The first thing I notice when I roll up Cleo-patra Place NW, a little side street in Ballard is the profusion of red, white, and blue in front of the house where Diane Carleton and her friends are whiling away a Saturday afternoon holding a bake sale. There's a large American flag fluttering from a flagpole fastened above the porch of the sky-blue 1923 Craftsman bungalow, and smaller flags adorn a long rectangular table set up out front at curbside, a table piled high with treats concocted by Carleton and her friends. Even Carleton's pigtails are tied off with Mylar-shiny red, white, and blue ribbons.

There are more than 30 MoveOn bake sales taking place in Seattle today, the latest venture of the 1.7 million-strong, left-liberal, Internet-organized grassroots political organization that initially formed to oppose the impeachment of Bill Clinton--a few more, I am told, than are being held in Manhattan. Carleton's "Ballard Bakes to Oust Bush" sale is but one of more than 1,000 "Bake Sales for Democracy" taking place. The organizing rhetoric is sharp and satiric--this, the MoveOn website informs us, is the grassroots' response to the $95 million Bush has collected just from his corporatist enablers donating the maximum $2,000 contribution.

I join the steady stream of cookie-loving, Bush-hating liberals dropping by, all determined to change our government one raspberry mazurka and snickerdoodle at a time. (The treats are a dollar each, but larger donations are gratefully accepted.) Some of the assembled carbohydrate addicts wander back to the cluttered, postage-stamp yard, where a garage sale is in full swing. Knickknacks and furniture are being sold by Sean Kuhlmeyer, 35, who owns the house. He's selling the house to go to law school in New York but he intends to donate all the proceeds from the day's yard sale to John Kerry. Kuhlmeyer, as I quickly discover, is an opinionated, iconoclastic sort, who calls himself a "liberal hawk." He initially supported the Iraq invasion, but now is eager to explain to me exactly how Bush "fucked it all up."

New arrivals, turning up in clumps of two or three, sign the anti-Bush petition, pausing briefly on a lazy spring day to chat amiably with Carleton, who is 41, a clothing designer and active in her very activist Woodland Park Presbyterian Church. The topic du jour? The desperate need for political change before Bush fucks it all up. Unlike Kuhlmeyer, Carleton and her co-parishioners attended peace marches before the war. "Tons of those," she admits with a laugh.

A father arrives with his son, perhaps 5 years old. "Why are we baking?" he asks the boy. The answer is immediate: "To elect John Kerry." "Who are we trying to beat?" the father asks. The man's young son seems momentarily confused. He concentrates intensely before venturing a guess: "Howard Dean?" We smile, as Dad patiently corrects Junior. "No, remember who's the president?" The boy suddenly solves the riddle. "George Bush!" he exclaims.

Before I arrive, Carleton has already attained Pioneer status (100 baked goods sold), MoveOn's pointed rejoinder to Bush's Pioneers, who each have raised $100,000 to reelect the president. She attains the much-coveted MoveOn Ranger designation (200 sold, as opposed to $200,000 raised by Bush's Rangers) in the hour I am there. Carleton's final tally: 308 items, $603 raised. Nationally, last Saturday's bake sales raised some $250,000 for MoveOn. The rhetoric may be heated, and the stakes high, but the overall feel of the event is friendly, pleasantly low-key in a bucolic communitarian way. Of course, it goes without saying we all hate George Bush here in Seattle.

The next day, though, the time has come to exit the familiar, liberal city for enemy territory, a short geographical trip but an epic psychological journey into a mythic heart of darkness: Duty calls me to the Republican stronghold of Mercer Island.

I am attending a Kerry house party, courtesy of the indefatigable Pamela Eakes, who once upon a time was the national finance co-chair of Howard Dean's wild ride. The house party is held at the Beerman residence, a lovely ridge-top home with a sunken living room and a deck that provides a glorious view of the lake. When Eakes introduces me to one of her guests, the guest feigns shock that a Stranger writer has been lured to the suburbs. I sheepishly concede that in two years of not-so-gracious Seattle living this is only my second visit to Mercer Island.

There are perhaps 35 people in attendance. Some of the attendees are Republicans, some are independents, Eakes confides to me. Adam Smith, the Tacoma congressman who chairs the Kerry bid in Washington State, is on hand to rally the troops. Before he delivers his spiel, Smith reminds me of the last time we spoke. It was in mid-December, at a Firefighters for Kerry event in SeaTac, during the period designated "the dark days" by the Kerry camp, when Dean appeared to be sailing to the nomination and Kerry was reduced to mortgaging his Boston townhouse to raise funds. Of course, a month later Dean would implode in Iowa as Kerry surged to improbable victory. We both marvel--Smith with satisfaction, me with a touch of lingering sadness--at how times have changed.

The dress code is more elaborate here, the hair grayer, and the language a bit more couth, but the passion for change is just as strong. Snippets of overheard conversation: "He's like a disabled person," one guest says about our president. "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention." "This is the worst time in my lifetime."

I chat at length with Bob Gunovick, 67, of Bellevue. He tells me about how much he disliked Nixon, but that he now feels nostalgia for those days. It was Nixon's personal qualities, he says, that so alienated him, but Nixon's policies were more tolerable. Bush, on the other hand, seems a likable sort, a guy you wouldn't mind getting a beer with. It's Bush's policies, Gunovick says, that he can't stand.

And so it goes as I stroll through the house. Holly Jacobsen, 38, is organizing a local chapter of MOB, which stands for Mothers Opposing Bush--its members refer to themselves as mobsters. She tells me that with three children whose futures she must worry about, she felt she had no choice but to become involved. And Dick Gedner, retired from Boeing and now the chair of the 41st District Democrats, which encompasses the Eastside, informs me that attendance at his meetings has doubled in a year.

Smith steps up and addresses the gathering. He is a centrist, he says, and a member of the Democratic Leadership Council (much-reviled among liberals), but he is just as committed to ousting Bush. He contrasts the Bush approach to international relations--"It is better to be feared than loved," is how Smith characterizes it--with Kerry's "progressive internationalism." He gets in a few well-received digs. Smith tells us that his pick for "quote of the week" is the president's admission at his press conference, "I guess I'm not too quick on my feet." People laugh as an audience member shouts out, "Or when I'm sitting down."

As I drive back to Seattle, the Sunday sun beginning to set, I find I am in a contemplative mood. When George W. Bush united Sunni and Shiite in hatred of Americans, I was surprised--and not a little impressed. But when he begins to unite Seattle and its suburbs, well, then I know the time has come to hail his genius. Who knew? All Ballard's urban progressives and Mercer Island's suburban realists really needed to discover that their similarities were greater than their differences was a president who was told by God to wage a foolish, elective war, who proposes that the business of government is serving business interests, who thinks that the tax burden ought to be shifted onto those who work for a living from those who live off investment income, who in his heart of hearts believes that the poor deserve their fate as much as the rich deserve theirs.

It almost seems worth it.

Almost.

sandeep@thestranger.com

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