Transcript

272:

Big Tent
Transcript

Originally aired 09.10.2004

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/272

Prologue.

Ira Glass

A couple weeks ago, I heard this show on the radio where they were trying to explain why most people in most elections prefer Republicans these days. And there was a writer named Thomas Frank on the show, going around with this book that he just published about politics in Kansas. He is interested in why Kansans would keep voting for Republicans at every level, even though Republican economic policies and social policies weren't doing much to help them. And, he says, they actually made their lives tougher in a lot of ways. Hurt farmers. Hurt the Kansas economy. The poorest county in the country went for President Bush with an 80% majority in the last election.

Frank's argument-- you may have heard him talk about this on that book tour-- is that Republicans were getting people to vote against their own economic self-interest by appealing to their values on cultural issues, on abortion, on God. Though as Frank and the other guest on this radio show, On Point, said-- the other guest was Atlantic Monthly senior editor, Jack Beatty-- the Democrats haven't been very good for most Kansans' economic interests either.

Thomas Frank

You know, it's hard to say that the people voting for the Republican party are all that wrong. I mean, neither party represents their interests. So they vote for the party that better represents their values. And that is the GOP.

Jack Beatty

Exactly.

Thomas Frank

It delivers. Gag rule on abortion internationally, stem cell research, abstinence-only programs in the schools, an effort to appoint anti-choice judges. It delivers, or tries to deliver, on the values agenda. Whereas the Democrats-- I mean, look at Clinton. He gave the Midwest NAFTA, the China health deal. They didn't get health care.

So it's hard to turn around to the people who've lost their livelihoods and say, vote for us. We're the party that will-- well, what will we do? Well, we'll expose you to international competition. Whereas the Republicans are going to do the same thing. But at least they're going to make noises on the culture war.

Ira Glass

Soon they got to callers. The first was this Republican voter who said that of course he wasn't just voting his pocketbook. That would be crude.

Republican Caller

Your commentator's points about their voting against their economic best interests, well there's more of concern to me than who's going to give me a tax break, or who's going to build a factory in my town. I've got a lot of other interests that are important to me.

Ira Glass

This caller said that he disagreed with the Republicans on a bunch of things. But he said that one nice thing about the Republican Party is that it welcomes people who disagree with them on this particular issue, or that particular issue. Whereas, he said, Democrats, if you're pro-life, it doesn't feel like there's any place for you in the party. The next caller said the same thing, that there was no room in the Democratic Party for a diversity of views.

Republican Caller 2

If you even contemplate, if you even advocate even restrictions on abortion-- which even the majority of people of the United States would favor-- there's no room for you in the Democratic Party. You won't be allowed to speak at the Convention to advocate the idea that the state should decide when and under what circumstances abortion should be allowed.

Ira Glass

Of course, famously, in 1992, Pennsylvania's Democratic governor, Robert Casey, wasn't allowed to speak at his own party's convention, because he was pro-life. Republicans control the House, they control the Senate, they control the White House. They have 28 of 50 governorships. They control the House and the Senate in 21 State Houses. Seven out of nine Supreme Court Justices are Republican appointees. And they dominate the majority of federal appellate courts, as well.

They are on the march. Republicans are positioning themselves as America's majority party. And what that means is-- though Democrats may find this surprising, given the fact that blacks, and Jews, and Hispanics still vote mostly for Democrats-- lots of people find the Republican Party to be more inclusive, more welcoming, more accepting of diverging views.

This is what Newt Gingrich was talking about, just last week, when he declared that yes, there is a party of narrow-minded bigotry in this country. It's called the Democrats. He meant that the Democrats are the ones who demand that you fall into lockstep on abortion, and affirmative action, and all sorts of other political correctness besides.

Today on our radio show, Republicans on the March. Their party is great at getting elected. And they do it very smartly, by papering over the differences come election time. On today's program, though, we leave aside the official talking points that Republicans are saying everywhere until November, and ask Republicans to speak instead about what they actually believe, and what they want for their party, and for the country. And it's way more complicated than you might think. Not just Christians on the one side of the Party fighting with moderates on the other. From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life, distributed by Public Radio International. I'm Ira Glass. Today on our radio show, Republicans, The Party of Inclusion.

Act One of our program, Pink Elephant. In that act, a Republican on what might seem like an ill-fated mission to win the hearts and minds of his fellow Republicans at their convention. Act Two, Right and Righter. A visit to one of the many states where the Republican Party has been picking up strength. To see how and why, we spend some time with the Alabama Republican Party.

Act Three, Indecent Proposal. In that act, free market Republicans in this story, about a rich guy who knows that every person has his price. And so he goes to his Republican co-workers with an offer of money-- lots and lots of money-- if they will dare to spend just one evening with him, doing an act that most Republicans would find utterly repulsive, namely watching the Michael Moore film.

Act Four, It's My Party. One of the most civil conversations that you will ever hear between one side of the Party, that feels like it should be included, and the other, that feels that maybe it should not. Stay with us.

Act One. Pink Elephant.

Ira Glass

Act One, Pink Elephant. Patrick Howell came to the Republican Convention this year on a mission that makes you wonder if he's in denial about the state of today's Republican Party, or if he knows a lot more about it than you do.

Patrick Howell

I saw it as a great opportunity to bring the inclusive Log Cabin message to the delegates that I happened to meet.

Ira Glass

The Log Cabin message is the message of gay Republicans. Log Cabin, you may already know, is the name of the gay Republicans' official national organization. And their inclusive message definitely had an uphill battle at this year's convention. Not only did the party adopt a platform calling for a constitutional amendment to outlaw gay marriage, and decrying that homosexuality is not compatible with military service, gay Republicans couldn't even talk a single delegate into presenting their side of things for discussion at the platform committee. They were totally shut out. Nationally, just 11% of Republican voters support same-sex marriage. Hence Patrick's plan.

Patrick Howell

I get to go to all the breakfasts, and all of the events, and get onto the convention floor.

Ira Glass

And so, what does that mean? What do you think you're going to be doing?

Patrick Howell

Well, really just showing them that there are gay Republicans out there, that there needs to be a big tent approach, in order to win over the broader public, the suburban voters that are much more moderate.

Ira Glass

In his experience talking to Republicans, which is considerable, this is the most effective sell, that tolerance wins elections. 1.1 million gays and lesbians voted for President Bush in the year 2000, just a fourth of the gay vote overall, but enough to make a difference for the president. In Florida, that works out to nearly 50,000 votes, the Log Cabin Republicans say.

Patrick is in his 30s, an attorney in Orlando. Until a few years ago he was married. He has a little boy from that marriage. Then he came out. He has always been a Republican, and agrees with the president on pretty much everything, he says, except gay issues. The treatment that he gets in his own party has varied quite a bit. For instance, county Republican leaders specifically reached out and invited Patrick to run for the state assembly two years ago, in a district in Orlando that's mostly Democrats and gay-friendly. The State Party gave him the maximum, $50,000, and hooked him up with another $50,000 in third party ads. But then the Republican who used to hold that seat actually endorsed Patrick's Democratic opponent in the race, rather than support a gay candidate. Patrick has gotten some nasty emails, saying, why don't you leave the party? You're not wanted. But the nastiness, he says, happens less often than you'd think. One-on-one, he finds most Republicans are glad to sit down and talk to him.

Patrick Howell

You know, people that just know you on the fringe, but then you end up sitting at a voter registration booth with them for four hours on a Saturday. And suddenly that person leaves really knowing everything about me.

Ira Glass

And Patrick, what do you find in that kind of situation, that tends to change people's mind?

Patrick Howell

I think that it's just the realization that I'm not that different from themselves.

Ira Glass

And so, basically, you talk about your kid. You talk about going to church.

Patrick Howell

Right. Right.

Speaker 1

During this extraordinary and even challenging moment, we have discovered who our friends are. And with us today, our friend and yours, Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Ira Glass

In New York, the first Republican Convention event that Patrick attended was run by his own organization, the Log Cabin Republicans. In the wake of their defeats at the Platform Committee, they staged what they called the Big Tent Event, with as many high-profile mainstream politicians as they could sign up. The very liberal-minded Republican Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, kicked things off to a room with a few hundred people in it, which for gay Republicans, is a huge turnout.

Michael Bloomberg

As the host of this reception, I want to tell you that a few years ago, I used this event as an occasion to come out, as a Republican, you should know.

Ira Glass

The mayor talked about inclusiveness being the future of the Party, and about how constitutional amendments shouldn't be used to divide people. New York governor Pataki, who is such a rising star in the party, that he was the one who introduced President Bush at the convention later in the week, who is a possible 2008 presidential contender himself, felt enough solidarity with the gay Republicans to show up at this event, but not enough solidarity to actually mention in his remarks inclusiveness, the place of gays in the party, the place of moderates in the party, gay marriage, homosexuals, or really any other Log Cabin issues at all. It was the sort of speech he could have given to any group of Republicans.

George Pataki

We are going to have a great week here in New York. And we are going to have a celebration of the greatest city in the world. And at the end of that week, I hope you leave with a little more-- Wait, I didn't mean it that way.

Ira Glass

The surprise stars of the day were Arlen Specter and William Weld. Senator Specter, a Republican from Pennsylvania, said that he didn't know, and he didn't care, if supporting gay rights would help Republicans win elections. These are fundamental rights, he said.

Then came William Weld, former governor of Massachusetts, another possible presidential candidate for 2008. If you've heard President Bush rail against activist judges legalizing marriage, Governor Weld would remind you that some of those judges are Republican appointees, including the head of the Massachusetts Supreme Court, who he appointed, and who legalized gay marriage in that state. Weld talked about his gay and lesbian friends, about gay and lesbian members of his own administration in Massachusetts.

William Weld

As a matter of fact, it was my pleasure to return to Massachusetts in June of this year to marry my former chief of staff, Kevin Smith, and a former cabinet member, Mitchell Adams.

Ira Glass

And from there, the Republican Weld laid out a position on gay marriage that is far more liberal than the supposedly super liberal John Kerry's position. Kerry opposes gay marriage.

William Weld

Let me just say one word about the federal constitutional amendment on gay marriage. You know, I've been invited to oppose this amendment on states' rights grounds, on the ground that this should be left to the states. And I've jumped over that issue. I prefer to oppose this amendment on substantive grounds, on the merit. It's the conservative point of view. It's making the same demands on gays and lesbians that are made on everyone else when they want to commit to each other. To me, it's kind of obvious. And the fact that some people have gay and lesbian preferences is not something that's going to be changed based on what somebody in the legislature says. And I don't know whether the percentage of the population is 10%, or 5%, or 15%, or 1%. It doesn't matter. You're not going to repeal biology in the United States Senate or the House, no matter what you do.

Ira Glass

Patrick was one of the people clapping enthusiastically when Weld said that, and when Arlen Specter talked about gay rights being a matter of principle.

Patrick Howell

I love that. It was just nice to be able to hear it articulated by someone that has a national presence.

Ira Glass

Yeah, when he said that, again, I was just like, wow, I don't know if I've ever heard anyone say that, Democrat or Republican.

Patrick Howell

I don't think I have either. And it's wonderful to hear. I've never heard that.

Ira Glass

You've never heard that.

Patrick Howell

No. It's totally amazing. I mean that's not even the message that we send. We send the message that hey, this is the thing that's going to increase our party numbers. And it's the thing that's going to make our party the majority party. We try to appeal to the brain, as opposed to the heart. But I don't know. Maybe we need to start appealing to both.

Hey, how are you?

Woman 1

Hello.

Ira Glass

At the convention one night, at Madison Square Garden, I hovered around Patrick as he walked up to seven different groups of Republicans, wearing his Log Cabin inclusion pin. A lady from Texas in a red cowboy hat and red boots and a handsome couple from Virginia both pretty much iced Patrick when the subject of gay marriage came up, which Patrick took as opposition to gay marriage. A young African American guy was for gay marriage, as were two rich people from Miami. One of them turned out to be gay. And the other, his friend, turned out to be a big Republican donor, on the chairman's advisory board. Three other people that Patrick approached fell into kind of a gray area, against gay marriage, but in ways that gave him some kind of sliver of hope. There was this family from Utah, who seemed open to the idea of civil unions. And there was this Korean War vet.

Korean War Vet

I have no problem with people who are gay, or lesbians, or whatever. But I don't think they should get married. I think they should live together, have a lot of the protections of marriage, but I think that a marriage should be between a man a woman. So I may not be with you altogether.

Ira Glass

Civil unions were fine with him, though. Patrick says that ever since Republicans started talking about outlawing gay marriage, at the federal level, tons of Republicans have been supporting civil unions, to a degree that he'd never imagined five years ago. He was very hopeful about the vet.

Patrick Howell

He's one of those people that if he makes those inclusive-minded statements that he did, he's about 90% there. He's there on civil unions. He's there on not being bigoted towards gays and lesbians. So it's encouraging. He looked to be in his 60s. And if we have 60-year-old white, male veterans that are moving in towards our direction, that's a very good sign.

Hi. I'm Patrick Howell.

Cindy White

Cindy White, North Carolina.

Patrick Howell

From Orlando, Florida.

Cindy White

Oh, Greensboro, North Carolina.

Patrick Howell

Oh, OK. Nice to meet you.

Ira Glass

Cindy White tells Patrick that Republicans in North Carolina are mostly against gay marriage. It's the Bible Belt, she says.

Patrick Howell

What would it take, do you think, to move you personally on the Federal Marriage Amendment?

Cindy White

Oh, my brother-in-law lives in Key West and is gay.

Patrick Howell

Oh, OK.

Cindy White

It doesn't mean I approve of marriage. But he's gay, and I approve of him.

Patrick Howell

Right.

Cindy White

He hasn't married anyone. Doesn't want to, that I know of. But does have a partner. But it's just something I'm not ready to say exactly where I feel on it.

Patrick Howell

You might still be working on it, yourself.

Cindy White

Yeah, might still be working on it.

Patrick Howell

Right.

Ira Glass

At the end of talking to all these Republicans, the score was two against Patrick and gay rights, two for Patrick and gay rights, and three, like this last woman, that seemed like they might come around some day. Patrick felt pretty good. His sense, in general, is that people are more flexible than you know.

Patrick Howell

I don't think that self-described social conservatives are as monolithic as a lot of people think. I think you do have social conservatives that keep an open mind, and may be very conservative in their religious views and whatnot, but at the same time have gay friends, and understand that they need to move a little bit on some of those issues. I think that's true more than it's not true.

Ira Glass

If you think about it, how many situations are there, where arch-conservative Christians and homosexuals sit down together and really hash things out. That's the point, Patrick says. We're inside the fortress. We're in these people's lives. We're talking to them. If anybody's going to get to these very conservative people on gay issues, it's going to be gay Republicans, not the protesters and activists who are outside the fortress.

Act Two. Right And Righter.

Ira Glass

Act Two, Right and Righter. To understand the rise of the Republican Party over the last 20 years, one place you can look is Alabama, where they've made huge strides. If there is a religious and a nonreligious wing of the party, this is definitely the religious wing. Of the 48 delegates Alabama sent to the Republican Convention in New York, not one was pro-choice. Nationally, one out of three Republican Voters is pro-choice. 70% of the state identifies itself as born-again Christian, versus 40% nationally. Alex Blumberg visited with the Alabama Republican Party.

Alex Blumberg

Marty Connors is the state chairman of the Republican Party in Alabama. He says that for Alabama, he's a moderate. He supports the war in Iraq 100%. He's opposed to any and all taxes. He wants Roe v. Wade to be overturned. And he would welcome prayer back into the public schools. But this is the state residents proudly call the buckle of the Bible Belt. So Marty Connors sometimes finds himself the most liberal person in the room.

Marty Connors

A few years back, I was at a convention doing some whip work. And one of the delegates, who will go unnamed, felt that former President Bush-- who was then going to be vice president-- just wasn't conservative enough to be on the ticket. So he was going to support Gene Kirkpatrick for vice president, as opposed to George Bush. Which, Gene's great, but there's a time and place for everything.

Alex Blumberg

And that would have meant, literally, what?

Marty Connors

Well, Alabama being in the first state in the Union that has to-- the first state in the roll call, it would have looked a little awkward not having a unanimous-- So we decided to put him in a room, one-on-one with Jesse Helms for a little while, just to talk some sense, that kind of thing. So Jesse spent about 30 minutes with him. And the young man comes out of the room. And I said well, is everything fine? He said, oh, yeah. Everything's really fine. And I said, well, good. We'll have your support? He said, no, I'm still going to vote against you. And I said, well, why? And he said, well, Jesse Helms just doesn't completely understand the conservative movement. So that's how it went.

Jim Zeigler

There are two informal wings in the Alabama Republican Party.

Alex Blumberg

This is Jim Zeigler, founder of a group called The League of Christian Voters, which represents the right wing of Alabama's right wing.

Jim Zeigler

There is an establishment, party official, chamber of commerce, business council, internationalist wing. And then there is the conservative Christian, adamantly pro-life, pro-family wing. Right now, the right wing, of which I am a part, is not in control of the party machinery. And I have appointed myself as the coordinator of the movement to take back the Republican Party for Republican principles.

Alex Blumberg

Of course, in Alabama, both wings of the party are pro-life and begin their meetings with a prayer. So it can be a little hard to tell the two sides apart. The difference is mainly one of priorities. Business Republicans pray a lot, but Jim Zeigler's wing wants God to be at the very center of everything the government does.

In other words, it's the wing of Judge Roy Moore. Remember him? He was the Alabama chief justice who installed a 5,000 pound monument of the 10 Commandments in the state courthouse, and then was told to remove it by his own Republican-dominated bench. He later lost a job over it. Lots of Republicans didn't support Moore, or found him a little embarrassing. But the fact that the party didn't go to bat for him galvanized Jim Zeigler. He started The League of Christian Voters to try and get more Republicans like Judge Moore elected.

Jim Zeigler

The Republican Party does not need to have a broad tent. We need to focus on the issues of Republican principles.

Alex Blumberg

Here's how the Christian wing is doing so far. Out of three races for state judge this summer in the Republican Primary, they won one. And they make up about a third of the delegates at the Republican National Convention, 17 out of 48. One of those 17 was Zeigler himself, who became a delegate in a very symbolic race. He beat a man named Perry Hooper, Sr., who was one of the founders of the modern GOP in Alabama, the first Republican ever elected to the State Supreme Court, and one of the most respected centrists in the entire party. After his loss, Hooper called Zeigler an embarrassment to Christianity.

Woman 1

At this time, Bradley Byrne, state senator, will lead us in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Bradley Byrne

Thank you. Please cover your hearts.

Assembly

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.

Alex Blumberg

On a Thursday night in the break room of Warrior Tractor, a farm equipment retailer in Monroeville, Alabama, I got a chance to see the moderate wing of the Republican Party. This is the largest meeting ever of the Monroe County Chapter of the Republican Party. People are turning Republican in Alabama faster than the Party infrastructure can keep up with them. For over a century, the state, like all its southern neighbors, had voted exclusively Democratic. You could fit all the Republicans in the state into one room, I'm told over and over again.

As late as 1992, Democrats controlled both of Alabama's seats in the US Senate, and five of the seven in the House of Representatives. Today, just a decade later, it's reversed. Five of the seven representatives and both senators are Republican, not to mention the governor and most of the State Supreme Court. There are about 100 people here, nibbling at pot luck offerings from Tupperware containers and casserole dishes. Mostly they're small business people. And mostly they want the standard Republican wish list. Smaller government, lower taxes, stronger military. But at some level, the issues are only part of the Republican draw. Kay Ivey, the state's first Republican treasurer, and featured speaker, puts it this way.

Kay Ivey

You see, we in this room come from a same set of values. We cherish family, and patriotism, and hard work, and home ownership, and family and friends, and, goodness knows, the right to cook and eat. Y'all have done great. But you know, we care about people. And the president has the values that we have in this room tonight. And that's a clear distinction from his opponent.

Alex Blumberg

Later, a woman at the meeting tells me she can imagine George Bush walking right into this room, filled with these people, and fitting right in. But try as she might, she can't imagine John Kerry here. And actually, neither can I. Although Monroe County is almost 40% black, the crowd here is all white. And everyone admits the Party doesn't do too well with black people in Alabama. 19 out of every 20 black votes goes to a Democrat. And the state chairman was actually booed during a speech at Tuskegee University, when he mentioned Condoleezza Rice. Mainly this is historical. Lots of white voters in the South switched to the Republicans because of Democratic Party support for civil rights in the 60s.

Today though, when a person with openly racist views decides to run on the Republican ticket, one Republican operative told me, the Party funnels back-channel money to the Democratic opponents, to make sure he doesn't get elected. And when visiting reporters come to town, the Party leadership introduces them to Shirrell Roberts, one of the black pioneers in the Alabama Republican Party. Shirrell's parents lived through the civil rights struggles in Alabama. And he lives in Montgomery, which is where, you remember, Martin Luther King's church was located, freedom riders were beaten at the bus station, and Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat.

Shirrell Roberts

I can understand the generation that was there, that lived it. I can understand the blacks that had the hose turned on them, the dogs put on them, absolutely. I don't expect those folks to get over it. And well, they shouldn't. And I understand exactly the hesitancy of a lot of blacks to say, hey, why would I want to join up with this group when you have the Willie Horton thing, Jesse Helms, what Trent Lott said about Strom Thurmond? Those type of things, specifically those, when I hear them, I'm like, look, that's not representative of our party.

Alex Blumberg

Shirrell's car has a Bush-Cheney bumper sticker. Driving around the neighborhood, he's been called a sellout and an Uncle Tom. He gets in political arguments with his Democrat mom all the time. Shirrell realized he was a Republican while watching the 1984 Democratic Convention with his family, when he heard Walter Mondale promise to raise taxes. Even as a kid, in a house of Mondale supporters, he hated that idea, proof that some people are just born Republican. Shirrell says that old-guard segregationists still occasionally show up in the party.

Shirrell Roberts

But whenever I run into people like that, I just tell them, look, this country has changed. There is no way that you're going to be able to win an election anywhere with just a white vote. You aren't going to do it. You aren't going do it. And if that's your vision of our party, we will be the minority party for the rest of this century.

Alex Blumberg

Shirrell is pro-life, wants smaller government. He's for the war in Iraq. But most of our conversation was spent on the subject of inequality-- racial and economic inequality-- which isn't one of your usual Republican talking points.

Shirrell Roberts

If there's a problem in the black community, it affects the white community as well. If there's a problem in the white community, it affects the black community. And people have to realize we're all in this thing together. Let's not have one community very prosperous, but over here have another segment of the community that's not doing well.

Steven King

I don't have a responsibility to educate a child here in Montgomery. I live 150 miles away. My wife and I have two children. I don't have children with anybody else. I'm responsible for educating them.

Alex Blumberg

You have to hand it to a political party that can claim both of these guys as loyal members. Steven King is a self-described right wing Christian and the chairman of the Blount County Republican Party. On most issues, it's not that he and Shirrell believe different things, it's just that Steven King believes them more. He's more of a free marketeer, thinks government should almost not exist, and on religious issues, he's less of a compromiser.

Steven King

I would rather be right on an issue and lose, than be wrong and win. We misuse the word big tent, I think. I'm sure there are people in the Republican Party are homosexuals. You've got the Log Cabin Republicans. They want to become Republicans, fine. My viewpoint is we're still going to have a position on our plank that we're not going to be for homosexual marriage.

Alex Blumberg

People in the Christian wing, like Steven King, because they're motivated by their idealism and care less about political majorities, can find themselves in a paradoxical position. They're the Party's most conservative members. But sometimes they sound like its most liberal critics.

Steven King, for example, doesn't trust the Patriot Act. He's opposed to tort reform, and don't even get him started about that secret meeting Dick Cheney held a while back with energy industry representatives. The vice president has refused to release even a list of the people who attended. And Steven King says that's the same type of thing that Republicans got mad at President Clinton about when he appointed his wife, Hillary, to head a panel on health care.

Steven King

Who are these people? It's my tax money. Too many people on my side of the aisle, or my side of the position, and the other side of the spectrum, I don't think are intellectually honest. I mean, you can't say that when the Democrats are there and they get some health care panel together, that everything ought to be all open. And Mr. Cheney comes along, and well, that's a different thing. Well, no, it's not different.

Alex Blumberg

Like many idealistic people, Steven King has a complicated relationship to politics. He's drawn to it, but he also feels let down by it. He still remembers, as a kid, begging his parents to stay up and watch the '72 Convention on TV, to see Nixon get nominated. All those people with all those deeply held convictions coming together to argue and persuade. It seemed romantic, like the first Constitutional Convention, when the country was being founded.

Steven King

I guess I thought, in some ways, that was what was going on at a convention. I realize now that those things don't happen, or don't happen, I guess, the way that I thought about it then.

Alex Blumberg

Was that a disappointment, to find out that they don't happen that way?

Steven King

Yeah. I was a delegate four years ago in Philadelphia. And I was, I guess, naive. And I learned that my participation was very, very limited, almost to the point of simply being a warm body in a chair. I've been a Republican my whole life. You want to have a say-so. This is what I believe, and this is why I believe it. And they don't-- I don't want to say they don't want to hear it. but that's just not what you're there for.

Alex Blumberg

This, it sometimes seems, is what you are here for, to drink free booze and dance awkwardly to cover bands. It's the week of the GOP Convention in New York. A couple of the delegates at this party have a line on some Skynyrd tickets for later. It's a private concert for the GOP conventioneers. And even though this is the largest assembly of Republicans for the next four years, and even though there's every kind of Republican present here-- including a drunk one at the bar, who confided in me late in the evening that he's voting for Kerry-- even here, Steven King can't get what he wants.

Steven King

The thing I want is for there to be debate, to be open discussion. I want someone to allow me to try to convince them otherwise. And I'm open to be convinced otherwise. Let's engage in debate. Otherwise, we're just this mish mash goosh of feel good, which doesn't mean anything.

Ira Glass

That story by Alex Blumberg. Coming up, Steven King gets his wish, a real debate, the kind that rarely happens in American politics. We have him sit down with Patrick Howell, the Log Cabin Republican from the first act of our show, mano-a-mano. Who will convince whom? That's in the second half of our show, from Chicago Public Radio and Public Radio International, when our program continues.

Act Three. Indecent Proposal.

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Today on our program, stories about America's majority party. And yes, they are just barely the majority. But it's the Republicans whose numbers are rising. In the second half of our show, we have two stories of people in this charged political environment this fall trying to come to a meeting of the minds. We'll pick up with Alabama's Steven King again in a little bit. Where we turn now is to a visit to a different wing of the party, people who are Republicans, but not for religious reasons, but for economic ones. 70% of Republicans approve of the way that President Bush is handling the economy. That's versus just 22% of Democrats who approve. We have arrived at Act Three of our show. Act Three, Indecent Proposal. Shane DuBow tells the story of Republicans who work in a place where everyone is thinking about the economy and its ups and downs all the time.

Shane Dubow

Every election season, a company-wide email goes out at my work. The email reminds everyone that our office is supposed to be a politics-free zone. The subtext is all about keeping things civil and productive. At my friend Mike's work, that's not how they do it.

Mike

Come here. I want to talk to you a second. Come here.

Shane Dubow

This is the cattle pit of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. It's the morning after Arnold Schwarzenegger and Rudy Giuliani have given speeches at the Republican National Convention in New York.

Mike

Come out here for a second, if you get a second. One second. You are not that busy. Come out here. He said, economic girly man That's the big refrain today. What? They call me liberal boy. And they get the refrain from Schwarzenegger-- that economic girly man. I've heard it all morning. I mean, between Giuliani's speech bashing Kerry and the economic girly man, it has been a bad two days to be down here. Put it that way.

Shane Dubow

What Mike means is that it has been a bad two days to be one of the only outspoken Democrats in a testosterone-charged pit full of some of the most right-leaning and red meat-eating traders on the floor. Every day, all day, he gets heckled. During the election season it gets worse. With that in mind, Mike has come up with this idea, this way to win a few converts, or at least score a few political points. His plan? Take some of these guys to see the Michael Moore movie Fahrenheit 9/11. And to get them to go, he's offering cash.

Mike

I'm paying $400 a crack to go. It's $400. I got some takers. You can wager it in Vegas. It's $400, and I'll even throw in a drink afterwards. We're going to see Fahrenheit 9/11. Are you going to come with us?

Man 1

No.

Mike

What?

Shane Dubow

After a month of trying and failing to make this movie thing happen, he has finally found some takers, Bill and Tom.

Mike

Well, we have a long relationship. We have a 10-year relationship, all of us on the floor. And it tends to be me against-- tends to be me against the pit. And Tom tends to be the leader on the other side. And he has quite a lot of help.

Bill

And he's not even close to being on his soapbox yet.

Shane Dubow

This is Bill.

Bill

Two days ago we had a nice little chat. And three rows down-- we were sitting in those stadium seats way at the top-- everybody's turning around and looking up, because Mike is screaming about, "These people are lying. Did you read this in the paper? They're absolutely lying! These Republicans--"

Shane Dubow

The political arguments these guys get into will probably sound familiar. There's the one about terrorism.

Tom

Under your man's administration for eight years, we ignored all the signs.

Shane Dubow

The one about the economy.

Mike

You think Clinton can take credit for the tech boom? Are you out of your-- Oh, come one, seriously.

Bill

No, no, no.

Shane Dubow

The other one about the economy.

Mike

The junior, Bush Junior drove it into the ditch. I mean come on. The father drove the economy into the ditch. And then Bush Junior drove it into the ditch.

Tom

Oh, man.

Shane Dubow

And then there's whatever you call this.

Mike

I consider myself a political moderate.

Bill

Really.

Tom

Oh, my God. That's the problem. You think you're a moderate.

Mike

I'm a moderate.

Bill

You're a moderate?

Mike

I'm a moderate. I'm right in the center. I'm a Clintonian. In fact, I love Bill Clinton. He tacked the country right to the middle.

Tom

What?

Mike

He tacked the country right--

Tom

He attacked every chick in his office.

Mike

No, no, no. He tacked--

Shane Dubow

Tom is 49, tall and good looking, a former college basketball player. In Tom's world, the flat tax is the fairest tax, Fox is the fairest network, and nationalized health care will lead to socialism. Growing up, Tom says, his family didn't have a lot of money.

Tom

You talk about the political girly man. Hey, you know what? I put myself through college. Nobody gave me a dime. You didn't do that.

Shane Dubow

He's looking straight at Mike here.

Tom

I've been working since I was in fifth grade. And no one has ever given me anything. I don't feel sorry for people that sit around and wait for entitlements. You shouldn't call it an entitlement. It's welfare. It's not entitlement. You're not entitled to squat.

Shane Dubow

As for Bill, he's also an independent broker who had to work growing up. And he also doesn't think much of taxes or welfare, which brings us back to Mike, and his hopes for Michael Moore's latest movie.

Mike

Fahrenheit 9/11 came out. All of the people, the conservatives, the people that I talked to in the pit, no one had seen the movie. No one had seen the movie. They would critique the hell out of the movie, but they wouldn't go see it. So I started--

Bill

Is that true? No one wanted to see the movie?

Tom

The reason for that is because you knew that, for example, Michael Moore's previous stuff. He mixes some facts with some non-facts, and this is your story.

Mike

All right, hold on here. This is the kind of thing that I have to endure. Hold on.

Tom

I'll say something else.

Mike

OK, no, you've been talking the whole time now. This is what happens in the pit. People are quoting everything else they read about the movie, but they won't see it, OK? And that is the premise that I've operated under. So the way this started is a guy that is in my next office comes in one day, is quoting the same stuff, saying, oh, it's so terrible, what Michael Moore is doing to the country with this movie.

And I say, Fred, have you seen the movie? And he says, no, I haven't seen the movie. I said, OK, what's it going to take to get you to go to the movie? And he says, my time is worth more than going to see a movie. I said, well, what's your time worth? He says, well, I'm paid $200 an hour as a consultant. And I said, OK. The movie is two hours. How about $400?

There seems like there's a political debate going on in the country, and no one's listening to each other. So one side talks to their brethren, the other side talks to their brethren, and we're not having any cross-fertilization. There's no dialogue happening. And one of the most fundamental things in a democracy is to have a dialogue.

Shane Dubow

Even before the main feature, it's clear Bill and Tom are ready to find liberal plots behind whatever they see. Example. When a preview for the new shark movie Open Water comes on, and a young couple is shown treading water, Tom and Bill make jokes about Chappaquiddick. I asked Mike for a few predictions.

Shane Dubow

Which one of these guys do you think is most vulnerable to slipping over to the real side?

Mike

Which one of these two, sitting in front of me? I think Tom is pretty vulnerable on this one. And I think it's going to be one of those things, if this does make him break--

Tom

Mike, I want you closer to me so I can hear you bad-mouthing me.

Mike

I'm not bad-mouthing you. He asked me which one of you guys are going to come over to the other side after you see this thing.

Tom

I'll put it this way. G. Gordon Liddy is too middle of the road for me.

Mike

See? I think he's ready. I think he's primed for a conversion. I think he's primed for a conversion. You know, you get your most extreme right before you decide to change.

Shane Dubow

The movie starts. Right away, Mike's bid to win these guys over seems in trouble. Here is an early scene showing black members of Congress protesting the 2000 election results in a joint session. Al Gore is presiding as president of the senate.

Al Gore

Is the objection in writing, and signed by a member of the House and a senator?

Woman 1

The objection is in writing. And I don't care that it is not signed by a member--

Tom

That's the beauty of liberals. They don't care about the rules.

Shane Dubow

When Richard Clarke, former White House terrorism czar, explains how President Bush was obsessed with invading Iraq, even before September 11, Bill whispers that Clarke had an axe to grind, because he got passed over for a promotion. And Tom says, "Right, so he's bitter. They're interviewing a bitter ex-employee." Even the movie's celebrity walk-ons get the treatment.

Man 1

Look, there's Ben Affleck. He's often in my dreams.

Tom

I'll bet he is.

Shane Dubow

You get the idea. Sarcastic comments from Tom, dismissive chitchat from Bill. A lot of hopeful, see? See what I means? from Mike. And every now and then, a moment of silence, when it's hard to tell how exactly the movie is going over. By the end, though, Mike seems encouraged.

As we leave the theater, he asks Tom about a few scenes, like the one where Bush, at a black tie fundraiser, first dubs the crowd a collection of haves and have mores, and then says, "Some people call you the elite. I call you my base."

Mike

You know, you're the kind of person that wasn't born in the elites of the country, right? And so, when Bush gets up and he says I'm here with-- wait, wait, hold on. He says I'm here with the mores and have mores, does that appeal do you, intrinsically?

Tom

It doesn't appeal to me, but it was a joke and it was funny. He's making a joke, and it was a funny joke. It wasn't like he was disparaging anyone. He just said-- because that's who was there.

Shane Dubow

I asked Tom and Bill if anything in the movie, anything at all, struck a chord. Tom mentions the part where Bush is said to have opposed better pay and benefits for soldiers. He says if that's true, it's disturbing. Bill agrees. Both men say they'll go home and do some research, see if Michael Moore's quote unquote "facts" check out.

Bill

Well, you know what? The problem with Moore is so much of his premise is riddled with half truths and lies. So I'd like to find out what really was the deal with that. I mean, I just can't believe that's true.

Shane Dubow

They don't even believe one of the points in the movie that's actually backed up by the Independent and Bipartisan 9/11 Commission, that there's no meaningful link between Al Qaeda and Iraq.

Bill

I don't believe that for a minute. I don't care who tells me. I don't believe that for a minute.

Shane Dubow

Then Bill weighs in on the one part of the movie I thought might be persuasive, the part where the pro-military mother from Flint, Michigan loses her son in Iraq.

Bill

I thought he really belabored that. I thought he was really staid on that. And in particular, when she was in Washington, and then she's breaking down crying, well, I'm sitting there thinking, well, geez, here's this poor woman falling down crying, and you're just stand there filming. Typical press deal.

Tom

Right.

Shane Dubow

It's at this point that Tom turns, reaches into his back pocket, and pulls out a wad of folded papers he's printed off the internet.

Bill

Oh, that's something about all the untruths in the movie, though?

Tom

Not all of them, just a handful of them.

Mike

Oh, you had it going in. You didn't show me that.

Tom

Well, what am I--?

Mike

Did you read all these before you came into the movie today?

Tom

Yeah.

Mike

So you were prepared.

Tom

What am I supposed to do? Come in here like a sheep to be sheared by you? By you and your left-wing liberal friends, trying to corner me just like Michael Moore? Trying to ambush me?

Shane Dubow

In the entire 10-year history of these arguments, and these discussions, has anyone ever been persuaded?

Bill

Absolutely not.

Tom

That is a problem. And that's the thing. I was thinking, because people say, why are you going to this thing today? And I said, well, I have got to straighten some liberals out about a few things. And I said it in a joking manner, because the fact of the matter is, no matter what you do, I think people are wired differently. I mean, I've tried to straighten out Mike several times. But he's wired different. No matter what I show him, to show him that I'm right and he's wrong, he could agree with me on all this stuff, and then he'll still say, no, I'm still supporting Democrats.

Shane Dubow

Mike doesn't exactly see it that way. He's still surprisingly hopeful, even though he's worked on these guys for seven straight hours, including the movie. And to me it seems like they haven't budged.

Mike

Tom will never really cede any ground in an argument, but I did see a door open, go ajar there. A little doubt entered his mind when he saw that the military benefits had been cut for the veterans. And I think that really bothered him. And it's a war of attrition with these guys. And by God, I'm going to work on them tomorrow morning, in the pit, with this thing.

Shane Dubow

When I call Mike for an update, he says that for a few days after the movie, he got more grief than ever out on the trading floor. Tom brought in a copy of Zell Miller's Republican Convention speech, and took to reading it out loud whenever there was a lull. But then all the politics started to wear people out. The back and forth got old and the teasing died down. And then just when things were returning to normal, Mike says, two other Republican traders approached him on the floor. They had gone to see Fahrenheit 9/11 on their own, they said. They each wanted their $400.

Ira Glass

Shane DuBow, in Chicago.

Act Four. It's My Party.

Ira Glass

Act Four, It's My Party. So Steven King, Christian Republican from Alabama, came to the Republican Convention in New York, wanting to debate the issues. And Patrick Howell, gay Republican from Florida, came to the Convention wanting to debate the issues. So it only seems right that somebody, somebody, would get those two crazy kids together.

Steven King

Hi. Steve King.

Patrick Howell

Patrick Howell.

Steven King

Nice to meet you, Patrick.

Patrick Howell

Nice to meet you, too.

Ira Glass

They hit it off right away. Patrick, it turns out-- and two brothers and a sister-- went to school up in Alabama, at Samford University, the Baptist school where, coincidentally, Steven got his law degree. Patrick was Sigma Nu. So was Steven's brother. Patrick's sister still lives a few miles from Birmingham. Steven knew the town and the high school her kids are going to.

Steven King

I live just north of Birmingham, about 30 miles, in Blount County, Oneonta.

Patrick Howell

OK. Do you know the Phillips family?

Steven King

Yeah. You know Derick?

Patrick Howell

Yeah, Derick was a fraternity brother of mine.

Steven King

Oh, you're kidding.

Patrick Howell

Yeah.

Ira Glass

After a few minutes of Southern comfortableness, they got down to business. Patrick said that while of course he and Steven would agree that our country was founded on Judeo-Christian principles, our idea of those principles changes over time. Slavery was abolished. Women got the right to vote. And it's the same with rights for gays and lesbians, he said.

Patrick Howell

And, you know, it's difficult for us, when social conservatives come at us from two angles. They come at us from the angle of saying, you're immoral, you sleep around, you can't settle down and have one relationship. And then on the other side, the same people are saying, we're not going to let you enter into relationships. We don't want you to. And that's frustrating for us, when you hear that coming from both sides of someone's mouth.

Because that's what we want. We want to be boring. That's what we're fighting for, is to be boring, and to just settle down with someone and spend the rest of our lives with them. What are your thoughts on maybe coming to some sort of middle ground, that would allow for civil unions and protections like that?

Steven King

With respect to coming to some kind of common ground, or middle ground, we probably can on some level. And there's going to be other levels we won't be able to. I'm never going to agree that homosexuality, or that lifestyle, is a moral lifestyle. Reading God's word, I'm never going to come to that position. One thing I sense from the homosexual lobby-- I'll call it that-- is that I get a sense it's not just whether you want to be able to have civil unions, or marriage, or whatever. It's that you want me-- or people who believe like me-- not just to accept your homosexuality, but that homosexuality is OK.

Patrick Howell

No. I don't think that that is our goal at all. I know, personally, that's not my goal. When you talk about-- you're talking about two different things. One is acceptance, and one is tolerance. That's really what we're looking for. Asking for tolerance isn't really asking for a lot. It's just asking that you be able to say, you know, I don't endorse this. I don't agree with it. But I tolerate it. Certainly, acceptance would be great. But tolerance is really all that we're looking for.

Steven King

OK. I think I'm tolerant. I'm not going to agree with your lifestyle. And we're in some sense in a battle, it seems to be. That's probably what it is going to be for a while. And one of us is going to prevail, and one of us is not. And in the meantime, I don't want bad things happen to you. I don't want people to be mean, or physically harm you, or anything like that. I don't want the government harassing you. I hope this is not harassing. We disagree.

Patrick Howell

I don't think it's harassing at all.

Steven King

We have an understanding of I know where you stand, and where you're feeling, and you know mine.

Ira Glass

They talked about gay marriage. Patrick ticked off a list of problems that gay couples face right now because they can't marry. Visitation in hospitals when a partner is sick, inheriting property when a partner dies. Even if there's a will, family members can contest it in court, he says. Steven said he'd never heard about that one.

Steven said his main problem with letting gays marry-- or have civil unions in some states-- is that it's hard to imagine that it would just be confined to a few states. Surely, he said, some liberal judge would make all the states recognize the marriages. And from his point of view, it's just the next thing in a slippery slope. Christians lost the right to pray in schools, there's Roe versus Wade, then no-fault divorce. This is just one more thing that he's teaching his kids is wrong, that society says is OK.

The fact that Patrick's religious, goes to church, his six-year-old son goes to a religious school, all means something to Steven.

Steven King

I want him to be a good father. I want to be a good father. Our quote "society" as a whole, I think, probably in a lot of ways, would be better off, if people was interested in their children, probably, as Patrick is-- is it a son, is that what you said?

Patrick Howell

Yeah.

Steven King

Yeah. I think it's fine that you're involved in a church there and things, whatever. I do wonder what the church-- and how the church, gets around the clear teaching in scripture against homosexuality.

Patrick Howell

Here's what I have trouble with. You would never-- well, I'm not going to put words in your mouth. But if someone came to your church and was divorced, you would never tell that person, you are committing adultery. That's what Jesus said in the Bible. He said that if you divorce and remarry, you're committing adultery with that person.

Steven King

I agree.

Patrick Howell

Your church, I'll bet, doesn't tell people that are divorced that. From the pulpit, look over at the divorced people that are sitting there, that have remarried, and say, every time you sleep with your new husband, you're committing adultery. And so, what you've done, and what you're able to do, probably, and what your church does, is you cherry-pick things from the Bible that are going to be something that you hold out as a principle. And the other stuff you conveniently leave in there, and close it, and put it out of your mind. And for whatever reason, homosexuality is one of those things that has been cherry-picked out, and has been, for whatever reason, given this different status.

Steven King

I think you make an excellent point. And I think the way you put it, about the cherry-picking, is correct. But even with the hypocrisy, that I admit is there, that doesn't get around with what scripture says.

Patrick Howell

Well, we talked about tolerance. And I think that tolerance can go both ways, because I can tolerate what I see as the hypocrisy in a lot of churches, if you can tolerate that there are people that have a different view of what God's message is, or what the scripture means, or what the application is to our individual lives. Understand that we've got to tolerate those views and try to focus on things we do agree on. Because there's a lot.

Steven King

I agree. I think there is a lot. But know and understand this, and getting back just within the Republican Party, we're going to continue to have this struggle, disagreement, on the platform.

Patrick Howell

If those platform revisions change, would you leave the party?

Steven King

Well, no, I don't think I'd be OK. And that's when I would come to the point of, will I continue to be a Republican? What am I going to do? There's going to be a struggle. There's going to be a conflict. One of us will be OK, or happy, and one of us won't. It is my thought-- belief, or whatever-- I think over time, even though I may disagree with it, I think Patrick ultimately is going to get his wish. I hope that doesn't happen, but I-- being a realist-- I think that will happen whether [INAUDIBLE] or not. That's what I believe. Perhaps in the future-- it may be in 20 or 25 years-- it's just no big deal. It's not a forefront issue. I don't know.

Patrick Howell

That's what I'm working for.

Ira Glass

Steven said that if the Republican Party ever became pro-choice, he'd definitely have to leave. On gay issues, he'll wait and see how he feels. Like he says, what's probably going to happen is, either Patrick's going to be unhappy with the party's position-- and struggling from within to change it-- or Steven will.

Credits.

Ira Glass

Well, our program was produced today by Alex Blumberg and myself, with Diane Cook, Wendy Dorr, Jane Feltes, Sarah Koenig, and Lisa Pollack. Our senior producer is Julie Snyder. Elizabeth Meister runs our website. Production help from Todd Bachmann and Amy O'Leary.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

You know, you can download audio of our show at audible.com/thisamericanlife, where they have public radio programs, best-selling books, even The New York Times, all at audible.com. This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International.

[FUNDING CREDITS]

WBEZ management oversight by Torey Malatia, who swears whenever we try to put him on the show--

Tom

You and your left-wing liberal friends, trying to corner me, just like Michael Moore? Trying to ambush me?

Ira Glass

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

Announcer

PRI, Public Radio International.