"The media gets things right every once in a while," a Republican woman is saying to the group of conservatives standing around her. "I saw this report on, I think it was 60 Minutes, and there was a camera crew in this house that had been bombed in"—she pauses—"I think it was Iraq, but it could've been Afghanistan, and they looked inside a crib, and there was a dead child. The reporter asked the father, 'Is this war worth it?' and the father said, 'Yes,' and the reporter did a double take, you know, because he was expecting this guy to say he wanted the U.S. out of whichever country it was, but he said, 'If it's for freedom, it's totally worth it,' and that reaffirmed my belief in everything." She looks around the steak house at all the other conservatives, her face the very definition of rapture, and says, "It's why we do what we do."
These people think I'm one of them. We're at Ruth's Chris Steak House in downtown Seattle, schmoozing under the auspices of the National Review. Founded by William F. Buckley Jr. in 1955, the National Review is a biweekly conservative magazine that has remained staunchly right wing through Nixon and Reagan and Clinton and the Bushes, defending the upper-class white man against all comers: Bra-Burning Feminazis, Welfare Queens, the Homosexual Conspiracy, Do-Nothing Mexicans, and other assorted Democrats.
They've been successful enough at conservative punditry that, this year, they're hosting a week-long Alaskan cruise, wherein lucky well-to-do National Review readers get to share the same ship as the magazine's editorial staff. This steak-house reception is the kickoff. An eagle-eyed Stranger reader found an invitation to it on the National Review's blog.
I came because I wanted to find out how Republicans talk to one another in their natural habitat, when no enemies are around. There are other journalists here—like Kirby Wilbur, the Northwest's own Rush Limbaugh, who has a daily show on 570 KVI talk radio—but I'm the only Democrat. (I used my real name when I RSVP'd. I guess none of the planners Googled me.)
The National Review isn't doing well enough to provide an open bar, apparently, so the menfolk plop down their credit cards for $20 whiskey-and-waters or Amstel Lights, and then everyone runs through the buffet line. It's a good spread: lots of vegetables and seared ahi steaks, huge hunks of blue cheese and little bits of steak rolled in bacon and deep-fried.
Immediately, everyone acknowledges Seattle's liberalness: I hear roughly two dozen jokes about how 95 percent of Seattle's conservative population is here in this room right now. Someone likens being conservative to being Christian in the Roman Empire, and one man with a military-issue haircut actually compares the people in this room to Jews in Nazi Germany. It's all I can do not to throw something at him.
Of the 50 or so people here, I'm definitely the freak: All the other men have buzz cuts and expensive watches; all the women have frosted hair and troweled-on makeup. Even though I'm 31 years old, I'm still the youngest man in the room—a few people ask me if I'm still in school. My Republican disguise is a charcoal-gray three-piece suit that cost me $20 at Value Village. The shoulders are too heavily padded and the pants are too loose; I feel like a ridiculous, flouncing circus clown. Pretty quickly I learn to keep my comments to a minimum: I tell one retired couple that I work in a bookstore and they stop talking to me. I mention to a woman that I don't own a car and she acts like I've belched an aborted fetus into her cleavage.
An elderly married couple who aren't going on the cruise but have been reading National Review for decades start talking to me. The wife tries to recruit me for the Snohomish Republican Party, saying, "We could always use good-looking young men like you." I demur, noting that I live in Seattle. Her husband asks me where.
"Capitol Hill," I respond.
"Right in the middle of the devil's den," he says, grimacing. He grabs his wife by the arm and they quickly walk away from me, our conversation brought to an abrupt, satanic conclusion.
Hillary Clinton's name is mentioned more than anyone else's. Some are defending her recent debate dustup with Barack Obama, adding that they never thought they'd support a Clinton, but most think she's going to win the Democratic nomination and then lose the election. Nobody's very excited about the Republican presidential nominees. Actually, that's not true: One Botoxed middle-age woman in a billowy, glittery dress coos the name "Rudy" over and over and mock swoons, and soon I'm picturing Giuliani's ferrety face buried between her wrinkled thighs, coaxing her to ecstasy. Everyone else seems perfectly willing to hold their noses and vote Republican: Rudy, it seems, is the conservative John Kerry.
When talk turns to Iraq, no one's ready to give up just yet: "It's really a tiny amount of sacrifice, compared to World War II," a hideously overtanned woman announces.
"Nobody asked why we attacked Germany when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor," a man with military background affirms.
A lady weighs in with a heartwarming story. "My friend knows this guy who was an army Ranger who got blown up," she says. "He lost his left arm and both of his legs." Everyone nods solemnly. "And this is the miracle of today's army medicine: He's still alive and now they've got him all prosthetic-ed up. Isn't that amazing?" Her eyes are wet with joy over this one-limbed soldier. She adds, "Three limbs. Do you know how many arteries he must've severed?"
Someone else thinks that the problem is that Hollywood isn't mocking our Middle Eastern enemies. "We need to make fun of Arabs and Saudis. In World War II, they made fun of Germans and the Japanese. If we laugh at them, we won't be so afraid of them, but it's all this damn political correctness." From here, the conversation turns to the movie 300. Turns out, 300 is to conservatives what Scarface is to rappers. "It was the greatest conservative movie I've ever seen," one guy says. "It's all about being unapologetically superior, which is what we need to learn how to be. If we were more unapologetically superior in Iraq and Afghanistan, we'd be treated with the respect we deserve."
On immigration, the room is united on heavily controlled borders, even though it may mean our lettuce will be more expensive. "We could've invented the cotton gin 20 years sooner if it weren't for slavery," says a guy with a lisp. "Who's to say that we can't find some better way to pick lettuce once we get these immigrants out of here?"
A PR executive agrees, and adds that it's not our hardworking border patrol's fault: "I have friends who are border patrol who are brokenhearted that they aren't allowed to shoot at them anymore. I mean, if they can't do their job, then why bother?"
Because as soon as immigrants get here, they're all (as a tax lawyer mimes, reaching out and taking invisible money from invisible hands) "Gimme, gimme, gimme!" One housewife volunteers at a church, and for Christmas they have a giving tree and, she says, every year they get phone calls from Mexicans who aren't even part of her church who ask (and here she does an atrocious imitation of a Mexican accent that comes out sounding almost French): "Ow dooz I sign oop for da free toys?" The gimme man points at the woman: "That's exactly it! They want everything for free and for no work! This is why I think that we need to bring back the politics of shame!" Everyone nods at that: how true, how true.
Emotions run high among the conservatives when they talk about liberals and try to figure out how their fellow Americans can be so wrongheaded. "They're more passionate, but our reason will win in the end," a very large accountant exclaims. "They twist the facts: 'Temperature's going up! It's global warming! Temperature's going down! It must be global warming! Temperature's staying the same! Well, that's because of global warming!' I can win more arguments by being levelheaded about the whole thing and win them over."
Mercifully, before I can be won over, time runs out. I settle the tab on my $12 glass of wine. As I'm heading for the stairs, my ears burning with the unmistakable feeling of being relentlessly fucked without lubrication, the woman who wanted to recruit me for the Snohomish Republican Party seizes my arm and smiles at me: "Well, Paul, what did you think?" I tell her it was interesting. She smiles and says, "I had a great time. Good people, good politics, good food. What's not to love?" She lets go of my arm and as I bolt up the stairs, she calls out after me: "I think we resolved all of America's problems here tonight!"