was blind fate, I told him at that time. I said, I showed you an apology, and you robbed me of the chance to make it. And he was characteristically modest and humble about it. Later that year, McCain and Ifshin, together with a Vietnamese emigre named Doan Van Toai, established The Institute for Democracy in Vietnam.

Ifshin shifts painfully in his chair and stops to catch his breath. It was at the Vietnam's Veteran Memorial that, what he calls, the second half of the story with McCain began. On Memorial Day of 1993, Bill Clinton spoke at the site. Both McCain and Ifshin were present. Clinton was cheered loudly. He was also heckled. And one of the hecklers waved a sign that said, tell us about Ifshin. Four weeks later, Ifshin found himself on a flight to Washington with McCain, who motioned for him to take the seat beside him. Ifshin says, he asked why I hadn't taken a job in the administration. I said this and that. We played 20 questions until, finally, he said, it's because of that stupid sign isn't it? And I said, yes, partly it was. And he said, come to my office tomorrow morning, and we'll settle this thing, once and for all.

The next day, June 30th, 1993, David Ifshin turned up in John McCain's office in the Russell Senate Office Building to find that the senator had drafted a letter, which he entered later that day in the Congressional Record. It began by praising Clinton's Memorial Day address on behalf of Vietnam's veterans.

The veterans, McCain wrote, were very impressed by Clinton's determination to offer an eloquent tribute to their service, when it would have been far easier for him to avoided the event altogether. McCain decried the behavior of the protesters. Then he moved on.

Among the demonstrators that day, one individual held a sign, which asked the President to explain his association with the person known to many of our colleagues, Mr. David Ifshin. Tell us about Ifshin, it read. My other purpose in speaking today is to do just that. I want to talk about David Ifshin. David Ifshin is my friend. This declaration may come as a shock to those people whose perception of David was-- [AUDIO TRAILS OFF]

Ira Glass

Well, in the weeks after that was published, David Ifshin died, and John McCain became a leading Vice Presidential contender, after Jack Kemp. It was John McCain who nominated Bob Dole, gave the speech for that at the Republican National Convention. And Michael Lewis ran into McCain on election day.

Michael Lewis

It was funny, at the Dole campaign, everywhere you went with the Dole campaign, senators and governors would come out of the woodwork, because they wanted to have their picture taken, show support, all the rest until the final day. And they all cleared out. No senators or governors were traveling with them. There was one person at his side, and it was John McCain.

And I was in Russell, Kansas when the Dole campaign came through. I noticed this. I saw McCain off to one side. He'd been with Dole all day. And I went up to talk to him. And he said to me, almost apologetically, he said, you know I wouldn't be here if I thought he was going to win. And I knew that. I mean, he was there, because he knew that it was Dole's time of need. And it was time for someone to step up.

And this is what's so curious about McCain. I mean, I think that he continually, as I cover this campaign-- I was new to politics when I came into this campaign. I had never written about politics. I found that McCain restored my faith in the process again and again.

It was something about his-- how should I put it-- it was his willingness to stick his neck out for a losing or an unpopular cause that was so different from most of the people who do what he does for a living. So different from the ordinary political attitude that it was refreshing and inspiring.

Ira Glass

Michael Lewis, his campaign diaries from the 1996 race are collected in his book, Trail Fever. John McCain is now running for the Republican presidential nomination.

Act Two. Kiss And Tell.

Ira Glass

Act Two, Kiss and Tell. Now this story of political idealism, political activism, and political deceit.

Dan Savage

Hello, my name is Dan Savage, and I am the Republican Party in my neighborhood. I am the Republican Precinct Committee Officer, PCO, for precinct 1846 in the 43rd district in Seattle, Washington. If you have any questions about the Republican Party, our platform, or any of our candidates, feel free to give me a call.

Ira Glass

Now, I should point out here that Dan Savage is not just a Republican precinct committee officer, he's also a gay sex columnist, a drag queen, and someone who agrees with none of the principles of the Republican Party.

Dan Savage

Now you're probably wondering how a commie-pinko, drag-fag, sex advice columnist found a home in the hate mongering, gay bashing, neo-fascist Republican Party. Well, let me tell you something pal. The Republican Party is a big tent, a huge tent. There were no ideological litmus tests at the Republican Party caucuses or conventions that I attended.

I didn't have to produce a voter registration card or a picture ID even in my very first caucus. A measure, I believe, of the respect the Republican Party has for the rights of the individual. I just walked through the door, signed on the dotted line. Dan Savage certifies that he she considers himself herself a Republican, and that was it. Who knew that going over to the dark side could be so a simple.

Ira Glass

OK, here's the story. Back when Pat Buchanan was posting first and second place showings in Republican primaries this year, Dan Savage got it into his head that the only way to change a political party, that he not only disagreed with but also hated and feared, was to sign up and change it from the inside. So he showed up at his local Republican caucus, which in the 43rd is a small group of Republican holdovers in a big gay neighborhood. And at this point his story took a surprising turn.

Once he arrived, he found out that because he was the only person from the little precinct that he lives in, each caucus is divided up into a lot of little precincts, because of that he was automatically made a precinct committee officer. And then automatically won a seat at the county Republican convention. Well, he wrote up the experience that he had at the caucus in the most damning, partisan tone humanly possible and published it in the paper. But, as he found out, his adventure had barely begun.

Dan Savage

A couple of weeks after I'd traveled over to the dark side, Daniel Mead Smith, Chairman of the 43rd Republican Party, wrote me a letter. I think you'll be surprised that the hate mongering, gay bashing, neo-fascist, Republican Party does not exist in the 43rd, Smith wrote. I invite you to come to one of our meetings and see for yourself. So I went to one of Smith's meetings to see for myself, the 43rd district Republican caucus.

I arrived at the Montlake Community Center for the 1996, 43rd district, Republican caucuses at 8:00 AM. I paid my $5, signed in, grabbed a seat, and waited for the work to begin. We were there to elect delegates to the state Republican convention coming up Memorial Day weekend and vote on non-binding resolutions.

The caucus began with a prayer. We ask God to guide us in selecting delegates. And then we were ready to pledge allegiance to the Flag. Only trouble was, no one brought a flag. I thought about suggesting we pledge allegiance to the fag, hey that's me, but I didn't want to be disruptive. Someone found some red, white, and blue bunting in the back room, tossed it over an easel, and we pledged allegiance to that. The easel was needed post-pledge, so the red, white, and blue bunting, to which we had just pledged our allegiance, was tossed on the floor.

We had to elect delegates, before we could get to the resolutions. I won't bore you with the Robert's Rules of Order stuff, or the impossibly convoluted process by which the 80 of us is that cramped, steeple-roofed, fluorescent lit room elected 17 delegates to the state Republican convention. Suffice to say, it was crushing dull.

To entertain us while we waited for the ballots to be counted four times, Republican Party activists and candidates gave little speeches. Some of these speeches were pure fantasy. One woman read a prepared speech about the United Nations working in concert with abortionists to take over the country. The other recurring fantasy had to do with us, 43rd district Republicans, retaking the 43rd for the Republican party. One man reminisced about the time, not too long ago, when the 43rd was a solidly Republican district. We can make this district Republican again, just like it was when I joined the party 25 years ago. All we have to do is get out there and doorbell, and identify the voters in this district who are sympathetic to our issues.

Heart pounding, I stuck my hand in the air. Have any of you been out of the house or walked down Broadway in the last 25 years, I asked, standing and looking around at the toughest crowd I've probably ever played. The 43rd district, I pointed out, had gone all gay, all of the sudden. So long as the Republican Party was identified with homophobes and anti-gay bigot activists, the Republican Party could kiss the 43rd district goodbye.

When I sat down a little old lady sitting behind me pointed out that she knew a very nice gay couple in the Republican Party. In other words, she, and by extension the Party, was not homophobic. And I was wrong. She said to me, the Party isn't against gay people. That's just a false impression you have.

Gee, I wonder where I could have picked up that false impression, maybe from Jesse Helms, Bob Dornan, Bob $1,000 Dole, anti-gay rights rallies in Iowa during the primaries attended by all the Republican presidential hopefuls even moderate Lamar Alexander, Pat Robertson, Ralph Reed, Newt Gingrich, Linda Smith, Ellen Craswell, Spokane county corner Dexter Amend, the Washington State Legislature, state legislatures all across the country, the Christian Coalition--

During a break, an attractive, middle aged man approached me. He was a little angry. I was offended by you forcing me to take responsibility for Jesse Helms. As if the Republican Party isn't responsible for Jesse Helms. One woman wanted to know why she should support gay people, since gay people didn't support her when her home was burned down by arsonists. The arsonists weren't gay or anything, but where were gay people when she needed them. Another pointed out that some gays had broken the windows of the Republican Party headquarters, so who's oppressing who?

Another man took me aside during a break to let me know that the gay bashing within the Republican Party wasn't for real. It was only to get out the vote and motivate the frontlines. Well then, I guess that makes it OK. I'm happy to be vilified, and scapegoated, and denied my civil rights so long as it motivates people to go to the polls. Disenfranchisement is a small price to pay to increase voter turnout.

Ira Glass

To his surprise, at this meeting, Dan Savage talked the caucus into approving a resolution that affirmed the rights of gays and lesbians, and rejected elements of the party who would exploit fear and hatred of homosexuals for short term political gain. He could not wait, after this victory, to get to the county convention.

As an official delegate, Dan Savage would be allowed to vote there, he'd be allowed to make amendments, he'd really be allowed to play a role. He planned to vote in the straw polls they have at these things for the most conservative Republican candidates. In this case, Pat Buchanan for President and for the Governor of Washington State, he was going to vote for Ellen Craswell, who opposes gun control, and gay rights, and moral decay, and who he loathes. Dan Savage's thinking was that the more extreme the Republican ticket would end up being, the more likely they would lose in the general election, and the more likely that the Party would eventually abandon this more conservative wing.

Dan Savage

A few weeks later, the big day arrived, the King County Republican Convention. My first major party function, hats, speeches, amendments. I bounded out of bed at 7:00 AM-- ew-- and ran to meet my new friend Steve at the QFC on Broadway. Steve attended his precinct caucuses way back in March with the intention of getting himself elected a delegate to the county and state Republican conventions. Like me, he joined the Republican Party out of a sincere desire to move the GOP to the center. Kindred spirits, we decided to attend the county convention together.

The doors opened at 7:30 AM. After the crowd settled down, a preacher read an alarming opening invocation, which pretty much set the tone for what was to come. Please forgive our leaders for endorsing perversion, and God deliver us from some spineless compromise. Then we bellowed the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America. I slipped up to the merchandise tables on the second floor, where I bought myself a red, white, and blue Craswell for Governor hat. It must've been fate. On my way back down from the merchandise tables, I ran smack dab into Ellen Craswell herself.

I said, hello. And looking very serious in my little red, white, and blue hat asked, what are we going to do about the homosexual problem Ms. Craswell? What is the final solution to all this homosexual nonsense? So long as they stay inside, we can let them alone, Ellen Craswell confided in me. But when they organize and demand special rights, we must oppose them. We can't give special rights to something that is an abomination in the eyes of God.

Now, Ellen didn't seem interested in elaborating on just what it is we're supposed to stay inside of. The closet, are apartments, the priesthood? So I said, goodbye, promising to vote for her in the primary. You see, the better Ellen does in the primary, the better the Democratic candidate for governor will do in the fall.

I made it back to the convention floor just in time for the opening debate on the party platform. The King County Republican platform is a document drawn up by committee that lays out what the King County Republican Party stands for. And here's the beautiful part. Delegates are allowed to propose amendments. Once an amendment is proposed, the amendment's sponsor is allowed to speak, followed by a few people in favor, a few opposed. After that, the sponsor gets another minute or so to address the floor. I was a delegate. I had amendments. And so I would get to address the convention over, and over, and over again. And, as amendments are time consuming, determined delegates can grind the convention to a halt.

The first section we were to vote on was the preamble, in which we acknowledged God to be our creator, and the family is the foundation of our culture. We embraced free markets, recognized that tax and regulatory burdens are a threat to our freedoms, yada, yada, yada. Before we could vote on the preamble, and it hadn't occurred to me to amend the preamble, a delegate propose that a line be added stating that the Party was open to all who accept its basic principles regardless of race, religion, sex, or national origin.

After debate, the first resolution of the day passed by a distressingly narrow margin. Race, creed, sex, national origin, something was missing. Steve approached the microphone and proposed that the just passed amendment also be amended to include the words sexual orientation. Well, Steve's amendment was soundly defeated by voice vote that, though untabulated, sounded to me like a 1,589 to 11.

Then the liberty section was up for a vote. I dashed to a microphone, wearing my Ellen Craswell hat, and proposed this amendment. As respect for the rights of the individual are the bedrock of Republican values, the King County Republican Party hereby recognizes the fundamental human rights of gay and lesbian American citizens. We reject elements on the fringe of the Republican Party that would exploit fear and hatred of gay and lesbian American citizens for short term political gain.

Through the shouting, I pointed out that we King County Republicans can't have it both ways. We can't say in one breath that we oppose discrimination, and with our next breath support discrimination against gay and lesbian American citizens. So let's vote on it. Do we, the Republicans of King County, recognize the fundamental rights of gay and lesbian American citizens, or do we not?

Well, we do not. After some heated debate, the names I was called-- pervert, sodomite, Democrat-- my amendment was voted down. After my amendment failed, a woman in a Craswell hat approached me. Why are you wearing that hat, she briskly inquired.

Because I'm for Craswell. You know where she stands on gay things, don't you? Having recently had a conversation with Ellen herself, I most certainly did. But I'm not, I smilingly inform my new friend and fellow Craswell supporter, a single issue voter.

Try to imagine, now, that you're a homophobic, Republican jerk-off, which might be a triple redundancy, at your county convention. You came for the speeches, an anti-Clinton t-shirt for your collection, and a hot dog. This is what you do for fun, woo hoo. But these three guys keep introducing pro-gay rights amendments, moving to have anti-gay amendments struck, and generally messing with your afternoon.

You didn't come to the convention to defend your party's homophobia. And you certainly didn't come expecting to listen to gay men giving speeches all day long. Who are these guys? And why is that one wearing a Craswell hat? OK, you're this person, what do you do? You get mad, very, very mad. One delegate decided to get even. In what can only be described as a David Lynch moment, a palsied delegate staggered up to the microphone and proposed a change in the rules. No further discussion of homosexuality allowed. His resolution needed a 2/3 majority to pass, because it was a rules change, not a simple amendment. And pass it did, to hoots, and hollers, and cheers.

But we had yet to vote on the education section, which contained a plank about homosexuality. When we got to education, all hell broke loose. Robert's Rules of Order fetishists lept to their feet insisting that the anti-gay plank in the education section would have to be struck. If we can't discuss homosexuality, we can't vote on it, for voting is a discussion. Uh oh, we were talking about homosexuality again. People were booing, shouting, oh, the humanity.

The chair, bringing the room to order, calmly ruled that the no-further discussion resolution applied only to pro-gay discussions. We could discuss homosexuality, he said, but only if we weren't saying anything nice about it. And the convention limped to a close. Most of the day having been wasted debating gay rights, gay marriage, what makes people gay, and my hat.

What I learned. Here's what I learned about Republicans that weekend. They don't like homos very much. They certainly don't like having to talk about us. And they certainly like listening to us even less. But they do like beating up on us in their platforms. So King County Republicans, I'll make you a deal. Leave us out of your platform in '98, the next convention cycle, and I'll stay away from your convention. But if we're in the platform, I intend to return.

Ira Glass

Dan Savage writes the syndicated sex advice columns, "Savage Love." And he's the author of several books, most recently, The Kid, What Happened After My Boyfriend and I Decided to get Pregnant an Adoption Story. Dan has continued his activism in the Republican Party, most recently he cast a vote in the Iowa straw-poll for Steve Forbes. His account of that is online. You can link there from the This America Life website at www. Thislife.org

Coming up, illegal aliens who agreed that they should be deported, take matters into their own hands, and other unlikely stories. That's in a minute. From Public Radio International, when our program continues.

Act Three. Pete And Repeat.

Ira Glass

This American Life, I'm Ira Glass. Each week on our program, of course, we choose a theme, bring you a variety of different kinds of stories on that theme. Today's program comes in the wake of the first Iowa presidential straw poll. With just 14 months left in the election season, we bring you election stories, hopefully, to restore a sense of hope. All of them taken from election coverage we did on This American Life four years ago during the last big election cycle. We've arrived at act three of our program, Act Three, Pete and Repeat.

This is the story of and idealistic political movement, which, like so many, began in California, the self-deportation movement. This was back on the year, back around election day, 1996.

Man

Hey, Pedro, go back to Mexico. Stop taking our jobs. And stop looking at my daughter.

Daniel D. Portado

Immigrants are you tired of being pushed around in America? Well, don't sit on your serape, do something about it. Join the conservative political action group, HALTO, Hispanics Against Liberal Takeover. I'm the chairman of HALTO, Daniel D. Portado. What is self deportation, do you ask? Think of it as a permanent vacation. Immigrants join hospital today and see your homeland tomorrow. Self-deportation is a trademark of Hispanics Against Liberal Takeover, subject agrees to voluntarily repatriate to native land or Mexico, whichever is the nearest. All self-deportations are final. No exchanges or refunds. Tickets are one-way only.

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Ira Glass

While listeners to our program in California may be familiar with this advertisement and with the group, Hispanics Against Liberal Takeover, they are a militant, self-deportation movement, encouraging all minorities to leave the United States. That's right, all minorities. Its founder, Daniel D. Portado, has appeared on Spanish language TV. I actually saw a video of one of these appearances, where, basically, the entire Latino studio audience yelled at him nonstop for his entire appearance.

Mr. Portado says that he started his movement when he read newspaper accounts about Mexican Americans who were in favor of California's Proposition 187. Prop 187 was the Proposition that cut off social services to illegal immigrants. He thought these Mexican Americans, who were in favor of cutting off the services, had the right idea but just did not go far enough. They just didn't take it to its logical conclusion. And he felt that self-deportation was the only solution.

Daniel D. Portado

We feel that the immigrants are taking too many jobs, are bringing down the quality of life. They're not allowing our young American teenagers the character building experiences of picking fruit and cleaning hotel beds.

Ira Glass

So what's your evaluation of this week's election results. Were the election results in California good or bad for your self-deportation movement?

Daniel D. Portado

Oh well, luckily, Pete Wilson is still with us. Of course, I was the chairman of, originally, of Hispanics for Wilson, the pro 187 group.

Ira Glass

Proposition 187 was the California proposition that suggested, and passed, saying that illegal immigrants could not receive any social services.

Daniel D. Portado

Right, right, and we are also sponsoring for the next election our own initiative, the Spic and Span Initiative, which stands for, Stop Promoting Illegal Culture and Spanish. Basically, we're trying to prohibit any sort of activity which might attract illegals to this country, such as dancing the "Macarena". That would now be punishable by four Saturdays of freeway pick-up, clean-up, and a $250 fine.

Ira Glass

Pretty steep.

Daniel D. Portado

And also saying certain words or any word in Spanish, such as a Los Angeles, California, San Diego--

Ira Glass

Burrito--

Daniel D. Portado

Burrito, yes, and chorito, all these are traditional-- Things like Linda Ronstadt records would now be banned.

Ira Glass

Those ones where she sings the Mexican songs?

Daniel D. Portado

Yes, the ones that she doesn't understand what she's singing, but it's very harmful. And it's like a yodel out to the immigrants. It's saying, are you out there? Is is there anyone out there? Would you like to come to America? That's what, basically, Linda Ronstadt is saying.

Ira Glass

When she sings a Spanish language song, you mean she's pulling people across the border with the power of her voice?

Daniel D. Portado

Yes, it is a major conspiracy. You did not know? Governor Wilson has discovered that there is a major conspiracy to get all sorts of indios from remote villages to come over. I mean, when Clinton says, it takes a village, I mean, he's talking about importing a whole village from Michoacan. Don't you know that?

Ira Glass

[LAUGHTER]

Daniel D. Portado

So, also we have discovered, with the help of Governor Wilson, that the "Macarena" is actually a very sinister mind control device. And it is part of a conspiracy to control the white electorates feeble mind.

Ira Glass

What do you mean? How do you figure? What is it doing to the white electorate?

Daniel D. Portado

Well, we actually have a translation here by our researchers that we can read for you.

Ira Glass

All right, sure. These are the words to the "Macarena?"

Daniel D. Portado

Yes. And so my bodyguard, Rudy Rico, will do the translation in English. And I will read the original lyrics in the soon to be forbidden Spanish tongue. So here we go.

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Rudy Rico

I control your mind and body, gringo.

Daniel D. Portado

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Rudy Rico

Now, it's time to pick the fruit and make me rich.

Daniel D. Portado

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Rudy Rico

Give me the keys to your Volvo, gringo.

Daniel D. Portado

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Rudy Rico

Hey, stupid gringo.

Daniel D. Portado

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Rudy Rico

See how foolish you look.

Daniel D. Portado

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Rudy Rico

When you twist and dance to my mind control music.

Daniel D. Portado

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Rudy Rico

Screw the police.

Daniel D. Portado

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Rudy Rico

Now go cook some food for my friends.

Daniel D. Portado

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Rudy Rico

Stupid gringos, stupid gringos, stupid gringos.

Daniel D. Portado

So, as you can see, this is a very sinister device.

Ira Glass

Daniel D. Portado, if you actually believe in deportation, what are you yourself still doing in California.

Daniel D. Portado

Well, I am here to help everyone get out. I hope to look forward to the day where I will stand at the border and say, will the last Mexican out of California, please turn out the lights. That will be me.

Ira Glass

Daniel D. Portado, chairman of Hispanics Against Liberal Takeover.

Act Four. Throwing Money At The Problem.

Ira Glass

Act four-- Throwing Money at the Problem. Well, back in 1996, when the Democratic convention came to town here in Chicago, the city did a multi-million cleanup for the convention along the routes between the downtown hotels and the United Center, the sports arena where the convention was held.

Well one night, after the convention, I jumped in a cab with some other people, strangers, convention goers, and we sped up Monroe Street, them to their hotels, me, back to the radio station. The moon was out, the air was perfect, the street was freshly paved, and a woman from Washington DC, a lobbyist who had attended the convention in a sky box remarked, Chicago is so beautiful. There are no potholes, no homeless people, and the weather is so beautiful.

Now, don't get me wrong, I love Chicago. But I have to say, we do have our fair share of potholes, homeless people, and bad weather. I knew, before this moment, that money could not buy love, but I had no idea it could buy this level of misperception. This next story is about what all the cameras and all the political elite see in the neighborhoods they drive through, and what they don't see.

You may remember the bestselling book, There Are No Children Here, from a few years back. In it, writer Alex Kotlowitz described the lives of two brothers at the Henry Horner homes. It was made into a TV film by Oprah Winfrey. It's been mentioned many times in speeches by Jack Kemp and by others. Well, Henry Horner is the public housing project that sits right across the street from the United Center where the convention was held.

And when Chicago did its multimillion dollar cleanup for the Democratic convention, it cleaned up some of Horner. The boys from Alex Kotlowitz's book are now young men, and they do not live at Horner anymore. But they go back now and then. And during the convention, we asked one of them, Pharoah Walton, who was then 18, to give us a tour of what had changed at Horner because of the convention, and what hadn't changed.

And one of the most interesting things about his report is how much of the neighborhood had improved for political and legal reasons, for all sorts of reasons, that never entered our political consciousness. They never became part of any discussion of what's going on in our cities. They never became part of the discussion of how things might be improved. So here, once again, is Pharoah's story.

Pharoah Walton

When I left Henry Horner five years ago, it looked like a ghost town. It had no green grass, broken windows, graffiti everywhere. Now, here in Horner, it's a different place. There are rows of flowers outside the maintenance building, and new windows in the office where my mother used to pay rent. There are trees, new elevators. Most of the changes are on the side of the building that faced the United Center. And on Washington Street, where the old Birney school used to be, there's a new playground, with a big lawn and a huge new blue and green jungle gym. Nicer than any playground I've ever seen in the city, even on the Northside, and everyone knows why.

Little Girl

I like it. It's fun. I know why they did it. Because the President is coming. And then they all be taking kids and they going to be killing people, the President's soldiers.

Pharoah Walton

People say a lot of other things too. And not all of them make sense. Like what Kanue Howe told me about the playground.

Kanue Howe

The Democratic convention coming, and now I can't be outside. [UNINTELLIGIBLE]. After 7:30 [UNINTELLIGIBLE] and if you're not, you're gonna be all [UNINTELLIGIBLE] all you home, then get a doctor. There be a lot of parties in our building and parties not supposed to be in our building.

Pharoah Walton

People at Horner are glad about the physical changes. But most of them say they're mad that it took a President before the city would clean up a parking lot or plant a tree. Some things I'm hearing have changed and some things are still the same, like shootings and hot days. But when I was a kid, I would run in the house when the shootings start. Same with my nephew Snuggles and his friend Jeremy today.

Boy 1

They always trying to shoot on a hot day.

Boy 2

And they start gang banging, when they on a hot day. And then all the kids got to go in the house.

Boy 1

Like two weeks ago, some boy got shot, he got shot in the eye.

Boy 2

Probably is dead now.

Boy 1

He is dead. [UNINTELLIGIBLE] shooting all the time.

Pharoah Walton

Usually when you here about the projects, you hear that things are bad, and they're getting worse. But when I went to Horner, I heard a different story. There still shootings, still drugs, and still gangs. But, mostly, people told me that things have slowed down. In 1991, the residents of Henry Horner filed a lawsuit against the city and won. Because of that, the Chicago Housing Authority is cleaning it up, renovating old apartments, putting in new elevators, tearing down the worst building. They've moved 233 families out of Horner's in 1995 and installed 24 hour security guards. My friend Sylvia told me she feels safer.

Sylvia

So it's doing a lots better since 20 years it was looking around here, so. Crime [UNINTELLIGIBLE] a lot better too. They ain't doing too much shooting or nothing, so that's good. Police are around a little more, so that's better too. Since they put that United Center up there, because they watch that a lot.

Pharoah Walton

Sylvia says police are always driving around the neighborhood since the United Center was built. I visited my grandmother, and she said the same thing. That things are getting better. We sat in her apartment with gospel music on the radio and a preacher on the television. And she told me about life in Horner now.

Grandmother

Well, it's not too bad around here. I never read about nothing happening around here, like somebody getting killed in a drive-by shooting. It's not too bad. I walk out this house every day and goes off. Lights be out, I have to take a flashlight, but I'm not afraid. I'm not afraid. Of course, I got God, first of all.

Pharoah Walton

One of the things that the President and the delegates at the convention won't see when they look at Horner from across the United Center parking lot, is The Boys & Girls Club. Physically The Boys & Girls Club hasn't changed since I was little. Old pool tables, a basketball court, cinderblock wall, it's not in great shape. I talked to the grandfather of the community, Major Adam.

He's worked at the Boys & Girls Club for 40 years. Everybody knows him, and everybody respects him. Kids would listen to Major before they'd listen to teacher, or parents, or even a police. He's the only person at Horner who can walk into the middle of a gang fight and make it stop. In fact, he's famous for jumping into the middle of fights. And Major would be the first person to tell you about all the fights he's stopped.

Major Adam

He's going to jump on eight guys with these three knives. I didn't know he had three knives. But he had one in his hand he was going to get these guys. So I had to grab this guy and take this knife away from him. While the guy came out there, 12 of them was jumping on one guy. And it made me so mad, I said, well look, I'm going to take all 12 of you guys, one at a time. And I'd take them one at a time, and I whooped all 12 of them. I'm gonna do do it by myself. I picked them up and throwed them over the fence. I'm telling you, you got--

Pharoah Walton

Some people say the neighborhood is safer because over 200 families moved out. There are fewer people to get in trouble or shoot each other. My friend Sylvia says, people have less time to fool around, because the Housing Authority is hiring residents to do construction and clean the place up. Another friend of mine says, people are getting their acts together, because now the city is kicking people out and tearing buildings down, and they don't want to lose their homes. But the way Major sees it, the neighborhood is better, because there are people in Horner who are trying to make a difference.

Major Adam

I'll tell you, crime have went down in our neighborhood, this neighborhood, because you have a guy like me working in the neighborhood. When you walk in there, a lot of them gang bangers just came, I sent them. So is a lot of things I do for them. I let them play basketball. When they want to go back to school, I see that they go back to school. They go to jail, I send them money and stuff like that.

Pharoah Walton

Like my Aunt Millie says, you can't beautify the outside, when the inside ain't right. Major's working hard to beautify the inside.

In the main room at The Boys & Girls Club, there's a trophy case. Inside there are all the trophies won by Horner baseball teams, basketball teams, and football teams. And pinned to the back of the trophy case, there are pictures of Horner residents who've made something of their lives, who've gotten out of the project, went on to do great things.

Major Adam

All three of those young men up t there are teachers. They grew up in the area.

Pharoah Walton

All three of them?

Major Adam

Yeah, all three there. And this is Dr. Steven Parker at Chicago State. That's Verdine from Earth, Wind & Fire.

Pharoah Walton

Then he pointed out a blank spot, and asked me for a picture. His way of saying, he knew I was going to make it.

Credits.

Ira Glass

Well, This American Life is produced by Alex Blumberg, Susan Burton, Blue Chevigny, Julie Snyder, Nancy Updike, and me. Contributing editors Paul Tough, Jack Hitt, Margie Rochlin, Alix Spiegel and consigliere Sarah Vowell. Production help from Todd Bachmann and Starlee Kine. Some work in todays show was produced by Peter Clowney and Alix Spiegel. Musical help today from John Connors, Steve Cushing, and Anaheed Alani.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

If you'd like to buy a cassette of this or any of our programs, call us here at WBEZ in Chicago, 312-832-3380. two Well, you know you can listen to most of our programs for absolutely free on the internet at our website, www.thislife.org. Thanks to Elizabeth Meister who runs our site. This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International.

[FUNDING CREDITS]

WBEZ management oversight by Torey Malatia, who is worrying about the effects of this radio show.

Torey Malatia

It's very harmful. And it's like a yodel out to the immigrants.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass. Back next week for more stories of This American Life.

Torey Malatia

It's saying, are you out there? Is there anyone out there? Would you like to come to America?

Announcer

PRI Public Radio International.