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About-faces

Republicans who voted for Bush in 2000 tell why they changed their minds

JENNIFER LEON, RELIGIOUS-STUDIES STUDENT

Itís almost like a bully. A bully in school, they beat you up, they donít tell you why. They donít need to tell you why, because theyíre a bully! You donít just hope theyíll go away. You have to stand up to them. Our president just feels like heís unstoppable. He feels like he can do anything he wants. Thereís a lot of people in this country who donít know what they can do to stop this. A lot of people have given up on the voting system. But you canít. You just canít give up.

WILLIAM HARROP, AMBASSADOR TO ISRAEL UNDER GEORGE H.W. BUSH

I thought that voting for Bush would do the country better, but I turned out to be wrong. We have problems with weapons of mass destruction. We have problems with terrorism. We have environmental issues. They can only be addressed through countries working together and through the United States providing that leadership. This administration is not very good at listening. Itís the first administration in history that conducts foreign policy without diplomacy. Itís not working, and itís not going to work.

DEBORAH WOOD, LIFELONG REPUBLICAN

Why did I vote for George Bush? Because thatís the way that I was raised. Youíre raised a Republican, you vote Republican. Donít question. Youíre going to vote for your party because thatís your team. You just do it. The last four years have been an awakening for me. Itís not a game. I really and truly believe that our country and that our lives are at stake because of what George Bush has done.

LEE BUTTRILL, SERGEANT, USMC, AND IRAQ-WAR VETERAN

We will serve with the best interest of this country. We will go to war if we need to. We will do whatever it takes to protect this country because we love it so much. But with that comes the obligation to the government of, just donít abuse it. Donít make what we do a waste. Or donít put our lives in jeopardy if thereís not a really good reason. That wasnít a proper use of American troops. It wasnít a proper use of my life and of my friendsí lives or the Marines who Iíve seen die around me. Itís not a proper use.

WILLIE RIOS, LIFELONG REPUBLICAN

By losing me, they lost a guy who knocks on doors. By losing me, they lost a guy who makes the phone calls. By losing me, they also lost a guy who puts a sign in front of his house. Because of their arrogance they lost my trust, and if youíre arrogant and you lose somebodyís trust, thatís something you can never get back. The Republican Party has lost the trust of a lot of their soldiers. Thatís why me, a lifelong Republican, is going to vote for John Kerry.

Q: Also, if the Kerry campaign had run an ad like the one you suggested, you can argue that they would have at least been able to engage his opposition to the war on their own terms. They would have had control of how that message was delivered.

A: That is correct. I was involved in this unexpected irony, because as I continued work on The Fog of War, its relevance to what was going on in the world today became more and more apparent ó if you like, the metaphorical connections between Vietnam and Iraq. It seems to me, if Kerry had come out and said, "I fought against the war and I fought for the war. This is not flip-flopping. This is a person coming to understand more fully what is at stake here, and a refusal to waste American lives for a mistaken policy" ó Kerry can be as forceful as he likes about the war on terrorism. [Voice rises] But he also has to be forceful about telling people that the war on terrorism is not being fought! Itís not being fought the right way, and it may not be being fought at all. Someone dropped the ball here, and itís the president of the United States. And that Kerry is a person willing to fight, and heís a person willing to fight against fighting for the wrong things. I believe that the American people would buy it. Instead, I feel this vacuum. I feel that what made this guy a hero has been lost! He is a hero! [Laughs] And itís not because of the three Purple Hearts or the Silver Star. Thatís fine. Itís because of other things.

The other thing that distresses me is selling Vietnam as World War II. Vietnam, excuse me, is not World War II. Itís not just a "band of brothers." Itís a war that for almost all of the people involved ó and for all of the Americans who lived through that period of time ó is this moral cloud. It doesnít matter whether itís the right or the left or the center; people who lived through it all have misgivings about it. You have some people who feel that the war shouldnít have been prosecuted at all, and other people feel that the war should have been prosecuted more vigorously, but almost everyone feels that it was a problematic war. And to pretend otherwise ó I think a number of things happen. Kerryís real strength is ignored, and no real coherent picture of the candidate emerges. Sure, he voted for the [2003 Iraq] war ó he voted for the war because he felt that it was his responsibility to give the president a free hand to put as much pressure as he possibly could on Iraq. I think that the problem is, at the center of the campaign, this refusal to present Kerry as who he is, as if somehow that risk cannot be taken. But in fact not taking that risk has been a far greater risk, in my view.

I had asked [close Kerry adviser Bob] Shrum repeatedly to interview Kerry. The original idea was, letís do Americans, and then let me shoot Kerry the same way, so by that very fact alone he becomes a man of the people. Also, getting Kerry to speak extemporaneously and cutting it in a way that is not just this rehearsed speech would do him an enormous amount of good. If the perception is that he is this robotic presence on screen ó thatís part of what I do. I make people look natural, real, believable, spontaneous, et cetera.

Q: When did you first propose this to Shrum?

A: My producer Julie Ahlberg and I started in March. We started first talking to people at the Media Fund, and then we went from the Media Fund to the Democratic National Committee, and we went from the DNC to the Kerry campaign itself. This was in the period preceding the convention, and no one was willing to pull the trigger and to give us money to shoot any of this material. There was talk about my shooting Kerry. No one ever said no, by the way, but no one ever said yes. There would be these conference calls, endless discussion. The feeling I had was of this bureaucracy that could just simply not make decisions.

Also, I was in favor of creating nontraditional political ads. I think that a lot of the ads are so pro forma ó theyíre so expected that they are not terribly effective. You have to come up with new approaches. Everybody talks about the "Daisy" ad in the 1964 presidential campaign [a Lyndon Johnson spot that graphically depicted a nuclear attack]. Everybody knows what perfunctory advertising is, and people know what innovative and cutting-edge advertising is, and thereís no reason why advertising in a political campaign has to be the way it is.

Q: Where would you file the windsurfing ad the GOP did?

A: The GOP is very good at a certain kind of food-throwing ad. They go for innuendo. But theyíre ads! To me, you want to create ads that make people think ó that donít necessarily just say the expected in the expected way. There was an essay by Schopenhauer that Iím very fond of, called "The Art of Controversy," in which he talks about how to win an argument. He says [that] thereís two ways to win an argument: thereís logic and dialectic. Now, anybody knows you canít win an argument through logic, so letís pass on quickly to dialectic. And then he proceeds to give you some 30-plus ways to win an argument any way you can. For example, after someone has completely discredited your argument and shown you to be a fool, you look directly into their eyes and say, "You know, Iím really glad youíve come around to my way of thinking." [Laughs] The idea is that in any kind of persuasion, logic is not necessarily the strongest tool in your arsenal.

Q: And President Bush is a mass persuader who doesnít really traffic in logic or convincing facts.

A: Yes. And to me, youíre trying to create ideas in the strongest possible way you can. Whatís strong about these real-people ads is not necessarily the logical arguments that theyíre providing, although in some instances they are logical arguments. Whatís interesting to me is that they are real Americans, and theyíre actually thinking about stuff. For people who want to say that we have an electorate that doesnít think, this is an answer to that. This is an electorate that does think, and is concerned. And itís valuable to hear these people express themselves. Not because theyíre involved in some meaningless theatrics or performance ó they actually feel this stuff.

I made it very clear [to the Kerry campaign] that I was willing to work for free. As it turns out, you canít work for free under election-law guidelines, but it was never an issue of money. It was an issue of really trying to contribute something. I still want to interview Kerry. I kept saying, "Give me Kerry. I donít need Kerry for all that long. Give me Kerry for two or three hours. Iíll go wherever you need me to go." I have a joke ó the joke was, if I can humanize Robert McNamara, I can humanize anybody. Itís what I do. If you know somebody who can get me in there this week ó

Q: If I did, Iíd tell you.

A: Iím ready to go. Iím your guy.

Adam Reilly can be reached at areilly[a]phx.com

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Issue Date: October 8 - 14, 2004
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