By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
One of the protestors, a self-described “Jewban” named Elaine, wears a red sweater with three buttons. One of them says: DEMOCRATS 4 McCAIN.
“So you’re a Democrat?”
“No. I’m just wearing this. The office gave it to me.”
The next button announces: MARTIN LUTHER KING WAS A REPUBLICAN.
“Are you sure about that?” I ask.
“No. They gave me that one, too.”
“I think that’s not correct,” I say.
“I don’t think so, either.”
Two of Elaine’s three pieces of flair are falsehoods pinned to her by the McCain campaign. Sound familiar? Then comes Al, the organizer of this outing, who likes to yell: “Use your brain, vote McCain!”
“You see how rude they are?” he asks me. “They flip you off, they don’t know nothing. These people are so stupid. And they’re voting!”
“So you think stupid people shouldn’t vote?”
Yes, that’s right, he affirms, especially not these stupid Obama people. Then he turns to a car and yells, “GO BACK TO RUSSIA!”
Behind me, a guy named Seth looks like a theme-park McCain: black suit, rubber mask, waving indiscriminately with a fixed smile. In homage to his candidate, Seth even mimics the stiff arms and double thumbs up. A nice touch. But every so often the mask has to come off.
“This thing gets really sweaty,” he says, holding the slightly disturbing rubber shell of McCain’s face in his hand. “I’m going use it for Halloween, too. My wife will be Sarah Palin. I can’t wait.”
The Stone Zone
Looking for potential leads on voter suppression and other election trouble, I track down Roger Stone, the legendary Republican dirty trickster who now lives in Miami. Stone, who meets me over martinis at a Fort Lauderdale restaurant, cuts an odd figure among Republican operatives. He learned hardball from Nixon — his self-professed political creed is WWND: What Would Nixon Do? — and has since worked for Bob Dole, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. He also has a dyed-blond buzzcut, lifts weights, wears a tattoo of Nixon on his back and is candid about his libertine ways, including a 1996 scandal in which he had to resign from Bob Dole’s presidential campaign for a magazine ad soliciting group sex.
Stone would be happy to tell me about this year’s Republican tricks, but it seem that there aren’t any. At several early voting stations AFSCME observers say there have been enthusiastic lines but no trouble. It’s as if the GOP ceded Broward County, a strategic blunder if true, since this is Florida’s largest concentration of Democrats. Florida Governor Charlie Crist even issued an emergency extension of early voting hours, a decision interpreted by angry Republicans as a public forfeiture of the state. Stone, however, says, “I’m with Charlie Crist. You can’t be afraid of democracy. You have to compete in the arena of ideas and let people vote.”
This is relatively surprising coming from the guy who, rather infamously, claims to have organized the so-called Brooks Brothers riot in 2000, wherein a mob of well-dressed Republican partisans stormed the Miami-Dade clerk’s office and shut down that county’s recount, thereby helping to precipitate the legal (rather than electoral) resolution of the Gore-Bush battle.
Stone is a charismatic figure, although it is unclear how much self-aggrandizement there is on his résumé. He clearly relishes his sinister reputation. Above us is Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler, the law firm where Stone bases his operations. Stone tells us that Rothstein owns this restaurant. He’s at the next table, in fact, surrounded by colleagues and friends, all well-fed guys in $2,000 suits, smoking cigars, flirting with the unnaturally tan blondes in satin corsets, who staff the place. It’s an almost mythical portrait of fat cats, Florida-style. All they need are hundred-dollar bills to light their contraband Cubans. About his adopted state, Stone likes to quote Somerset Maugham: “a sunny place for shady people.” Stone fits right in.
Stone offers a scathing review of McCain’s campaign. His argument: Don’t have lobbyists run your campaign (not because of the political implications but because they don’t know how); don’t campaign by committee; start with one message and build on it. Like many conservatives, Stone is disappointed that the McCain of 2000 was usurped by the unrecognizably petty and fake McCain of 2008. “The whole reason for his candidacy was his centrist reformer image,” Stone says. “They systematically erased that advantage. No one cares about all these attacks.”
Even worse, according to Stone, is what the campaign means for the Republican Party. “McCain had an opportunity to redefine the GOP as a centrist party with conservative roots. Instead they went for the base and ceded the moderates.” The blame, he says, lies with Rove and Bush. Stone hates both, and not just because of their botched administration. “We’re supposed to be the party of freedom and liberty,” he says, “and they want to detain people illegally and torture them?” Stone’s libertarian leanings are why he’s voting against Florida’s Proposition 2, which, like California’s Proposition 8, would ban gay marriage in Florida. “Life is short,” he says. “If gay people want to marry and be happy, why shouldn’t they?”