Just had a fascinating discussion with J, the Strategic Planning guru of my Fortune 250 company. He's a mid-thirties Republican who likes to chat with me because I'm the token Democratic progressive around here, and he likes a good political discussion. His take on the convention last night, Bush, the election, etc.:
The staging last night was terrific. Hearing the kids talk about their dad (Kerry) and seeing the Swift Boat veterans standing behind their commander were impressive -- that's two things the Republicans can't do (J thinks the Repubs would be taking a big risk setting the Bush twins and the Cheney progeny loose with a microphone, and the lack of a "band of brothers" just raises the usual embarrassing questions).
Kerry's speech: strong on Kerry's qualifications, good with the attacks on the current administration, lousy on policy.
Bottom line: It didn't change his mind about who to vote for. He hasn't decided yet. He's a Republican who believes in his party's ideals: limited government, fiscal conservatism, strong national defense. Only he voiced doubts that his party is acting as if those are its values.
So I asked him, what is it about Bush that makes you consider voting for another four years of him? I got an unsatisfactory answer, and I think the fact that he couldn't come up with a better one disturbed him:
Bush is unflappable, determined, and won't be swayed from his course of action. Of course, J mused, that can also be a negative if his course of action is the wrong one. He went on to opine that Bush's decision-making process is flawed, not sensible, and tends to lead to bad decisions (which he asserted is usually a problem for Democrats). But still, he cited Bush's "strength" as his greatest asset. The example he gave? A case can still be made that, given the available intelligence at the time, going to war with Iraq was the right decision, and only Bush would have made it. That's a plus, he says, though he confided that he'd been upset during the run-up to war that it was a preordained decision based on an undisclosed political agenda, reflecting a troubling lack of transparency in the administration. He believes that reasonable people could disagree about the war, and objects to BushCo's stereotyping of war objectors (or questioners) as unpatriotic.
J confided that trust and transparency are troublesome negatives for him where the Bushies are concerned. The Florida electronic voting problems haunt him. "There's no hint of a desire to fix it, to do the right thing," he said. A former rising-star consultant with one of the world's big three consulting companies, he said, "I've seen it many times in companies, a reluctance to open the books to outsiders. When that happens, there's almost always something they have to hide."
J came back a while later and said, "Oh I forgot to add that Bush has terrific charisma when he turns it on." He had spent the time he was away listing for himself those issues that were most important and comparing the two candidates' comparative strengths in those areas. "They're not even close on the nature of their strengths," he stated. "I guess the vote will come down to which criteria are most important to the individual voter." Said he's still undecided.
Do you have friends as conflicted? Maybe it's time to ask them the question: JUST WHY ARE YOU VOTING FOR GEORGE BUSH? I never really entered the conversation, except to provide the occasional prompt. J just thought aloud for a half hour and went away very very troubled. IT'S TIME WE STARTED TO GET PEOPLE THINKING OUT LOUD AND LET THEM CONVINCE THEMSELVES TO VOTE KERRY, NOT BUSH.