Act One: Normal Life In An Abnormal Setting
The trick to getting a politician's autograph, John Rossi tells me, is to try to do it before they go up to speak. If you wait till afterwards, they'll be mobbed. And sure enough, when he spots Pennsylvania's governor waiting to take his turn at a podium, Rossi darts up to him with a special gold pen he brought just for this purpose, and a photo taken in Allentown a couple months ago, of him and the governor. In about a minute, he returns with his prize.
It says, "To John Rossi with appreciation and friendship, Tom Ridge."
Now what are you going to do with this?
Obviously, get it framed. And I've gotten my photo taken with a lot of very well-known politicians. I've already gotten Jack Kemp, Pat Robertson, Pat Buchanan. A whole bunch of them, over time, I've collected pictures of myself with.
John's an accountant from Whitehall, Pennsylvania, and a low-level party functionary, a Republican area captain in charge of 15 polling places, treasurer of various Lehigh Valley Republican committees and campaigns. He calls himself very conservative. He believes, for instance, in a 100% ban on abortions-- no exceptions-- including if a mother's life is in danger.
At 38, he is still a proud member of the Young Republicans. Young for Republicans is officially anybody who's under the age of 40, under their rules. And John's experience at this week's Republican Convention was most definitely not what you've been seeing on television all week.
We basically have a lot of activities. For example, SeaWorld, the zoo, Tijuana, plus parties like this that we have throughout the week. We have a nice hotel here with a pool and all kinds of other activities. So we have those things to do.
Basically, it's a vacation?
It's a vacation, sure.
Well, from WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Each week on our program, of course, we choose a theme and ask a number of writers and performers to have at the theme. And this week we bring you a look at the Republican Party and its convention from perspectives you perhaps have not heard in coverage so far.
Act One, everyday life at the convention. What do those people actually do all day long? Act Two, a Walter-Mondale-voting, gay-rights-supporting, unrepentant liberal signs up as a Republican Party member and ends up a delegate to the convention. Act Three, we have the newest installment of Michael Lewis's campaign diaries. If you have not heard these or read these at all, they are some of the most evocative and original reporting anybody's doing this year on the election. Stay with us.
Act Two: Act Two
Act One, Normal Life in an Abnormal Setting. Chances are that if you've paid even a slight amount of attention to what's happened at this convention, you've heard how the right wing of the party dominated the drafting of the party platform, but how the party leadership wanted to look more moderate and inclusive for the television cameras. And so we had key speeches during primetime by pro-choice moderates like Colin Powell and Susan Molinari. Well, in addition to all that, the leadership told right-wing advocacy groups, like the National Rifle Association and the right-to-life organizations, that they would not be allowed to set up booths inside the convention hall. So a renegade vice chairman from the California Republican Party named [? Bach ?] [? Pan ?] arranged to have a 70-foot boat docked just outside the convention hall. The hall happens to stand next to a marina. And three times a day, he organized receptions on that boat for different right-wing groups. He stood on the deck and explained.
?] Right now it's the gun owner. In the afternoon, there will be SAFE California, three strikes, you're out initiative. On Wednesday, I'll be hosting the National Right to Life, the California Civil Rights Initiative. Last Saturday, I hosted an event for California educational freedom. That is the school voucher.
Although the official Republican line this week has been that there is peace between the moderates and conservatives in the party, you can measure the distance between the two camps by the distance between this 70-foot catamaran and the convention floor. They're close enough to see each other, but not completely under the same roof. On the boat, people mill around, eat fresh fruit, network.
Look at all these people. How are you?
Female Convention Attendee
So you head up the Irish Repub--
Irish for Dole and the Irish American Assembly, yeah.
Female Convention Attendee
Do you have a card or something so we can contact you when we head back to Washington?
Two women wearing "Viva Dole" buttons take flyers from a guy who's wearing a green "Ask me about the National Assembly of Irish American Republicans" button.
Irish Republican 2
My father switched to Republican and all of us boys--
My father was the national chairman of the Irish Democratic Committee for years. He's dead now and I know he voted for Reagan before he died. It used to be that the Irish-Catholics in particular, but Irish Americans period, were far more Democratic. Now, the most recent poll-- it's 47% of Irish Americans say they're going to vote Democratic. 43% say they're going to vote Republican. So that's--
It's a sign of the changes in American politics and the vitality of the Republican Party that many of the people who you meet here at the convention have switched over from the Democratic Party in the last decade or so.
Over by the navigation equipment, the head of the Gun Owners of America and a guy from the National Rifle Association give interviews to reporters explaining why they're not supporting the Kemp-Dole ticket and making sweeping statements like--
I know that the ticket right now is going to go down unless they bring gun owners into the fold. Organized gun owners in the country is bigger than the Jewish vote. It's bigger than a lot of other groups that are out there.
At some point during this soiree, someone introduces me to a congressional candidate named Chuck Wojslaw. He's a retired professor of electronics engineering, running in a mostly Democratic district on the east side of San Jose. Until 10 years ago, he was a Democrat. Now he stands among Republicans in the afternoon sun, wearing a red, white, and blue bicentennial tie. He spent his time at the convention attending seminars run by GOPAC. That's Newt Gingrich's former political action committee. And these seminars are on how to be an effective candidate in the last two months of the campaign-- how to do fund-raising, how to manage your time and your people in the last two months, how to respond to the Democratic Party propaganda about Medicare and Medicaid, how to bridge the gender gap, get through to more women.
One of the pieces of advice was that Republicans tend to do very well in terms of talking about strategy and concepts and principles and data. And when you talk to a woman, she is more qualitative rather than quantitative. And she wants to hear things about what you will do or what the party will do or what the platform is that relates to her everyday life. So you have to do it more anecdotal and more related to everybody's lives, which really makes a lot of sense.
But don't they think that one of the reasons why there's a gender gap isn't because of the way the Republicans talk about the issues, but because on the specific issues, women, as a group, don't tend to agree as often with the Republican positions?
To some degree. It may be like-- my best guess is a couple, 2% or 3%.
Chuck Wojslaw has never run for public office before this. And talking to him, you can tell. He is so much more emotionally present than any normal political candidate who you meet. He looks you in the eye. When you ask him a question, he actually answers the question. And he has none of that robotic, not-quite-human, pod-people affect that many political candidates end up having.
I retired a tenured professorship to run for office. So I could have been secure in academia as a tenured professor.
Why are you doing this?
I love my country. I come from a really humble background. And my country has been-- it has given me opportunity that all I had to do was take advantage of it. I'm the son of a coal miner.
Are you somebody who's always wanted to run for office? You've always toyed with it in the back of your mind?
When did the idea come into your head?
Well, I had a family meeting. My daughter and son-- they're grown, college educated, off on their own. My wife and I got together and I says to my kids, 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've 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 she says-- 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?
And that's when you decided?
He's spending $60,000 of his retirement money to do all this. And like many people I met at the convention, what was most striking about Chuck Wojslaw was his idealism. He seemed completely sincere about what he was doing. We talked for a while. And later, as I was climbing off the boat, I passed him as he huddled with another reporter. He was talking into her tape recorder. It wasn't hard to overhear. He was telling the same story about his daughter in the same words and the same heartfelt tone.
You all know that I believe in a woman's right to choose and I strongly support affirmative action. And I was invited--
Monday night, depending on where you sat in the convention hall or which network you happened to be watching, you could clearly hear a mix of boos and cheers when General Colin Powell made his big plea for inclusiveness in the Republican Party. It is unclear how inclusive the party really is or wants to be. One persistent and widespread rumor all week long was that gay Republicans had asked for a block of hotel rooms, for their organization the Log Cabin Republicans, and that the party told them no hotel rooms seemed to be available in San Diego or in the surrounding counties, and booked them rooms over the border in Tijuana. That is, the only acceptable place for them was actually outside the borders of the United States of America. This turned out to be false. Not true at all. But the party's attitude about including dissenters is so confused that every time it was said, it had the sound of something that actually might be true.
By midweek, everybody knew that inclusion was the word of the week. Everyone was claiming to be inclusive. Even if you were urging people not to yield to others' beliefs, you did it in the language of inclusion. Witness, for example, Pat Buchanan at a Texas delegation breakfast. To give you the setting here, picture him-- here's where he's standing. He's standing in front of a 20-foot-tall cowboy made entirely of red and black and blue balloons.
We're being inclusive today, Tom. Let's all be tolerant and inclusive. Now, let me say this. We do want an inclusive party, a broad party. And think back over the last 20 years. When were we at our most broadest and most inclusive? In 1980 and 1984, we stood up and we said, no pale pastels. A party can't be all things to all people. Here's where we stand. Here's what we believe. We are a conservative party. We are strong on defense, strong on life. We will stand up to--
What's it mean to be a Republican, to be a conservative? These questions even extended to the dance floor in San Diego. Early in the week, one of the conservative magazines published, in a special convention issue, an article that questions the kinds of music played at Republican parties. It is, of course, amoral, pop music that does not promote family values, some of it by musicians like the Village People who live a lifestyle the Republican delegates do not approve of.
Well, Wednesday night, the Iowa delegation ended up in a bar called Dick's Last Resort. This was late. It's a place with bras strung up over the bar like spoils of war, a big dance floor. And when AC/DC kicked onto the sound system, a sensible-looking delegate named [? Laurie ?] [? Leapholdt, ?] in a sensible skirt, sensible shoes, sensible haircut, wife of a police officer back home, wearing a sticker that said, "Life of the party"-- "life" in big, red letters-- that many of the right-to-life delegates wore. Anyway, she jumped onto the stage and executed what I have to say is the most incredible display of air guitar work I have seen in my life. Literally, people were cheering. She hurled herself to her knees on the power chords, and she just generally rocked out. When I walked up to her afterwards with my tape recorder and asked where she was from, she replied very quickly, France. But then admitted, no, Des Moines.
?] Having a ball. This is just the best. I drove all the way out here in my little red convertible, top down all the way, except for when it rained over the continental divide. It was great. This country is just beautiful and wonderful. And I know all the Republicans here are doing their best to help keep it wonderful and free.
Do you think that this kind of music promotes family values?
Probably not, I guess. I guess I don't get real excited about a lot of it. If I find something too objectionable-- I'm singing along-- I just change the words. I'm morally grounded enough to know, all right, yes, that has a nice beat and I can dance to it, but I don't necessarily believe everything that it might promote. You know?
In a sense, this is a nice statement of how many Republicans feel about many issues, morally grounded enough to decide for themselves what they think and not caring what their fellow Republicans think about it, unless there's some reason to care. Coming up, someone tests the inclusiveness of the party in Act Two.
Act Three: Campaign Diaries
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.
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.
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, at 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 simple?
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.
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 asked 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 in that cramped, steeple-roofed, fluorescent-lit room elected 17 delegates to the State Republican Convention. Suffice to say, it was crushingly 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, the 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 a 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 Coroner 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 front lines. 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.
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 would 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.
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, 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 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 have 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, Miss 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, our 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 of 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 as the foundation of our culture. We embraced free markets, recognized that tax and regulatory burdens are a threat to our freedoms, yadda, yadda, yadda. Before we could vote on the preamble-- and it hadn't occurred to me to amend the preamble-- a delegate proposed 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 a voice vote that, though untabulated, sounded to me like 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. Woohoo. 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 leapt 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.
Dan Savage writes a syndicated sex advice column called "Savage Love." He's a writer and editor at a weekly Seattle paper called The Stranger.
Coming up, Michael Lewis and more unusual stories of Republican Party politics. That's in a minute, when our program continues.
It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Each week on our program, of course, we choose a theme, bring you a variety of writers and stories and storytelling styles. Our program today is about the Republican Convention. Act Three, Campaign Diaries.
Throughout this year, we've been bringing you the reportage of Michael Lewis. He's publishing his campaign diaries in The New Republic. And I say this pretty much every time we have him on the show. He's writing about corners of the election process that nobody else is. He just has this eye, also, for the telling, revealing little moment and detail. Regular listeners to our program or regular readers of his know that at some point during this election year, Michael Lewis became mesmerized with a presidential candidate by the name of Morry Taylor. Morry Taylor ran in the Republican primaries. He shows up in this installment you're about to hear. He is outspoken. And he is the founder and CEO of Titan Tire and Wheel. And he goes by the nickname the Grizz.
For these campaign diaries, Michael Lewis not only attended the Republican National Convention, he also flew to Russell, Kansas, Bob Dole's boyhood home.
August 7-- I don't really expect anyone to answer the door of Bob Dole's house in Russell, Kansas. But I stop by anyway, just to see what might happen. When you travel with Dole, you see the world as it is constructed by the Dole campaign, until you almost forget there is a world outside of it, where people do the unexpected. Indeed, as I reach for the screen door, I half wonder if some SWAT team will leap out of the bushes and haul me back to Bob Dole's campaign plane, Citizenship, for questioning.
But Dole is a few days behind me. And the neighborhood remains undisturbed by politics. The only sign that I'm in the right place is the faded pink mat beneath my feet. "Welcome to the home of the Doles," it reads. After a single ring, the front door swings open and an elderly woman steps outside.
"Just cleaning up before Bob gets here," she says. It's Bob Dole's sister, Gloria, and she's as matter-of-fact as Dole himself. She then disappears inside, leaving the door open for me to follow. I do.
Bob Dole's boyhood home-- his official residence, in fact-- is instantly recognizable to anyone who had grandparents in the 1960s. 1960s old-person's furniture, low-backed lounge chairs; 1960s old-person colors, unnatural shades of green; and 1960s old-person smells, 1940s perfume. Over the roar of the 1960s vacuum cleaner, Gloria opens various drawers and tosses onto various counters items for me to inspect. The drawers contain hundreds of loose photographs of Dole in his youth that neither Gloria nor anyone else has looked at in years. One shot depicts Dole modeling clothes in a fashion show staged by a local department store. Another shows him shirtless, with his muscles slightly flexed. As a collection, they capture both Dole's natural obedience-- he always poses-- and his intense physical vanity. How many 18-year-olds in 1940 lifted weights?
"He looks like a movie star," I say to Gloria.
"He was a movie star," she says quickly. "He is a movie star."
The whole thing happened so fast, it seems only natural that I'm ransacking the home of the Republican presidential nominee. After a thorough search of the premises, we move on to the garage, passing, beside Dole's bed, a strange pair of Little Black Sambo rag dolls of the sort they don't even allow in the South anymore. The inside of the garage is a welter of ancient possessions that have long since ceased to serve any useful purpose-- five-pound cameras, medicine balls, that sort of thing.
The outside is equally unremarkable, save for the jury-rigged system of sausage-shaped weights that Dole used to rebuild his arm after the war. According to Gloria, the contraption has simply hung there for the past 50 years, untouched by time or fate. Dole just likes having it around.
As I watch the white rope spool through the eye of the silver pulley, I realize I am also watching Bob Dole's campaign in microcosm. Somewhere in America, Dole is either giving a speech or preparing to give a speech in which he invokes the place where I now stand and the things he once did here.
"Now let's just take Bob Dole," he'll say, typically. "Nothing special about me. Grew up in a small town. Dad wears overalls to work every day for 42 years, was proud of it. Grew up in a basement apartment, six of us, to make ends meet, in Russell, Kansas. Didn't have any money, but we had lots of values." Then he will allude artfully to his war wound and his heroic recovery from it.
The insistence on the importance of events that have occurred 50 years ago in a place where he hasn't lived for 35 years is more than a little strange. It's as if Dole has made a bargain with himself, and with those who would judge him, which enables him to cease all serious self-examination after the age of 25. The deal is something like this. Dole agrees to believe that it was worth it to have his arm and his vanity shattered for the sake of his country. In return, the country agrees not to question what lurks inside him. Thanks to a single decision he made 50 years ago, he is forever the war hero. It's a strangely stunted view of 73 years on the planet.
Morry Taylor asks me to meet him in the parking lot by the San Diego Convention Center. But the convention center is closed and the police who surround it have no idea where to find the parking lot. After a half-hour search, I ask a cop if he's seen 5,000 people on Harley-Davidson motorcycles-- the number Morry promised to deliver to the Dole campaign. The police officer looks at me as if I am mad.
"How many?" he asks incredulously.
"5,000," I say.
"There is no way you get 5,000 motorcycles anywhere near here," he says. For the first time since I met him seven months ago, I doubt Morry's ability to throw a party. How do you find 5,000 bikers anyway?
Soon enough, I find the parking lot. It lies directly behind a small cluster of protesters, a half mile or so from the convention center. It consists of maybe four acres of concrete at the back of which is a stage. Over the stage is an American flag. And in front of the flag is a huge banner. It reads, "Titan-- America's Newest Tire Company." That's Morry's company.
On the stage are five large black men playing loud instruments, each of whom wears a bandanna that says, "The Grizz." That's Morry.
At the front of the stage, with a cigar jutting straight out from his mouth, gyrating slightly to the funk, is Morry.
The roar of approaching motorcycles soon drowns out everything. Not 5,000, but 7,000 motorcycles are streaming across a bridge. They are ridden by 7,000 Republicans and led by half the United States Congress and various local bigwigs-- Newt Gingrich and Trent Lott, Ben Nighthorse Campbell and Dick Armey. But from the moment the bikers arrive at the gates, the Dole campaign ensures that pretty much everything goes wrong. Dole's promise to attend causes the police to keep 6,800 bikers out on the highway. Letting them in will prove too much of a security risk, they say.
The thick line dutifully comes to a halt. And the bikers wait restlessly. The Dole campaign goes back and forth until everyone involved is thoroughly unhappy. An hour or so later, the Dole campaign finally admits that Dole won't be coming. The effect is immediate. The senators and congressmen vanish. As the politicians exit out the back gate, the 3,000 or so bikers who remain on the highway enter through the front.
Morry claims that most of the bikers are actually doctors and lawyers. But these are doctors and lawyers with wild, big bellies and long facial hair. To a man, they are covered in patches that identify them as ardent champions of the American way. Their most popular cause, by far, is the Vietnam War. Everyone is either a veteran or a friend of a veteran. "Hanoi Jane-- traitor by choice, commie by injection," reads a typical armband.
The event quickly degenerates into an enjoyable experience. The glee on Morry's face as the bikers-- he's already calling them "my bikers"-- roar into the lot calls to mind a small child on Christmas morning. The bikers, for their part, seem thrilled, especially when Morry moonwalks across the stage and hurls Grizz T-shirts into the raucous crowd. As he does, the band strikes up a new song, "It's your thing, do what you gotta to. I can't tell you what not to do."
Five hours later, I sit behind Ollie North's family watching Pat Buchanan take the stage at a rally in Escondido. Buchanan is going to remain inside the Republican Party. That much we know from the advance copies of the speech distributed by his staff. What we don't know is how his followers will take the news.
One moment at the start of the ceremony speaks volumes about what Buchanan's followers are up to, as opposed to what Buchanan claims he's up to. After the Pledge of Allegiance, a claque at the back of the room tacks on a pro-life appendix. "Born and unborn," they shout. When I express astonishment that they have dared to amend the Pledge of Allegiance, a fellow journalist gives me a where-have-you-been look and explains that they've also rewritten "The Star-Spangled Banner" to incorporate some pro-life language.
Nothing illustrates so well how anti-conservative Buchanan's movement truly is. Its goal is not to conserve the past but to advance a radical agenda. The constant invocation of the past-- the founding fathers, the declaration, et cetera, is more of a smokescreen than anything else. Given this, it will be difficult to yoke these people to an old-fashioned conservative cause like the Dole campaign. It's like trying to transform a lightning bolt into usable current. That's Dole's real problem here. Temperamentally, he's a conservative. Every fiber in his body is intent on denying anything radical from ever again changing his life.
By late afternoon I finally find Morry again, wandering the convention floor. He looks surprised whenever anyone recognizes him. One Fox television crew even stopped to interview him.
"Mr. Taylor," began the reporter.
"What do you mean with this 'Mr. Taylor' [BEEP]?" asked Morry.
"Morry?" said the reporter uncertainly.
"The Grizz," boomed Morry.
I tell him that just a few hours earlier, a man named Ed Harrison took the podium and started his speech with the immortal words, "Now, I'm not a politician and I'm not a lawyer. I'm a businessman." He had stolen Morry's precise words. This, too, Morry can't quite believe. He hasn't entirely grasped the power of the modern media.
I have decided it's finally time to leave him, and I'm wondering how to break the news. The Taylor campaign has come to an end, at least for the moment. I have forgotten the general rule of American politics-- if you hang with Morry Taylor, the action will follow. The rule continues to obtain. We're sitting in the section reserved for the primary candidates, when Pat Buchanan appears for the first time on the convention floor. He's already got maybe 50 journalists with him. He quickly accumulates another 100, plus several hundred delegates keen to shake his hand.
The result is a human tsunami that breaks across about a third of the conventional hall and lays waste to anything in its path. "People are being trampled," an enormous security guard shouts into his wrist mic. "Send me 50 people."
The crowd at the convention has its own logic, however. People merely attract more people. For every added security man, three curiosity seekers join in. So as Buchanan circles the hall, the tension rises. He's like a ball bearing in a roulette wheel trying to decide where to settle. At length, he comes to rest in the seat directly behind Morry. Fully one third of the convention is watching him and ignoring George W. Bush, who is speaking piously from the podium.
"Open up a child daycare center at your church or synagogue." That sort of thing.
"I need more help here," blares the guard into his wrist. "Send help. Send help."
Then Buchanan notices Morry. "Morry Taylor is the problem here," he shouts mockingly. "He's ruined the convention."
"Did they do this to you when you got here, Morry?" shouts Bay Buchanan, joining her brother and ganging up on Morry. It seems needlessly cruel. Morry stands alone watching.
"It's you, Pat," says Morry. "Leave Shelley with me and take these people out in the street."
The two former rivals vie to condescend to one another. Buchanan is winning on points until he pushes it one inch too far.
"Where's the keg, Morry?" he shouts. "Go get the keg."
Morry looks up, licks his lip and says, "Hey, Pat, you're unemployed now." Then he turns to the cameras. "He needs a job," Morry explains to the world's news media. "Or else he'll have to take unemployment."
Gerald Ford and George Bush speak. But no one around Buchanan listens. All eyes focus on the troublemaker who is giving serial interviews to the networks. At last, Nancy Reagan appears to eulogize Ronny, which is strange. Republicans behave as if he has already died, whereas Nixon, who has actually died, is treated as if he were still alive. She is followed by Colin Powell.
Then comes what I am sure will be the defining moment of the convention. Powell raises his voice above the crowd and proclaims his belief in abortion rights. The convention rises to its feet to applaud. I turn around and meet Buchanan's gaze.
"Any reaction?" I ask idiotically. In these circumstances it is, as a rule, impossible to think of a decent question.
"What?" he says.
"Any reaction?" I shout. But the noise from the crowd is too loud.
Just in front of Morry, oddly enough, there is a man dressed in a monk's robe. On the back of the robe is a sign. It reads, "Diogenes went through the streets carrying a lantern. He held it up to strangers and said he was looking for an honest man."
Dole has invited Morry to join him on the stage Thursday night. But Morry has, for the second time in as many days, declined Dole's invitation. He figures it will merely be another meaningless free-for-all with everyone who ever thought of running for office crammed on to the stage. Although Morry's aides plead with me to try to change his mind, I can't honestly tell him he's wrong. It's nothing personal, though he's still irritated that Dole lacked the sense to address 7,000 raving loyalists on motorcycles. It's just that convention life is less than it's cracked up to be, he's decided. In the morning his plane will take him and his friends to Las Vegas.
Michael Lewis-- his campaign diaries appear in The New Republic. This will be in this week's issue.
Act Four, Party in the Killing Fields. Political conventions, of course, are basically big, glorified TV shows. But they're also the stuff of memory. Photo-snapping and autograph-seeking was everywhere in San Diego. Well, Cassandra Smith's father and grandfather were both Republicans, black Republicans, because of the ethic of self-reliance and because of Abraham Lincoln. And they were trying to change the Republican Party from the inside. And she has this memory of one convention.
I can't swear that I was the only 10-year-old Negro girl at the 1960 Republican Convention. But with the scarcity of black Republicans, especially as enthusiastic as my father, I think I can make the claim.
"You'll see democracy in action," Daddy promised. "Yes, history in the making. You'll be the only kid in school to see Dick Nixon in person."
I wasn't impressed. I had just seen Soupy Sales at the state fair. And Nixon was only a vice president. Besides, I'd seen his face every morning when I came downstairs for breakfast. Above the fireplace, in a kind of Republican shrine, surrounded by a grey china elephant and a stack of "I Like Ike" buttons, hung a photo of my father, John Smith, and Richard Nixon shaking hands. It was taken in 1958 when Nixon was vice president and Daddy was one of nine Young Republican Vice Chairmen.
They are standing toe to toe, wingtip to wingtip, their hands clasped in a no-nonsense handshake. They even look a little alike, same height and build, the same oversize square head, shiny gray suit, intent, unwavering stare. I understand now that these photos were staged for the party faithful. But in 1960, I thought that Dick Nixon and my father were best friends, blood brothers who had cut their palms and clasped them together in a sacred ceremony preserved on film.
Daddy was proud of that photo-- framed it, bragged on it, and made sure his daughters kept it dusted. As far as he was concerned, he and Dick were comrades from the front lines. His old friend was about to be promoted from vice president to president. And we were traveling to Chicago to cheer him on.
We'd been in Chicago a couple of days, and Mother and I still couldn't get into the convention. Every morning, Daddy had left us waiting while he searched for spectator tickets. When we finally got inside, the seats were in the nosebleed section. I was troubled. If Nixon and my daddy are such good friends, why are we sitting up here?
The next day we were in luck. The Republican women had planned to wear yellow dresses to a demonstration. Mother wore hers and we slipped onto the convention floor. What can I tell you about a convention from the eyes of a 10-year-old? Mostly, I saw belt buckles, breasts, and bellies. Red, white, and blue balloons, the crush of bodies, funny hats, popcorn, the smell of Old Spice and Aqua Velva, grown-ups shouting and pushing like a bunch of kids, crushed toes, Texans in 10-gallon hats, and Goldwater delegates who never gave up trying to make you wear their buttons.
We joined the parade of Republican women marching round and round the floor demonstrating for or against something. Somehow we were spotted as frauds and led through the exit doors and into the midday sun.
The international amphitheater was in the middle of the stockyards. And although most of the slaughterhouses had closed, the smell of death was everywhere. Nearby, Darling and Company, the last of the rendering firms, was boiling down hides, hooves, heads, tails into glue. When the wind was right, you could smell it as far as Hyde Park, four miles away. But on a windless August day, we couldn't breathe. We covered our eyes and mouths. We begged the guards to let us back in or send a message to father. We were stranded alone in a vacant lot overgrown by weeds.
By now, I'd had it with Dick Nixon and decided the photo was a fraud, the convention nothing but a staged circus. We had been abandoned, locked out. I still haven't found a political home. This year, the Republican talk about inclusion makes me nervous. They repeat it too often and with too little evidence. But this week, for the first time since 1960, I had a calm political discussion with my father. I was surprised. Although he's proud of Colin Powell and still likes Republican economics, he feels as left out as I do.
"The party hasn't changed," he admitted. "They don't want us. Not unless you do what they tell you. That's my problem. I never did what they told me." And for the first time, he explained to me the reason we didn't get tickets to the convention floor in 1960. The state party leaders wanted him to run for the one office usually reserved for blacks. Instead, he ran for a mainstream position and won. And that's how we ended up in a vacant lot that smelled of death, pounding on the doors to get in.
Chicago writer Cassandra Smith. She's got a story in the new book, TriQuarterly New Writers. Music by the late Oscar Brown III.
Well, our program was produced today by Peter Clowney and myself, with Alix Spiegel and Nancy Updike. Contributing editors Paul Tough, Jack Hitt, and Margy Rochlin. Hey, want to hear an outtake? Sure you do. From our recording session with Michael Lewis when he did his campaign diaries. Hold on, let me this cued up. Here we go.
As he does, the band strikes up a new song. Now, what do I do with this? I don't know what to do with it. [SINGING[ It's your thing-- I can't do that.
As he does, the band-- I can't do this.
If you would like a copy of this program-- it's only $10-- call us at WBEZ in Chicago. 312-832-3380. Our email address is [email protected]
WBEZ management oversight by Torey Malatia. I'm Ira Glass.
[SINGING] It's your thing. I can't do that. You ruined my life.
Yeah, are we ruining yours? Are we? Well, either way, we're going to be back next week with more stories of This American Life.