I was out canvassing the other day for Ed Markey. It was the first time I'd had the opportunity to do it, partly because I had some trouble establishing contact with the campaign and then when I did make contact my first canvass shifts were cancelled in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing. But I finally made it out on Sunday for a three-hour shift in a predominantly Jewish suburb south of Boston. They gave me 37 doors to knock, and I hit them all.
The Markey campaign people are good. The campaign manager is Carl Nilsson, who came over from the Obama campaign, and there are several veterans of the Warren campaign as well. I don't know what algorithm they're using to pre-id the doors to knock, but whatever it is it really works. Almost all the people I talked to were ones or twos, that is they were either strong Markey or lean Markey. I had one person refuse to talk to me, and another one -- with an Irish name -- who bashfully indicated that she wasn't going to support Markey. While she didn't come right out and say she'd be voting for Lynch, she didn't exactly make it a secret either.
And then there was this one guy. Actually, this one guy and his wife. They lived in a decaying split level home on a somewhat rundown block. The husband answered the door:
"Markey? Isn't he a Democrat?" (The guy's a registered Democrat, though he apparently doesn't know it.)
His wife piped in, "Yes, but he went to AIPAC. The other guy didn't."
"Well, I can't support him. Look, he'll get in there and back the president's program."
What's wrong with that, I asked him. "Are you kidding? The deficit, taking away our Second Amendment rights, health care...," he ran off a long list of typical rightwing complaints about Obama.
But he inherited the economic crisis from Bush, I tried to say. Before I could finish the thought, the man interrupted me, said he had nothing to talk about, and walked over to the dining room table clearly visible from the front door and sat down. If I weren't an idiot, I would have said good-bye to the wife at that point and gone on my way. But I'm an idiot, and you can find my conversation with her on the flip...
Now, it was already clear the Israel issue was the root of this couple's problem with Markey, Obama, and Democrats in general. In fact, they had already said as much before the guy blew me off and sat down. I was honestly confused. I mean, I kept the Obama sticker on my car for years after 2008, until the day Obama caved to Netanyahu and allowed Israel to continue building illegal settlements on the West Bank, thereby abandoning any hope for the peace process during his first term. I know Obama is not anti-Israel, not by a long shot.
I had also attended Markey's GOTV summit the previous week, where the campaign people prominently played Markey's strong support for Israel as a reason for progressives to vote for him. When voices from the crowd called out to ask about the Palestinians, the campaign's response was "this is not the time to talk about that."
So this couple, I knew, had a totally wrong opinion about what Democrats stood for. I knew that because I disagree with the Democrats, from the complete opposite perspective from these people. I stayed to talk to the wife because I was curious about what made them tick, and -- foolish optimist that I am -- I thought I might actually be able to reason with them. If their opinion is based on false facts, I figured, maybe exposure to the truth might lead them to change their opinion. Like I said, foolish and an idiot...
The wife was clearly the reasonable one of the two. After the husband sat down, she came to the door and in a low voice said "any president would have had trouble facing the economic situation Obama confronted when he was elected." Right there I thought maybe there's a connection we can build off.
Right away, however, she turned it back to Israel, and that the Democrats were simply wrong to pressure Israel to make peace. The "PLO," she said, would never make peace, and all the times over the past twenty years when Israel has compromised with them they have simply demanded more and more. She conveniently forgot the illegal occupation, the illegal settlements, the repeated Israeli invasions of Gaza and the West Bank, and simply attributed the entire sum of the problem to the "PLO" (an organization that to the best of my knowledge has been largely superseded by the Palestinian National Authority).
I politely disagreed with her when appropriate, without going into detail on the specific points of disagreement but noting that I was Jewish, had family in Israel, had visited Israel, and had studied the subject a great deal. While she stated her opinions as obvious facts, I simply noted that I had a different perspective and hinted that reasonable Jewish people could disagree on how they interpret Israeli history. I also pointed out that Markey was very pro-Israel, a point which she acknowledged but which did not faze her in the slightest.
As the conversation progressed -- I wasn't at the door longer than five minutes -- I noticed something odd in her eyes. It wasn't there all the time, but whenever she got hardcore against the Palestinians her eyes would kind of cross, as if she was focusing on a point that was in between me and her. It happened several times, and it finally dawned on me that I was dealing with a literal wild-eyed fanatic.
About the time I realized that, we came to a mutual understanding our conversation was going nowhere and it was better to end. She said good-bye, and I wished her a good day.
The thing is, these guys told me they had abandoned the Democratic Party around the time of the Oslo Accords, because they viewed the Accords as a sell-out the US had forced on Israel. Once they broke with the Democrats, however, they went full Republican. If I had given the husband a chance, I'm almost certain he would started talking about the president's birth certificate. Their break was over a single issue -- the interpretation of which they completely misconstrued -- but over the last twenty years the husband, especially, has adopted Republican ideology in toto. He may have started as a frustrated Democratic casting a protest vote, but he has now become an enthusiastic, albeit deeply embittered, Republican.
I'm not certain there's a broader lesson here, other than fanatics and Republicans walk hand in hand. But we already knew that...