So much for compassionate conservatism. (Yes, I know that went out the window a long time ago, like yesterday’s campaign promise.)
Lisa Dupler, a 33-year-old from Columbus, held up a rainbow-striped John Kerry sign outside the Nationwide Arena on Friday, as Republicans streamed out after being rallied by George W. Bush and Arnold Schwarzenegger. A thickset woman with very short, dark hair, Dupler was silent and barely flinched as people passing her hissed ‘faggot’ into her ear. An old lady looked at her and said, ‘You people are sick!’ A kid who looked to be about 10 or 11 affected a limp wrist and mincing voice and said, ‘Oh, I’m gay.’ Rather than restraining him, his squat mother guffawed and then turned to Dupler and sneered, ‘Why don’t you go marry your girlfriend?’ Encouraged, her son yelled, ‘We don’t want faggots in the White House!’
The throngs of Republicans were pumped after seeing the president and the action hero. But there was an angry edge to their elation. They shrieked at the dozen or so protesters standing on the concrete plaza outside the auditorium. ‘Kerry’s a terrorist!’ yelled a stocky kid in baggy jeans and braces. ‘Communists for Kerry! Go back to Russia,’ someone else screamed. Many of them took up the chant ‘Kerry sucks’; old women and teenage boys shouting with equal ferocity.
When the crowd came pouring out of the arena, the vitriol only increased. One clean-cut man, holding his son by the hand, yelled ‘coward!’ at one of the protesters. I asked him what made him say that, and he said, ‘Because he’s demeaning our troops by saying they are fighting a lost cause.’
‘Jesus! Jesus!’ screamed 26-year-old Joe Robles, pointing to his Bush-Cheney sign. ‘The man stands for God,’ he said of the president. ‘We want somebody who stands for Jesus. I always vote my Christian morals.’ Robles, a student at Ohio State University, told me that Kerry’s daughter is a lesbian. I said I thought that was Dick Cheney’s daughter, but he shook his head no with confidence.
Robles said that Kerry would make it illegal for preachers to say that marriage should only be between a man and a woman. In California, he informed me gravely, such preaching has been deemed a hate crime, and pastors who indulge in it are fined $25,000, which ‘goes to lesbians.’
A few of the protesters, meanwhile, were red-faced from yelling at their antagonists about homophobia and budget deficits and a senseless war. Republicans were incensed. A blond woman dragged her young redheaded son toward the protesters, pointed to them, and said, ‘These are the Democrats,’ speaking as if she was revealing an awful reality that he was finally old enough to face. As she walked away with a group of other mothers and children, she was so angry she could barely speak. A friend consoled her by promising her that Bush would win. After all, she pointed out, ‘Look how many more Bush supporters there were on the street!’
That calmed the angry blond woman down a little. But she was still mad. ‘We,’ she said, stammering and gesturing contemptuously at the demonstrators, “we are the way it should be!”