Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Chat with the GOP at the Oregon State Fair

Mom and I were walking through one of the exhibition halls at the Oregon State Fair last Saturday when we happened upon the Republican Party booth.  "Mom, why don't you go ahead and check out the quilting exhibits?" I suggested.  "I want to stop in here and talk for a minute."

Poor, long-suffering Mom looked around, noticed the gaudy red, white, and blue elephant painted on the booth facade, and quickly agreed.  "Be nice," she said as she hurried away.

I do this every year:  stop in and chat with the folks manning the GOP booth.  Occasionally, I'll hook up with someone with whom I can have an honest (if heated) conversation. 

This year, they were distributing mock ballots for folks to indicate who they might support among the current slate of GOP presidential candidates.  I picked up a ballot and put my check mark next to Jon Huntsman's name, then handed it back to the fellow standing in the booth.  He seemed like a nice enough fellow:  about my age, dark-haired, clean-cut, with an easy-going mien.  I think his name was Jerry.

"Are you a registered Republican?" he asked me.

"No," I said.  "I lean Democrat."

Another fellow, a passer-by like me, was standing near us and immediately jumped into our budding conversation.  "Oh, you're a Democrat, eh?" he said, with the telltale sneer in his voice.  "Why do you want $5 per gallon gas?"  The smirk on his face indicated to me that he was a Tea Partier

I ignored him, directing my remarks to Jerry.  "I lean Democrat, but I'm an Oregonian first.  I voted for Governor Atiyeh."

"Atiyeh was a great governor," Jerry said.

"But that's my problem with the Republican party today," I said.  "Leaders like Governor Atiyeh can't get anywhere in the party.  Think of the great Republican leaders in Oregon's past.  Governor McCall, Senator Hatfield, Senator Packwood.  None of them could go anywhere in the GOP today.  And the people you are running --Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich --they don't know the first thing about Oregon, about what we believe or what we want."

Jerry didn't disagree.  "The remedy," he said, "is to get involved.  That's how we turn this around.  We need people to get involved and help make a change."

The Tea Party fellow felt the need to chime in.  "You still haven't said why you want $5 per gallon gasoline," he said.  (Who knows what he meant by that?)

"Dude," I said, "Jerry and I are talking right now.  If you want to talk to me, wait until we're through."  Tea Party Man shook his head and walked away.  I turned back to Jerry.  "The Republican party in Oregon is in a shambles right now."

Jerry considered for a moment and then nodded.  "Yeah, it is," he said.  "But if people get involved we can change things."

We shook hands and I set off to find Mom.  But I've been thinking about our conversation ever since.  Jerry (if that was, in fact, his name) was a nice guy.  And he was obviously sincere.  He did more listening than talking.  If he were to represent the rank-and-file Oregon GOP rather than the Tea Party zealots, I think our state and our country would be well-served, indeed.  I might even be able, someday, to vote for a Republican.

Wouldn't that be nice?

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