Last week I had the fortune/misfortune* of visiting Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. Through a series of machinations I needn't elaborate here, I ended up "filling in" for one of two park rangers guiding a tour group to the (stunning) ruins. As such, the (real) ranger briefly introduced me and noted my day job in the Political Science department at IU.
At the conclusion of the tour, a very sunburnt gentleman with an overpowering Dixie accent (I'd soon learn that he hails from Birmingham, AL) approached me quite urgently and said "I need to know who you think is going to win the presidential election." Taken slightly aback, I gave him a thoroughly noncommittal but accurate answer: it's too early to say, but the lay of the land certainly looks unfavorable for the GOP. However, the nomination of Hillary Clinton could be a wild-card because of her high negative numbers.
Following that stock response, he began to unburden himself in what I have decided to call the Republican Unburdening of the Soul ritual. He started telling me about how he is an upper-middle class (pilot for NW Airlines, apparently) white guy from the Bible Belt who has been a Republican since he could walk, he voted for George Bush (twice), he supported the War in Iraq, etc etc. But the RUotS always ends as familiarly as it begins. After describing his lifelong committment to Republican principles, he revealed that he now despises George W. Bush and loathes the failed Iraq debacle.
I have decided to name this ritual because it is happening so damn frequently lately. Its source is quite obvious: a major, major case of the guilts coupled with the embarassment of having been misled (or having deluded oneself) so thoroughly and easily. I swear to God, today's average Republican cannot avoid telling every liberal they meet how much they hate the war and the president. They're like sinners desperately seeking absolution and willing to solicit it from strangers. Failing absolution, they'll settle for conscience balm. Both ordinary people and elected officials (note the "rats fleeing a sinking ship" Senators like Lugar suddenly condemning the war they blindly supported for 4 years) are performing the RUotS lately.
Back to this gentleman, I (gently, and as non-confrontationally as possible) joked that I can't figure out why he voted for Bush a second time if he felt this way. He replied that his faith in the party and its principles was strong enough to trust Bush with more time to achieve a favorable outcome. While this is singularly piss-poor logic, I nonetheless understood his response as a reasonable emotional one. Then he said something that floored me in several respects:
"See, you (meaning 'liberals', even though I had not offered him any political affiliation; all academics are liberals) hate George Bush because he represents everything you hate. I hate George Bush because he represents everything I believe in being completely fucked up and ruined."
The profundity of that struck me. I've not yet heard a more concise, eloquent explanation of what the non-brainwashed part of the right-leaning electorate is experiencing these days. It also struck me as incredible that this is what political discourse v2007 sounds like: two people of opposing ideologies arguing about who hates George Bush more.
Unfortunately but predictably, the conversation ended with him describing his openness to Democratic candidates in 2008….but not without the caveat of his hatred of Hillary Clinton. And therein lies the disingenuousness of the RUotS ritual and conservative hand-wringing in general. They're like fat people who are always about to start dieting and exercising "tomorrow." They go on and on about how much they hate Bush, the war, and their more extreme party compatriots…but not without conjuring up a reason to vote for them again anyway. In short, this gentleman told me that he's completely disillusioned with his party while implying "I will use HRC as an excuse to vote for them again anyway."
It's a very convenient, and cowardly, coulda-woulda-shoulda defense. "I was totally ready to jump ship, but that Hillary Clinton was just too awful so I had to vote for the guy who baited me with more tax cuts." Pardon me if, under such qualified circumstances, I decline to end such conversations with "Ego te absolvo, my son."
*Mesa Verde belongs on that list of parks (Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain, Grand Canyon, etc) that a real outdoorsperson simply cannot visit between Memorial and Labor Days. It was just overwhelmed with traffic and lard-assed suburban white guys dragging their 5 miserable children around the country in a Suburban loudly wondering why they had to walk so far to see the ruins. Anyone looking for solitude and natural splendor finds this intolerable. In contrast, I spent 2 days at the nearby (and nearly as incredible) Chaco Canyon and was essentially the only person there.