SO IT'S COME TO THIS

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.

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15 Responses to “SO IT'S COME TO THIS”

  1. Joe Brush Says:

    Try to talk that ranger in giving you a personal tour of Mesa Verde. A friend of mine set that up with rangers who were here friends and we got to visit all the parts most tourists don't get to see, and we were able to walk up real close to most of the ruins and catch a gorgeous sunset while one of the rangers played a flute for us.

    Chaco is lovely, especially the spot with the hand and starburst glyphs. McElmo Canyon is another interesting place to visit. Just a couple ruins, but a great hike and lovely area. It gets filled with mountain bikers in day time, but at night you can hike and camp there.

    On a political note, "I hate George Bush because he represents everything I believe in being completely fucked up and ruined". I understand his context, but that line is common ground for both sides of the aisle.

  2. MikeF Says:

    "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."

    I don't get why you think this is profound when it is merely another example of the brainwashing. It is a fundamental misunderstanding of what we "liberals" think about Bush. I don't hate the man.
    I hate what he is doing to our country. All the idiot you talked to was doing was trying to lamely justify his own personal hatred of Bush, Hillary, et al….and for no good reason he could seem to articulate.

    This is not profound at all. It is truly sad to think this is what we have come to.

  3. blogenfreude Says:

    Fuck him. Anybody with a pulse could have seen in 2000 that Bush is a dry drunk who destroys everything he touches. How could you not know he would embark on some stupid military adventure, 9/11 or no. Anybody who voted for Commander Codpiece, especially twice, has blood on their hands.

  4. gnuorder Says:

    I agree with the other replies. I would even say we all hate Bush for the same reason as that Alabama man. Some of us just realized he was fucking up and ruining everything we believed in from before he laid foot in the whitehouse. What the neocons still have to come to terms with is that it was the neocon philosophy behind all the failure, not how Bush carried it out.

  5. Ed Says:

    I don't know, MikeF. I hate his guts pretty thoroughly.

  6. Susan Kitchens Says:

    North rim of the Grand Canyon wasn't the zoo that I (imagine) S. Rim of Grand Canyon was. Just returned from there. Lovely place. Utterly lovely place.

  7. Demochristian Says:

    I don't hate any of the things Bush said that he stood for in 2000. I am an anti-abortion, born again Christian.
    But I knew then, as now, that Bush didn't really stand for compassionate anything. As Governor of Texas, as a failed businessman and as a Viet Nam chickenhawk he had proven himself the antithesis of the committed Christian.
    He avoided the personal responsibility he preached to others and refused to show the mercy he had recieved.
    That these are the usual traits of the Republican leadership should keep any rank and file Republican from continuing in the party.
    That anyone could be so blinded to the damage done by Republican rule as to even consider voting for more isn't brainwashing, it is insanity.

  8. byrst Says:

    The original post is pathetic. It is so lopsided. I like to see an article/story/editorial that bashes both the Democrats and the Republicans. George Bush is not even a real Republican. Hilary Clinton is not a real Democrat. They're all socialists!

  9. atlas spanked Says:

    "Try to talk that ranger in giving you a personal tour of Mesa Verde. A friend of mine set that up with rangers who were her friends and we got to visit all the parts most tourists don't get to see, and we were able to walk up real close to most of the ruins and catch a gorgeous sunset while one of the rangers played a flute for us."

    Classic Park Service (and I'm an environmentalist too): Run the parks like a private club. If you're one of the members, you get to do all sorts of prohibited activities like hiking in RNAs, visiting closed ruins, camping in closed areas. If you're one of "the public" (read: enemies), then no way.

    Unfortunately, the NPS needs a good cleaning, starting at national, regional office, and brass levels. The club mentality needs to end.

    And of course 'conservatives' are pissed about GW. The sheer incompetent, corrupt arrogance is difficult to ignore.

  10. Bluesman Says:

    I agree with some of the other posters about the projected hatred. But confronting the man about it won't convince him. The first response that came to mind, though when he started talking about Hillary was "Well, remember that the same people who told you everything you think you know about Clinton are the same ones still promoting Bush."

  11. Bugboy Says:

    What I hate about Bush and GOP is their willingness to lie, cheat and steal to win. They lied, cheated and stole in order to win the WH in 2000 and 2004, and the American Public were willing accomplices to it.

    The funny thing is how many of us saw the train wreck coming, how much of the blogosphere and the media are repeating it like it is some new revelation these days. Case in point: "What? Saddam didn't have anything to do with 9/11? I didn't know that!" I knew when Cheney was talking out of both sides of his mouth doing his best "nudge nudge wink wink" routine that's what they were trying to con the American Public into thinking. Why didn't anyone else see it?

  12. Udon Nomee Says:

    "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."

    I have to agree to a previous poster. What a load of crap.

    First of all, why do so-called 'conservatives' always feel they can tell you what 'liberals' think, and why? And when they do, it's always wrong?

    What does he even mean!?! You hate Bush because he represents the arrogant, privileged, elite who misuse and abuse that privilege to enrich themselves and their cronies by raiding the public coffers and corrupting government institutions, while he hates Bush because Bush represents the ability of the privileged elite to enrich themselves and their cronies by raiding the public coffers and corrupting government institutions being totally fucked up and ruined!?!

    True, perhaps, but profound? No.

  13. Ed Says:

    You raise excellent points, and thank you for commenting.

    I didn't think that confronting this man would be productive. In any way. Releasing what was in my head (something on the order of "It must really suck to be so stupid that you couldn't figure this out in 1998 like the rest of us, so go wash the blood off your hands elsewhere") would just fuel his "Liberals are the bitter enemy" fire, acquired through relentless hours of Limbaugh listening.

    I try (and teaching has really helped) to engage people with whom I do not agree calmly and rationally. If I fly off the handle, they fly off the handle. People will obstinately throw up their shields and refuse to think about anything when they feel threatened/attacked.

  14. Greg Says:

    "The original post is pathetic. It is so lopsided. I like to see an article/story/editorial that bashes both the Democrats and the Republicans. George Bush is not even a real Republican. Hilary Clinton is not a real Democrat. They're all socialists!
    Posted by byrst "

    Er, bryst, you do understand the concept of *opinion*, right? Ed's a Democrat. Why should he bash Democrats? Why do you need to see an editorial that bashes both sides? Editorials by their very nature take a side.
    As for George Bush not being a real Republican, well, sorry, he is. He's a conservative Republican. When his popularity was in the 70s, Republicans were only to happy to hold him up as the *ideal* Republican. The only reason you're trying to claim he's not a Republican now (a *Socialist*?!) is that he's screwed everything up and is wildly unopular. Sorry. Bush broke the country, and you own him.

  15. Samantha Says:

    As a lifelong southerner/barely reformed socialist/outspoken democrat, I've recently experienced similar situations as Ed's with the ranger guy. None of it is surprising. Try as we all may to be "original" (and I'm sure the park ranger thought he was bucking the system with his "confession"), most of us act and speak through prescribed sociological scripts anyway, right? So, at the risk of sounding cliche and Jungian or whatever, we all sort of ride one side or another of the wave of current opinion, no matter what the issue. I'm not a psychologist or a sociologist by any means, but in today's episode of pop-politics, it seems to me that the park ranger is playing a classic role of RUotS.

    Right on, Ed.