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BECOMING A STUDENT OF THE GOP

I think I'm going to become a Republican.

I've ruminated on this for quite a while. But events of the past week -- from the bankruptcy law to the energy bill -- have convinced me it's time to take the plunge.

Not for ideological reasons, mind you.

No, my motivation is purely professional: It'll make me a better columnist.

After all, when it comes to persuading people regardless of the facts, who better to learn from than the folks who say one thing, do the opposite, and still command majority support?

These are the folks who talk values -- and give us Tom DeLay, whose ethical lapses and strong-arm tactics have turned the GOP into a street gang without guns.

They talk coalition building to save American lives -- and give us John Bolton who, as U.N. ambassador, would destroy the U.N. and ensure that U.S. troops fight with virtually no allies.

They profess respect for tradition, then threaten to gut the traditions and rules of the Senate by going "nuclear" over the filibuster when they can't get their way.

They express disdain for "activist" judges, then set about to pack the courts with conservative activists.

They claim to be for the "average American" -- then pass a bankruptcy bill for American Express, Visa and Mastercard at the expense of average families.

They spew rhetoric about being stewards of the environment, then pass a House energy bill that would rape the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil while doing nothing to raise SUV mileage standards.

They lecture the Russian president about the proper role of dissent in a democracy -- then pack Bush speeches with pre-screened supporters so only cheerleaders appear on TV news snippets. Then, for good measure, they convince the public the media has a "liberal bias."

As a columnist, you've got to admire people like that. Members of the Democratic, Independence, Conservative and other parties can only drool over the GOP's powers of persuasion.

And it works. As someone once paraphrased Abe Lincoln: "You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time -- and that's usually sufficient."

Now I've got to find out how they do it.

I've searched "The Star-Spangled Banner" for subliminal GOP messages and come up empty. I've listened to George Bush speeches played backwards, but got no clue. (They still didn't make any sense, but that's another column.)

Liberal radio commentator Al Franken thought he could take them on. But this is no time for hubris. Pride goeth before a fall election. Let Franken fight; I'm ready to learn.

No more high-minded journalism seminars on the fine art of molding opinion. I want to get down and dirty -- literally. As the old saying goes, I want to learn from folks who can convince people that "fat meat ain't greasy." Or that fat cats ain't greasy.

Even the hiccup they're experiencing trying to gut Social Security is just the exception that proves the rule. Once they get in lockstep on how best to wreck the program, they'll stampede the public on that, too.

That's why I've got to penetrate the inner sanctums of Republicanism, decipher their spin and decode for the public the secrets that have made the GOP the McDonald's of politics: We know much of what they're selling is bad for us, but we swallow it anyway.

Yes, this is perilous; there's always the danger of Stockholm syndrome. But in a place like Buffalo -- where bankruptcy increases far exceed the national average, where abundant water makes environmental protection essential, where poverty makes progressive policy imperative -- somebody's got to do it. So I'm going in.

Wish me luck.

e-mail: rwatson@buffnews.com

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