While eating my yogurt and granola on Saturday morning, I had an epiphany. Mike Huckabee was on CNN, addressing a student rally at the University of Maryland. I can assure you, however, that my new understanding is not attributed to anything Huckabee said.
My lightbulb moment came when a student blocked CNN's camera shot with a green and white sign that said "Crunchy Cons!" Never having heard that term before, my mind quickly searched for connections and settled on a conundrum I've been trying to decipher for a year now: How can some conservative Republican friends of mine be supporting Barack Obama (supposedly the "most liberal" member of the Senate), without admitting they were wrong about George W. Bush, or questioning their identities and philosophy as conservative Republicans?
My best friend growing up in Michigan -- let's call her A -- and I have been on opposite sides the political gulf for most of our adult lives. I've volunteered and voted for Democrats ever since we could first vote in a presidential election, in 1988, while A was drawn to the success of the Reagan Revolution and became a loyal Republican. We were able, however, to keep our views in check around each other... until George W. Bush came along.
The whole tenor of A's and her husband's attitude toward Democrats was suddenly very condescending. My husband I visited them in Madison, Wisconsin, and sitting around the dinner table on New Year's Eve 2000, right after the Supreme Court had handed W the Presidency, they made their views known. Because my husband I did not accept W's "win" as legitimate, according to A and her husband, we "had an irrational hatred of George Bush." We were "crazy liberals" and we'd soon see that W would do a lot of good for this country -- like restoring respect for the presidency again, after Bill had so defiled it. They were also big Hillary Haters. It was actually the first time I'd come face-to-face with these types, and, as it turned out, A and her husband were also big Rush, Ann Coulter and Dr. Laura listeners.
The bitterest time in our relationship came when A and her husband visited us in Italy, in March of 2003. We were living in Torino for a year because of my husband's job, and their visit coincided with the week W took us to war with Iraq. I was very against the war. Having lived in the Middle East for a year back when Bush-Daddy took us to war in that region, I knew there was no way in hell we were going to be "greeted as liberators" or that W's doctrine would lead to a quick-hit, "shock and awe" victory.
By comparison, A's husband was practically giddy with anticipation about the coming invasion. He poked fun at me for being such a worry-wort, and gleefully talked about all the planes and weapons the U.S. would use to attack Iraq -- as if he were a little boy listing all the toys and video games Santa Claus had brought him.
The night before the invasion began, when we sat down to dinner, I said, "I think we should take a moment to acknowledge all the soldiers' and innocent lives that are going to be lost in this war."
A's husband burst out laughing.
I felt something like acid churn in my stomach. My heart started beating terribly fast, and I felt a flush come to my face. I was livid and knew I was about to explode in anger. I had the urge to (I think literally) rip his face off, but instead I pushed away from the table and headed for the French doors that led onto a terrace. In my haste and anger, I couldn't even see clearly. The door wouldn't open, and in my frustration at trying to get away from him, I tore down the curtains. And that only made him laugh more.
I have since been known to A and her husband as the "crazy liberal who tears curtains down." The reason why was lost down the memory hole of these two people who still can't admit that they were wrong about nearly everything concerning what W would do for this nation. Contrary to what they predicted, W has made his own sad joke of the presidency and even managed to tear asunder the Republican coalition. And let's remember all the thousands of U.S./Coalition and Iraqi lives lost, and expected $2 trillion we will pay for W's lies and unnecessary war.
My husband and I have only seen A and her husband a couple of times since then, but when we went to visit them in August 2004, we'd all gone through some changes. After Italy, my husband and I moved to the Bay Area -- in search of some haven in the U.S. where patriotism did not equal being in lock-step with Bush/Cheney. I decided to dedicate whatever talents, knowledge and energy I had to efforts aimed at removing Bush from office. I worked for an activist, independent publishing house based in Vermont, and was working hard that August to get George Lakoff's Don't Think of An Elephant launched the following month.
By almost a year and half into the war, A's husband was no longer giddy, but still felt the U.S. had done the right thing by "ridding the world of a ruthless dictator." A made comments about how she didn't like all the taxes she was having to pay for the war, but that it would be far worse under tax-and-spend liberals.
I noted that A was sporting Birkenstocks for the first time in our lives, and that she'd stopped wearing make-up. She was growing an organic garden and speaking about the politics of food. She shopped at Whole Foods and was a Michael Pollen fan. She'd quit her job as a trainer for Sears stores, was working in the kitchen of a Madison cafe/specialty food store. She was excited about the idea of going back to school to become a chef. They lived in a liberal enclave on Madison's West Side, near the University of Wisconsin, yet spouted platitudes about how the liberal professors are over-paid, and they still defended Bush's policies.
I remember that when we left, I was confused about the mental gymnastics that could lead to my friend being a Birkenstocked-Whole-Foods-shopping-organic-gardening-Bush-defender. I found myself hopeful that she might be in the midst of some kind of personal transformation that might lead her to leave the Republican fold, become and independent -- or perhaps even...a Democrat.
Then last February, these friends called to tell us that they were starting a Republicans for Obama chapter in Madison, shortly after Obama announced his candidacy, and a reporter from the Madison Capitol Times had just interviewed them. Shortly thereafter my friends were being attacked by right-wing blogs for not really being "true conservatives" -- two of the reasons being that they "are married and do not share the same last name. And no real conservative would live in that neighborhood."
I have to admit that I was confused and even a little peeved. Once again, I saw no logic to the thinking that would lead people to support what I consider to be a progressive candidate, one who got his start as an organizer on Chicago's South Side, who spoke out publicly and frequently about Bush's War, and who often votes with the liberal wing of the Democratic party. These are all positives to my mind, of course.
But how could my conservative Republican friends justify (to themselves and others) supporting Obama, yet remain Republicans and never admit they were wrong about W and the war? I found myself angry in that moment that they would claim a Democratic candidate as their own, while out the other side of their mouths they could still chastise Democrats.
In fact, on the phone just the other day, A's husband once again mentioned my "irrational hatred" for Bush...and we weren't even talking about Bush. We were talking about Obama, and I was pushing him to provide me with the rationale for why he and A support Obama, but he was unwilling, or unable, to articulate his reasons.
I figured I should just be happy that two Republicans I knew are still planning, this February, to vote for a Democrat, and forget caring about the reason. I couldn't fathom a logic for anyone supporting an anti-war progressive Democrat, without having to realign their political identity as a conservative Republican. But so be it.
And then yesterday morning I saw the "Crunchy Con" sign and had the epiphany. I googled the term, discovered this book and finally had the answer to my conundrum. I'd missed this book when it came out, but the author is National Review writer Rod Dreher, who was teased by a colleague one day "about his visit to the local food co-op to pick up a week's supply of organic vegetables ("Ewww, that's so lefty"), and he started thinking about the ways he and his conservative family lived that put them outside the bounds of conventional Republican politics."
Finally, I understand my friends. I doubt they know about this book, but I'm buying it for them today because they certainly live by the Crunchy Con Manifesto:
1. We are conservatives who stand outside the conservative mainstream; therefore, we can see things that matter more clearly.
2. Modern conservatism has become too focused on money, power, and the accumulation of stuff, and insufficiently concerned with the content of our individual and social character.
3. Big business deserves as much skepticism as big government.
4. Culture is more important than politics and economics.
5. A conservatism that does not practice restraint, humility, and good stewardship--especially of the natural world--is not fundamentally conservative.
6. Small, Local, Old, and Particular are almost always better than Big, Global, New, and Abstract.
7. Beauty is more important than efficiency.
8. The relentlessness of media-driven pop culture deadens our senses to authentic truth, beauty, and wisdom.
9. We share Russell Kirk's conviction that "the institution most essential to conserve is the family."
My belief is that Bush, his never-ending war, and the crazed CPAC sheep drove A and her husband to shift, even if unconsciously, away from the mainstream and social conservative Republicans, and that they are drawn to Obama for reasons above, which they can't yet articulate articulate. But these are reasons, Dreher says, are why Crunchy Cons' "Small Is Beautiful" style of conservative politics often put them at odds with GOP orthodoxy, and sometimes even in the same camp as lefties outside the Democratic mainstream."
So, I now realize why a lefty-activist-Democrat like me, and my crunchy-con-Republican friends can finally be supporting the same candidate in this election. I guess I have to put aside their past support for Bush and the war, and I guess they have to put aside my tearing the curtains down, because we all want to turn the page.
Given that I saw that "Crunchy Con" sign being held at a Mike Huckabee event, I suppose it remains to be seen which way the majority of this conservative subset votes come November.
In the general election, will more Crunchy Cons stick with McCain and their political party, or, should he get the Democratic nomination, will they go for Obama?
I know one thing. They are not going to vote for Hillary.