By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Neither Bush nor Gore is a star in any media sense of the word. Bill Clinton was and always will be. That's a curse he revels in. Clinton had the brain, but luckily it was wired for self-destruction, or else he'd be emperor. Compared with Clinton, Gore is a troubled schemer incapable of generating enough political energy to power a 40-watt bulb. And Bush can't even articulate a damned sentence, making it hard to sell the American people on anything he'll try to do.
Bush's best moment for me came when he told reporters that he wouldn't use federal laws to trump a state's right to allow marijuana to be used for medicinal purposes. The issue, Bush said, belonged at the state level. If California voters voted for it, there it was. But even this fine, rational statement was delivered in stuttering English that I don't recognize from the 1997 porch conversation.
Seeing the crowds in Austin on election night, gathered around to root for Bush, made me feel proud of him, as if he were an old friend or my nephew. He seemed so full of life that day, so happy to be watching those damned birds, clapping his hands and hooting. Now he's all grown up and the leader of the free world. I worry about Bush being in the Oval Office, about what the position will do to the laid-back and charming man I met on the porch that day. I see what happened to Bill Clinton; after eight years the man looks like a sock left out in the rain. It will be awful to see that happen to Dubya, who like us all will transform, step by step, into his father, but on national television.
I like Bush, but like many people I voted for his team: Cheney's smart and experienced, Condoleezza Rice is a veteran of the previous Bush administration and an expert in Russian affairs, and Colin Powell adds just enough flair and eloquence to give the whole Cabinet gravitas. Even the creepy old-school specter of Henry Kissinger (who was seen in meetings with future Bush Cabinet members) gives me an oddly comforted feeling. Makes me feel like the adults are back on the job after eight years of amateur rule, a welcome return of those who can act like the Grinch if our nation's self-interest requires it. Still...
"This isn't going to be a very effective defense of George Bush," I told Chris over the phone, informing him I was writing about the election for the Observer. "That's OK," he said. "He doesn't really deserve an effective defense."
Two days after the election, I attended the bachelor party of Mark, a 22-year-old independent lawn-care specialist. He never voted before, but now he is a Republican.
Hours before we went to the party, Mark, Chris, and I burned off some excess wedding jitters by shooting skeet with his 12-gauge in the bitter cold. He wore a blue ski hat with a Bush-Cheney sticker plastered across the forehead. I told him his impassioned plea as an independent businessman to vote for Bush helped Chris and me reconcile our emotions and punch the ticket for Bush and his tax cuts. "I'm glad I helped convince you guys," he said, reloading. "Look how close the vote was. Pull!"
I stared in wonder. This was the kid who got me into Rage Against the Machine and Peter Tosh in 1997, the guy who started a successful lawn business and maintains it, the man who was to be married over the weekend. He was a new Republican, and the genteel presentation and inclusive marketing of Bush-Cheney made him an easy sell. But how did a kid with counterculture written all over him become a Bush supporter?
Ambition. Mark has chosen to be the boss, an independent businessman. He doesn't want regulations that make his job any harder or taxes that make his house harder to pay off. He has people who work for him, and depend on him, at age 22. He grew to hate Gore, who was trying to take it away from him. Not Democrats, not really, but Al Gore himself. Mark is a blue-collar Texan who's been on his own since he was a teenager; Gore's whining, sighing, effete character repelled him like oil to water.
I've heard many reasons people voted against Gore. Friends from across the political spectrum have called him "shifty," "untrustworthy," a "jackass," and a "pussy." As far as I'm concerned, they are all right, and the post-election blizzard of litigation validates the accusations. Such hysterics should be reserved for real voter fraud. Mistakes by voters in the box should not trigger a constitutional crisis.
Mark fell for Republicanism hard, for all the right reasons. He's not a Klansman or a seal-clubber; not an oil baron, a defense contractor, or a hick. He's a young man with ambition, a work ethic, and expensive habits, like skeet shooting and a Harley. He's good in a pinch; once I dislocated my shoulder surfing, and he helped get me into a car and to a hospital, never really losing his composure.