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I note that he already has, due to Democratic pressure.
Faced with an existential impossibilitygiving the Democrats credit for anythinghe retreats into a retort I'll hear again and again tonight: Nobody's perfect. "I don't think we're going to find a situation in which we find a person with which we're 100 percent comfortable."
Then he reels off a litany of complaints about Bush. "Horrible underemployment situation . . . the big-business aspect of the Republican Party I have some issues with."
The next thing I hear is the last refuge of the cornered conservative: a non sequitur fulmination against the hippie Democrats.
"Having said that, what's your option? To have more bike trails?"
The vibe at my next stop is different. None of the people at Kitty and Tom Harmon's bungalow are stupid. Instead they are the kind of "well-informed" that comes from overlong exposure to conservative media: conservatives who construct towers of impressive intellectual complexity on toothpick-weak foundations. My hosts are Stepford-nice (Mom sports "Hello Kitty!" seat covers in her car and loads me down with shortbread for the flight home; Dad shows off the herb garden he'll use to season my eggs if I consent to stay the night). But everyone present shows a glint of steel when their man's character is challenged.
"One of the reasons I respect this president is that he is honest. I believe that after eight years, the dark years of the Clinton administration, we finally have a man in the White House who respects that office and who speaks honestly."
The speaker is Christina, an intense, articulate, and passionate publicist.
"Such a refreshing change for the country. People believe in the president."
I don't mention recent poll figures suggesting that more Americans believe John Kerry than Bush when it comes to terrorism.
After affirming "I still believe that there are weapons of mass destruction"the commonplace is beyond challengeChristina displays another facet of the conservative fantasy: Going into Iraq, she says, "is not the sort of thing one does if one wants to be popular. . . . He doesn't stick his finger in the wind." I don't challenge that point, eitherthough if I did I might ask why Bush scheduled the divisive debate over the intervention for the height of the 2002 campaign season, more certain of what Andrew Card called "new products" than his father, who held off deliberation on the first Iraq war until after the 1990 congressional elections.
Instead I challenge the grandmotherly lady sitting on the piano bench.
Says Delores: "There is an agendato get rid of God in our country."
Chirps the reporter: Certainly not on the part of John Kerry, who once entertained dreams of entering the priesthood.
I'm almost laughed out of the room.
I ask why Kerry goes to mass every week if he's trying to get rid of God. "Public relations!" a young man calls out from across the room. "Same reason he does everything else." Cue for Delores to repeat something a rabbi told her: "We have to stand together, because this is what happened in Europe. You knowonce they start taking this right and that right. And you have the Islamic people . . . "
She trails off. I ask whether she's referring to the rise of fascism. "We're losing our rights as Christians: yes. And being persecuted again."
I ask why so many liberals believe the administration lies, if there might be anything to the suspicions. What about the report of the Los Angeles Times that morning, that the State Department dismissed 28 of the claims the White House demanded Colin Powell bring before the U.N. as without foundation in fact?
Delores: "You make mention of a paper in Los Angeles that made such and such a report; well, that doesn't mean it's accurate or complete or unbiased."
I respond that the report came from a memo reproduced in the recent report of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Republican-dominated. I'm not sure whether she hasn't heard me or just has decided to change the subject. "John Kerry attended a party in which there was bad language, bad humor, being evidenced in all quarters!" she cries. Kitty chimes in: "And Kerry said it reflects American values!"
I ask Tom what role he sees in America for nonbelievers. "Well, if people are of an opinion that their God is supreme and are willing to burn your house down to prove it or dismantle your car to prove it or make all sorts of loud noises, disturbing the peace, and say that they have a right to do that in the name of God. . . ." he begins, in his best Mr. Rogers voice. Later I parse out what the hell he was talking about. I was asking about atheists. But Tom understood "nonbeliever" according to the premise that God is exclusively Judeo-Christian. It wasn't about whether you believe in anything, but whether you dared diverge from his belief.
Walking me to my car (he insisted), Tom, who works for a construction conglomerate, reaches for a favorite metaphor to describe George Bush: linoleum. "You know: Usually you get a microfilm of the color, and if you drop a plate on it you discover it's an ugly-looking floor. Then linoleum came outthe pattern goes through the entire one-eighth of material. You can drop a plate on it, and the color is true all the way down!"