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Seattle Times Political Caucus

The Seattle Times Political Caucus is an online community aimed at adding diverse voices to our coverage of politics. How we'll use the Caucus will evolve over time. But the idea is to create a conversation with people of various backgrounds and political beliefs. As the election season unfolds, we'll ask participants to weigh in on key political questions and then post their comments here.

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September 3, 2008 9:51 AM

Convention "pretty surreal" for young delegate

Posted by Richard Wagoner

Sam Nelson, 19, of Seattle, is attending the Republican National Convention as a guest of the John McCain campaign. He's the youngest member of the Washington state delegation. A student at Brigham Young University, Nelson became an intern for the GOP when I was 17 and eventually led the party's phone bank in Seattle.

By Sam Nelson

It's about 2:30 a.m. and I just got back from a party with "Mike Huckabee and Capitol Offense." Most events here are 21+ so I was really glad I was able to get into this one. Huckabee was pretty good, everyone was dancing and singing and having a great time. The older couples awkwardly dancing together was definitely a highlight.

This whole thing has been pretty surreal. Famous people walk by me all the time, journalists are everywhere, security guards with huge guns just walk around, and it seems like everyone is dying to give me free stuff. This morning our delegation had breakfast while we heard from Meg Whitman (CEO of Ebay), McCain's daughter, a former POW, and a few other exciting guests. After breakfast, we were shuttled off to a paddle boat cruise on the Mississippi river, where I sat next to the chairman of the Washington GOP. The ride was really pretty and I met all kinds of interesting people. The Coast Guard made sure we were safe. They had boats with two mounted machine guns that kept cruising past us while two security guys with Uzis walked around our boat. It was nice to have that feeling of security.

Next was the convention that had a theme of service and putting our country first. I think Fred Thompson and Lieberman did a great job and there was so much excitement in the room as they spoke. The stories about John McCain and other war heroes were incredible. If you haven't seen the RNC video for Michael Monsoor you need to. The story made me so proud of the bravery of our military and what people were willing to do on behalf of our country. After the video was shown, the convention center gave his family a long standing ovation, it was amazing. Probably my favorite part of the convention today.

It's past 3:00 a.m. right now and I better get to bed. Tomorrow's going to be amazing and I'll definitely write something about it.

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September 1, 2008 2:18 PM

RNC gets underway

Posted by Richard Wagoner

This post was written by Nathan Johnson, executive director of the King County Republican Party. His currently attending the Republican National Convention in St. Paul.

By Nathan Johnson

I'm seated with my delegation now for the beginning of our national convention. Tonight we will hopefully be hearing from two First Ladies, one current and one soon to be.

As things are about to get underway, I think I can speak for the entire state delegation in saying that our thoughts and prayers are with our friends in the Gulf Coast who are enduring Gustav. We are all thankful that the storm appears to be weakening and the levees continue to hold. Much of tonigh's agenda will be focused on providing us with ways to help with hurricane relief.

Much of this week will focus on the renewed and considerable role women will be playing with the GOP in this election year. All of this leading up to Governor Sarah Palin's marquee speech to a national audience on Wednesday. There is a lot of excitement here for the new Republican image that is firmly rooted in our shared conservative principles and true progress. The convention delegates appear united and anxious to begin today's proceedings.

The most impressive part of the convention so far is the incredible security presence surrounding the Excel Center. This being my first convention, some of the normal things will surely impress.

For anyone interested, the RNC is participating in the text2help program which allows you to give money to hurricane relief with a simple text message. Nearly all of the delegates participated this afternoon and I encourage you to do the same. Text the word GIVE (4483) to "2HELP" (24357) to make your $5 contribution.

All for now. More to come.

Nathan Johnson has been active in local politics for several years, holding a variety of political and public policy roles. He's worked as a research analyst specializing in health-care policy for the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, served as a field coordinator for Mike McGavick's U.S. Senate campaign during the 2006 election, and worked as a research analyst with the Senate Republican Caucus. He's currently executive director of the King County Republican Party. Nathan and his wife live in Everett.

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September 1, 2008 10:52 AM

McCain-Palin ticket will help Dino Rossi

Posted by Richard Wagoner


This post is by Brendan Woodward of Woodinville, who is an alternate delegate from Washington state to the Republican National Convention. He's been interested in politics since high school and worked on former Congressman George Nethercutt's U.S. Senate campaign in 2004.

By Brendan Woodward

While eating breakfast with the Washington Delegation, I read David Postman's article in this paper about the Rossi campaign distancing itself from McCain. Mr. Postman's article misses the point that is being made clear from my position in Minnesota: The excitement of the McCain-Palin ticket has not been lost on us.

Obviously, a candidate running for governor must keep his message clear of distractions like the Iraq War, and on relevant local topics such as transportation and education - postman makes that clear - but this does not mean that George Bush-weary Republicans are confused about which candidates represents "the change we need."

In fact, Governor Gregoire's egregious mismanagement of the state budget and now empty attempts to tie both her fundraising and political message to Barak Obama make it clear that after four years, she has no new ideas for fixing Washington state. All she has is the illusion of Democrat momentum created by Barak Obama. But will that momentum really spill over to her governor's race, or will Obama voters turn out for Dino Rossi? Nobody knows yet, but one thing is certain: Dino Rossi does not need John McCain's coattails to win, but Christine Gregoire desperately needs Obama's.

Sarah Palin has fertilized the grass roots of Washington State's Republican Party with new enthusiasm and commitment to the GOP, and Dino Rossi will undoubtedly benefit from this. From the ├╝ber conservative to the judicious moderate, the McCain-Palin ticket has something for everyone and our new energy and "hope for change" is going straight into the Dino Rossi campaign. Please tell David Postman.

Brendan Woodward became politically active during high school as a volunteer with the John Carlson Campaign for governor and later was a staffer on George Nethercutt's run for the U.S. Senate. Woodward attended Wheaton College and started a home business selling carbon offset credits and consulting for organizations interested in fighting climate change. He said he's excited about John McCain's free thinking brand of politics that promises to protect American families, economy and national security.

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August 31, 2008 4:46 PM

On to St. Paul

Posted by Richard Wagoner

This post is by Keith Houser of Bellevue, who is traveling to both Denver and St. Paul to "to observe history 'unembedded' and write about my experiences." Houser is a member of The Seattle Times Political Caucus.

By Keith Houser

While I approached the Democratic National Convention in Denver with ideas of what might be, I flew toward the Republican convention in St. Paul with reflections on what had already been. Three years earlier, almost to the day, Hurricane Katrina had devastated New Orleans. Now a new storm approached the same city, still languishing, unforgivably brutalized and neglected by the forces of nature and human criminality. It was criminal to do nothing to help the people of New Orleans while they drowned, and criminal to deny the survivors their right to return home three long years later.

The man George Bush appointed to head the Federal Emergency Management Agency before Katrina hit was a political crony with no experience in disaster management. National Guard troops who could have helped save lives were instead fighting Bush's war of choice in Iraq. And while hundreds were dying, stranded on rooftops as the water rose, Bush fiddled for days, among other things celebrating John McCain's birthday with him in Arizona.

Katrina exemplified everything tragic about the past seven and a half years. Our leaders proved they were worse than inept, they were completely uncaring. Troops went into battle insufficiently armed, VA hospitals went underfunded, environmental protections were gutted and unproductive debt soared as if future generations preferred to inherit a country depleted, impoverished, and plundered. We saw it in a slowly crumbling infrastructure in the form of decreasing industrial capacity, rising prices, scattered grain shortages, and in one instance, a dramatic bridge collapse, right in Minneapolis a few miles from where on Monday assembled Republican delegates would be toasting themselves as the world burned.

Like with Katrina, the Republican Party's callous indifference to the people they were supposed to care for would lay naked and obvious for the world to see should they decide to celebrate as the Big Easy drowned again. Perhaps they would be politically savvy enough to know that joy should not accompany disaster, at least on television. Or maybe the storm would whither away and spare the city. Either way, it was a testament to divine irony that nature itself would be reminding us all of what transpired three years ago, and what happens when a free citizenry falls asleep at the wheel by letting the demons in our midst run the levers of power.

This week Bush, Cheney, and their entire entourage of fear-mongering crazies were supposed to be passing on the torch to their new deputy, John McCain. They will find time to continue their festival of madness whether they decide to delay it or not. But one thing is for sure: John McCain represents a continuation of something bigger than himself. Regardless of his "maverick" title, he still panders to, speaks for, and dances with the same forces that have brought nothing but wreckage to our country in particular and our world in general. When I arrive in St. Paul, I'll find out for certain just how passive the locals are in accepting it.

Keith Houser, 26, describes himself as "a white suburban slacker from Bellevue with a knack for understanding belt-way intrigue and synthesizing global macro phenomena into a coherent world systems theory." He isn't affiliated with any political campaign.

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August 29, 2008 8:04 PM

The political fault lines are rattling now

Posted by Richard Wagoner

domke.JPGUniversity of Washington professor David Domke, an expert on the intersection of faith and politics, writes today about the impact of race in the presidential campaign.

By David Domke

Let's just call this the "fault lines" presidential election.

In geological terms, fault lines are locations where friction occurs between differing earth masses - and this friction can cause ruptures, earthquakes, upheaval. The San Andreas Fault in California is perhaps the best-known example of a fault line.

In political terms, fault lines are the demographic and psychological characteristics that often produce friction in a society. In the United States, the biggest fault lines tend to be race, gender, economic class, sexuality, religion, and age. These are lines along which political earthquakes and ruptures occur. And they are the lines upon which presidential elections often turn.

This presidential election now has virtually all of them, and they are coming to a head right here, right now.

Barack Obama on Thursday became the first African American to gain the presidential nod of a major political party, accepting the Democratic Party's nomination. This event took place before 84,000 people in open-air Invesco Field in Denver and 38 million more watching on television - more than watched the Olympic Opening Ceremonies two weeks ago, more than watched the Academy Awards this year, and nearly twice as many as watched John Kerry's nomination-acceptance address for the Democratic Party in 2004. That's what happens when history takes place.

What people saw in Obama's speech was a game-on, take-no-prisoners approach to presidential politics. It was exactly what Obama had not offered since hitting the national scene, and the speech hit a home run - wowing the liberal blogosphere, mainstream news media, and even Pat Buchanan, a former Richard Nixon aide who runs politically to the right of virtually everyone, who said this on MSNBC after the address: "It was a genuinely outstanding speech, it was magnificent ... It is the finest - and I saw [Mario] Cuomo's speech [in 1984], I saw [Ted] Kennedy in '80, I even saw Douglas MacArthur, I saw Martin Luther King - this is the greatest convention speech."

Obama can give a good speech, we know. But what put it over the top was something he drew from his new running mate, Joe Biden - a self-described scrappy kid from Scranton, Penn., who told the nation on Wednesday that when growing up, his mother told him to bloody the nose of any kids who bullied him. With the cameras trained on her watching in the crowd, Biden's mother smiled and said, Yep I did. It was a classic, Archie Bunker moment. Biden's speech had a simple, unspoken tagline: "Made in America."

Obama chose Biden for the VP slot to shore up Obama's lackluster appeal to working-class voters, particularly those who are white. Biden has immediately lit a fire under Obama, a fire that goes straight to the core of all of the millions of Americans who are worried about the economy and whether Obama can serve as commander-in-chief. John McCain's inability last week to identify how many houses he owns was like manna from heaven for the Democrats, and Obama and Biden have run with it.

It's in this environment that McCain one-upped everyone Friday morning, delivering the biggest blockbuster yet: naming Alaska governor Sarah Palin to be his VP running mate.

Palin has been governor of Alaska (the 47th-largest state in terms of population) for less than two years and has little foreign-policy experience, a reality which undercuts the McCain camp's criticisms of Obama's relative short tenure on the national scene. Further, Palin is virtually unknown to anyone outside Alaska or political-junkie circles. So what does McCain get with Palin that made her appealing as a partner? A couple things. Indeed, a couple crucial things.

First, Palin is a woman. This was a high-priority for McCain; NBC political news director Chuck Todd put it this way on air Friday morning: "They really wanted to pick a woman, and there were no obvious choices." The thinking is that Hillary Clinton's supporters in the Democratic Party are ripe to be pealed away from Obama. Some evidence suggests this window may be closing after the Democratic convention, but it's certainly possible. Picking a woman, particularly someone who has cast herself as a reformer, as Palin has, reinforces McCain's maverick image.

Second, Palin is well-liked among conservative white evangelicals in this country, who are the base of the Republican Party but have been less than enthused about McCain's candidacy. A Pew Research Center survey of U.S. adults released 10 days ago showed that McCain's support among these voters is comparable to George W. Bush's in 2004, but that there is an enthusiasm gap. In August 2004, 57 percent of white evangelicals said they "strongly" supported Bush; this August, only 28 percent said they strongly supported McCain. That's not a gap; that's a chasm.

Evangelicals like Palin's pro-life position on abortion, and her statement in the 2006 gubernatorial race that she supported the teaching of creationism in public schools was an explicit signal to these voters. On cue Friday, Richard Land, a key leader of the Southern Baptist Convention, declared, "Governor Palin will delight the Republican base." If these voters rally to McCain's side, the Palin selection will be a brilliant move.

On the potential downside though, McCain just made his age and health a key part of this election. He is a cancer survivor and turned 72 on Friday; he will be the oldest first-term president if he is elected in November. Democrats now have an opening to emphasize McCain's age and health, by asking whether Palin is fit to be president. The message of "One heartbeat away" is sure to become a talking point for Palin. Whether Palin is a genius pick or Geraldine Ferraro redux is the question of the hour.

The fault lines - and so many of them - have emerged. Next week it is the Republicans' chance to make their case to the American public. Two months until election night.

David Domke, a former newspaper journalist, is a professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Washington. His latest book, "The God Strategy: How Religion Became A Political Weapon in America," was published in January. He can be reached at domke@u.washington.edu.

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August 29, 2008 4:35 PM

McCain's running mate

Posted by Katherine Long

Sen. John McCain surprised many observers Friday morning when he selected Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to be his running mate. We asked the Seattle Times Political Caucus: What do you think of his choice, and does it make you more or less likely to vote for him? Read all of their answers here.

Many Republicans and quite a few independents praised McCain for a bold, interesting choice. Some were swayed by her addition to the ticket, while others were not so sure.

Sarah Andeen of Kirkland says she's voted for McCain before (as a write-in), but remains undecided. "Her lack of experience on the world stage is not a huge issue -- I think she could probably step up to the plate and learn what she needed to, but in general I do not think she has the people skills to be effective at creating bi-partisan coalitions and while her accomplishments as a whistleblower are nice, they do not completely balance out her own ethical issues. So this choice has sealed John McCain's fate in the negative column for my vote, but it is still not yet in the pro-vote column for Obama. Which is disappointing."

"I have to give it to John McCain for picking a candidate who may be as maverick as he claims to be," wrote Dave Iseminger of Capitol Hill. "He certainly didn't pick a safe choice and I am extremely excited to hear her speech at the convention next week."

Iseminger went on: "I would heavily consider voting for McCain-Palin because during the 2000 primary I liked McCain quite a bit. His bold choice and her ethics make them an intriguing ticket. I don't know quite what to make of her experience and the proximity to the presidency she will have if elected. I'll reserve judgment on that until I hear and research more." Nevertheless, Iseminger hasn't yet changed his plans to vote for Obama.

"I wouldn't ever vote for McCain, but choosing Palin was definitely a bold move for a candidate that doesn't seem to make too many bold moves," wrote Dan Rosson of Seattle. "I think though once the initial surprise dies down, Democratic women will fiercely campaign for Obama, and it will end up not being a great choice. It was certainly a risky one!"

"I am a huge Mitt supporter and I like her a lot," wrote Apollo Fuhriman of Bothell. "She brings a whole new dynamic to the ticket and will be an excellent Veep!"

Steven Fenton of Snoqualmie is a fan, too. "The selection of Governor Palin to become the Vice Presidential nominee is historic and refreshing. Democrats would be ill-advised to dismiss her too lightly. Though she is already being embraced by conservative Republicans, her appeal may be much broader than just the traditional conservative base."

Scott Kastelitz of Bothell is impressed with Palin's background, and is leaning strongly toward voting for McCain now. "After reading more about Palin, I realized she's young and vibrant, which the Republican ticket desperately needs. I was surprised to learn that as governor of Alaska, she presided over a tax increase on oil company profits, so that shows she's not afraid to stand up to the big boys."

William Marx of Seattle offered a number of interesting observations, including this one: "Hillary supporters sensitive to attacks on female leadership may easily scoff at Democratic attempts to paint a picture of naivete as further media sexism. Yet, Hillary supporters may also see the obvious pandering by McCain for their vote. If the end result of this frustration leaves female Democratic voters at home while energizing female GOP voters, this issue could very well be a net positive for McCain. Interestingly enough, McCain's selection begs for Hillary Clinton to take up Obama's cause much more than she ever planned or may want to. If so, she could consolidate the very schism McCain is attempting to exploit. "

Sheila Harrison of Renton, who says she was a precinct delegate for Clinton, doesn't think Palin will have much crossover appeal for Clinton's supporters. "By putting Sarah Palin on the ticket I feel that the McCain campaign is making a blatant attempt to garner support from those of us who supported Hillary," Harrison wrote. "What the McCain campaign fails to understand is that most of us didn't support Hillary because she was a woman; I strongly agreed with her positions on health care, the economy, the environment, and her foreign policy stance. The fact that she was a woman did contribute to my admiration of her, but I certainly wouldn't have supported her if I didn't also agree with her positions."

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August 29, 2008 4:19 PM

Celebrating Denver's rebellious minority

Posted by Richard Wagoner

This post is by Keith Houser of Bellevue, who is traveling to both Denver and St. Paul to "to observe history 'unembedded' and write about my experiences." Houser is a member of The Seattle Times Political Caucus.

By Keith Houser

Freak power is alive and well in Denver, for better or for worse. Throughout the week Christianists with five-foot-tall color posters of aborted fetuses have been demonstrating downtown, as have a smaller group of screwball lunatics protesting homosexuality. There wasn't much subtlety to the large sign that read "HOMO SEX IS SIN," or the hateful gibberish propagated by the man holding it. Counter-demonstrators gathered, one with a sign denouncing "Christiain fascism," apparently made in a bit of haste as she had misspelled the word "Christian." Fairly soon after I arrived on the scene of that particular standoff, riot police showed up to act as a barrier between the two groups, and I left to find more aberrations to a city otherwise overrun by mild-mannered Democrats.

The delegates to the convention took to the gentrified downtown like tics on a dog. It was in their nature to feed on what they were bred for, and considering that most were well off enough to be able to afford coming to Denver, they wallowed in all things bourgeois with a visible lack of interest in the overall state of the city. Strolling away from the bizarre pro-theocracy demonstration from earlier, I passed dozens of fancy restaurants whose outdoor seating teamed with suited men and well-dressed women, all with their laminated convention passes proudly displayed. The ad hoc police state didn't seem to bother them, and the cultural mutants of all stripes who had come out of the woodwork to spice up the week were actively disregarded. Nibbling away at overpriced meals and sipping red wine, there was a general detachment from the very reality around them.

It wasn't long before a man dressed head to toe in bright pink clothing glided by on an equally pink bicycle, peace slogans written both on his bike and his own gender-bending attire. Moments later I saw two more, riding about the streets on bikes covered in pink tassels, with pink stockings, pink skirts, pink shirts, pink paper crowns with pink signs saying "Impeach Bush," "End the War," but nothing explaining their affinity for the color pink. Every few blocks I walked more pink peace bikers sped by, always in groups of one or two. This was undoubtedly the work of Code Pink, the peace group that tenaciously disrupts congressional hearings from time to time with the help of their favorite color. While most were women, a few men had joined in the fun for the convention.

This was quite a contrast to the bulk of the anti-war folk in town, overwhelmingly pissed as hell and wearing red and black. Smiling men in tutus touch a different part of the brain than the angry young socialists the body politic tends to associate with Molotov cocktails and clenched fists. While the former had strength in bright colors and positivity, the latter excelled in mobilizing large blocs of people that were impossible to ignore. It was the difference between guerrilla and conventional warfare, the goal of both being to convey unconventional messages to an immobilized general public.

The city of Denver had spent $50 million on security to ensure that organized dissent would be confined and muffled. One wonders how many low-income apartments and neighborhood health clinics could have been built with the same amount of money. While in my experience the police were very professional and friendly as individuals, when given orders to attack in formation, brutality reared its ugly head. Mass arrests of demonstrators occurred the first day, plus the incarceration of an 80 year old man returning books to a library. Groups of armored men rode on the outside of police vehicles, speeding off to various places at all times of day. The enormous posters of Barack Obama on the sides of buildings added a cult of personality to the formula, as did the periodic whir of helicopters and sirens in the distance.

But this was America, and rampant commercialism took the edge off the multimillion dollar lock-down. There must have been hundreds of individuals hawking Obama gear to anyone who came near them. While I had sympathy for the humble T-shirt peddler, it was the pushing of environmental snake oil that was truly shameless. Billboards for "clean coal," ethanol, and filthy corporations attempting to green-wash their own awful records were ubiquitous. Even the free soft drinks being distributed by promoters had messages on them describing how their bottles used 30 percent less plastic than their competitors. I wanted to think that no one could possibly be dumb enough to fall for this transparently dishonest marketing campaign, but then again Barack Obama was promoting "clean coal" and ethanol himself as part of his energy policy.

The urge to be strange just for its own sake also manifested itself. While walking by one of the few circles of hippies scattered about downtown playing drums for money, a young man dressed as the Dark Knight's Joker held up a cardboard sign that read "Smoke Weed! Do it!" while commanding all bystanders to do the same with his loud menacing voice. "@#%! smoke weed! Smoke it! Mother @#%$ smoke weed now!" Enjoying the theater, I followed him for a while, only to encounter another Joker, hellish grin and all, with a Harvey Dent for President poster on the corner. Yikes, I thought, the tender delegates will never set foot in Denver again. My appetite shifting for something bigger, I changed direction to head to the park to see what might be metastasizing there. Five frowning men holding McCain signs walked by, followed by a team of 10 riot cops determined to prevent a brawl. My feet were tired and the heat and altitude weren't helping my quest to be at as many places as possible.

But I made it, prodded along by an enthusiastic Denverite playfully walking behind me singing "Vote for Obama" through a megaphone, bobbing his head with such satisfaction that I wondered if Obama was just an excuse to share his warmth with the public. His glow stood up to the militant crew of burly men in the park, all wearing matching "9-11 was an inside job" T-shirts. They looked like they had been the targets of violence before, and were prepared for it. Further away, bad folk music echoed from a stage while much better visual art was on display nearby. Without much to do, and riot police watching everyone, I decided to leave, though not before picking up a flier for an "Open the Debates" rally with Ralph Nader.

Why not? If the Democrats had taken over the city, then it would be enlightening to step inside at least one rebel enclave not in danger of being raided by the police. I had caught sight of a few of Ralph's supporters downtown, who at their own peril milled about in Ralph Nader T-shirts. Nothing provokes the same level of hate and contempt from the otherwise docile Spineless Democratus than to inform the creature that your vote will be given to America's Jedi instead of his or her own nominee. The beast begins to stir and is quickly aroused into a fury, gnashing its teeth with the kind of rabid intensity one would think it would reserve for Republicans. Ralph has done more for this country than any other individual alive today, and it is my firm conviction that the man is immortal, bound to run for President again and again until he wins the job in 2136 and America finally gets a single-payer health-care system.

I had to see how those at his rally stacked up against the Obama supporters. When I arrived, Denver University's Magness Arena was filled with 4,000 left-wingers, cheering with unbridled enthusiasm as each speaker made his or her case for opening the debates to all third party candidates. Cindy Sheehan called George Bush a boil on the ass of democracy, one that should be lanced, but only as a treatment for a deeper disease that would take longer to cure. One woman, obviously touched by the event, stood up from the audience and gave over $4,000 to the Nader campaign, while others followed, some tearfully telling how much it meant to them to have someone who tells it like it really is. Ralph came on to thunderous applause, his speech climaxing with the statement that "if we emptied the prisons of non-violent drug offenders, and filled them up with criminal CEOs, watch how quickly the food in prison improves." In the middle of his speech, I recognized Austin radio host Alex Jones quietly take a young cameraman up to the front of the arena and then leave for the back. I gulped in anticipation of a "9-11 truth" disruption, and a few minutes later it came, someone shouting "9-11 was an inside job!" from the back of the room. The heckler was quickly shouted down but Ralph didn't seem to notice.

I saw him later that night in a cafe I visited, his co-conspirator Jello Biafra laughing heartily as Ralph in
contrast slowly chewed his food, tired and methodical like the rumpled asexual he is. In the midst of conversation with a new pal, I plotted to buy Ralph a drink as soon as we finished talking. A few geeky organizers from the rally came up to the bar and began to order beer, one of them crudely hitting on the stressed out bartender but deservedly getting shot down in a lesson in manners I doubt he'll remember. In time I looked up and the enigmatic Ralph Nader had disappeared.

So many questions. Did he really think he was helping to spark a nationwide social movement by running for President over and over again? I saw the merit in the most prominent voice on the left of the American political spectrum doing what it took to be heard. People needed to be reminded that there are more policy options than what the two major parties were giving them. But why did he vanish between elections instead of transforming his campaign's network of volunteers, donors, and e-mail recipients into a participatory grassroots organization capable of local direct actions and community organizing? Maybe he didn't know how. Or maybe he wanted us to do it for him.

Ralph Nader, Code Pink, the rowdy socialist protesters, the 9-11 truthers, even the mischievous demon in the Joker make-up were another side to the convention that probably most of the people gathered in Denver would prefer to sweep aside. They were gadflies, provoking discussion at the price of other people's tranquility. Every authentic leader in history spoiled the system of their time, disrupting the status quo and letting their ripples speak for themselves. The feral side to public discourse existed because our mainstream was too narrow for everyone, and they demanded their voices be added to it. By the end of the week the rebellious minority had won my loyalty, proving on the discordant streets of Denver that diversity, however uncomfortable for some, was better than the alternative. And that, we should all acknowledge, is what democracy is all about.

-----------

On the last day of the Democratic National Convention I awoke later than planned, a situation compounded by my delayed realization that the clock on my laptop was off by an hour. I rushed out the door to make my way to Invesco Field where Barack Obama was going to be accepting his party's nomination later in the evening. Without a car, a ticket, breakfast, or credentials of any sort, I was determined to get inside. I found the start of the queue to Invesco downtown and walked with it for the better part of two hours, joining tens of thousands of others in crossing a freeway that the city had shut down to facilitate foot traffic, asking everyone who might know how to get inside.

"They're all sold out."

"No way in hell."

"I've got a ticket but I bought mine for $300, so you're going to have to beat that."

It was all rather frustrating, marching uphill for hours in the blazing sun, crowded in a slow-moving line, hungry and demoralized. How no one died of heat stroke was beyond me, but at least we were approaching a half-way point on the route, where the people in line could stop for food or gaudy merchandise. At the same bend that designated the upcoming oasis of refreshment a small protest was raging, demanding that onlookers accept that the decrepit Democratic Party was but one of two wings of the same bipartisan junta plundering the world for the sake of Dick Cheney, Warren Buffet, the Pope, 50 Cent and the Queen of England. Two young socialists berated a man trying to sell them overpriced water, yelling "@#$%-off, man! You shouldn't be trying to rip-off people for the nectar of life!" I asked them if any more demonstrations were going to happen, and they advised me to follow the existing protest moving down the street around the stadium, eventually handing me a free burrito in a gesture of good will.

I munched away in despair, taking pictures but unable to come to terms with the fact that I could get a seat on the hill overlooking the stadium at best. Then a homeless guy sat down next to me and cracked open a tall can of beer. "You want a ticket?" he asked, explaining how his cousin hooked him up with one to sell so he could get a dinner and a hotel room for a night.

I told him yes, but I didn't have quite the money he was looking for. We sat there looking down at the stadium while he drank. His words were slurred, his comments vulgar, and he was missing a front tooth. But his ticket was undeniably real. After awhile he left to try to sell his ticket elsewhere, asking me to watch his plastic bag of energy drinks he had picked up for free from a promoter. An hour and a half passed while I guarded his treasure, but he never returned. My jealousy grew as I watched people shuffle along towards the arena.

Finally Al Sharpton walked in line below the retaining wall I was sitting on, strutting along as if to flaunt the
fact that he was going where I couldn't. At that point I snapped, frantically looking about for someone with a
ticket, even if I had to betray my location and the very energy drinks I swore to the friendly hobo I would protect. I looked up and a muscular guy in an Obama sports jersey waved a ticket in the air.

"I'm not gonna rip you off like those other guys out there bro. Bro, I'll sell it for one hundred."

"Deal!" I blurted out, running off to the ATM and returning for my prize.

I clenched the item and jumped in line, wading through the next mile of zig-zagging paths surrounded by chain-link fence. From where I was, Al Gore could be seen on a giant digital screen inside the stadium, no doubt nagging the Democratic Party faithful about the environment in as monotonous a voice as possible. According to someone in line Obama was due to make his speech in a few minutes. At the entrance of the building, I grumbled as I passed through a security screening as intensive as any airport's, though finally conceding to myself that at least Al Sharpton wouldn't have the upper hand. After another twenty minutes of pushing my way past the masses clogging the stadium's hallways, I made it to the section written on my ticket, only to be turned away when an event guide informed me it was full and I would have to go to another section. Ugh. I pushed through more blank-looking human obstacles lining up for hot dogs and fried lard or whatever this place was selling and made my way to the tip top of Invesco Field, panting from exhaustion and finally collapsing in my seat.

Taking it all in, I realized I had a bit more time than expected. Dick Durbin took the stage, a pathetic hack of a politician, as did Joe Biden, Narcissus incarnate who at least had the courtesy to keep his self-adulatory prattle to a minimum. The men in the audience disproportionately gave praise to Joe, but everyone rose to their feet when the Centrist Messiah took the stage.

Black, white, men, women, young, old, though especially young, screamed like spectators in the Coliseum of ancient Rome as their celebrity gladiator took center stage. All were united in fervent praise for their Leader, whose voice made time stop for tens of thousands of impassioned onlookers.

I was scared. They loved this man, and trusted him. They knew he represented the better angels of our nature, and I knew he did not. He spoke of civility in politics, which I was sure he was sincere about, but when he got to policy specifics, I was terrified at the applause he continued to garner. They really trusted him.

Natural gas, "clean" coal, "safe" nuclear power. He promised a revolution in unclean, climate-collapsing
boondoggles, all to "end our dependence on Middle Eastern oil within ten years." But the United States was never addicted to using Middle Eastern oil, it was addicted to controlling it. Most of our imported oil was coming from Canada and the Atlantic basin.

When he promised to escalate the war in Afghanistan, the crowd cheered as well. My God, I thought, only Obama could get away with this. His promise to send tens of thousands more American soldiers to prop up a corrupt coalition of warlords under the leadership of a former Unocal consultant in a mountainous terrain perfect for guerrilla warfare didn't resonate with me. As the crowd cheered and whooped, I sat alone in my seat, unclapping and disturbed at the ease at which one man could move so many decent people to support something so wrong.

A couple of smiling women wanted me to take their picture as Obama left the stage and fireworks erupted all around us, that night on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech. I could see the dreams in their eyes, sparkling with hope and an enrapturing belief that for once they had a champion in which to put their faith. I couldn't tell them that I lacked their enthusiasm for Barack Obama. They were too beautiful in their optimism. The camera flashed and I noticed that even though Obama wasn't in the picture, people were still celebrating. Over 80,000 people weren't cheering for him. They were cheering for hope itself. And that was something I could believe in.

Keith Houser, 26, describes himself as "a white suburban slacker from Bellevue with a knack for understanding belt-way intrigue and synthesizing global macro phenomena into a coherent world systems theory." He isn't affiliated with any political campaign.


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August 29, 2008 12:20 PM

A thumbs up for McCain's VP pick

Posted by Richard Wagoner


This post is by Brendan Woodward of Woodinville, who is an alternate delegate from Washington state to the Republican National Convention. He's been interested in politics since high school and worked on former Congressman George Nethercutt's U.S. Senate campaign in 2004.

By Brendan Woodward

A fellow conservative activist e-mailed me this morning and says that "To know Sarah Palin (John McCain's choice for vice president) is to love her as a candidate, a public servant, and an American - this is change that works!" Also she hunts, rides a snowmobile and is easy on the eyes. What more could a Republican delegate want on his way to the Republican Convention?

They say that all roads lead to Rome, but in Alaska few roads lead anywhere. Certainly, none lead out of Juneau (it's true, check it out on Google maps). Yet perhaps a new trail is being blazed by a woman who has proved herself to be a competent executive and maverick American mother.

As America gets to know Sarah Palin over the next week, I expect the refrain of conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh to echo throughout Republican Convention parties: Babies, guns and Jesus, hot damn!

Sarah Palin is change that I believe in. She is a reformer who stands against earmarks and corruption. She is a conservative who believes in life and traditional marriage. She is an executive with experience managing the interests of an entire state. And she is not just another D.C. good old boy. She is the change that we need, and I have hope that the Republican Convention will make history of Denver.

Brendan Woodward became politically active during high school as a volunteer with the John Carlson Campaign for governor and later was a staffer on George Nethercutt's run for the U.S. Senate. Woodward attended Wheaton College and started a home business selling carbon offset credits and consulting for organizations interested in fighting climate change. He said he's excited about John McCain's free thinking brand of politics that promises to protect American families, economy and national security.


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