Crossing over

Eric Hirshberg in the Huffington Post: "There are a number of people in my life -- some family, some friends, some colleagues -- with whom I have never agreed upon anything political. Ever. These are my political opposites. My bizarre-o twins. And they have been my adversaries in countless debates; the kind nobody ever wins, but nobody ever seems to tire of, either.


Sadly, politics have become sort of a new sports league in modern culture. We don't really listen to each other's points of view so much as we pick a side and root for it. And just as with our favorite sports teams, our faith in our parties can become blind. I have had about as much success convincing my Republican father-in-law of my liberal points of view as I have had convincing my father, an Ohio State alumnus, to root for Michigan.


But over the last few months, something unprecedented has happened. Almost all these folks have told me that, for the first time ever, they are voting for the same candidate I am: Barack Obama.


Now, these are not casual conservatives. These are people who, each in their own way, are deeply committed to their conservative beliefs. For most, this will be the first time they have voted for a Democrat in their entire lives. And when taken as a whole, they represent a fair cross section of the Republican Party. Some younger, some older. Some fiscally driven, some culturally driven. But almost all, up until now, have been intractable. Yet here we all are, staring down the barrel of a remarkably nasty presidential election, all in a rare moment of agreement. I figured this simply could not be an anomaly. Perhaps this was a groundswell.


I started asking around and found a number of my liberal friends were having a similar experience. So we asked these folks if they would appear on camera and share with the world why they changed. It seemed to me that the most convincing argument a conservative on the fence could hear might not come from a liberal, or even from Obama himself, but instead, from one of their own; a conservative who had crossed over. So we turned on the camera, and they did the rest.


I fully expected the results to be compelling and convincing. And they are. What I didn't expect was the emotional wallop these unscripted interviews deliver. A combination of deep disillusionment with the last eight years, disappointment in John McCain's candidacy, and an undeniable draw to Obama brought these people to a political decision that was deeply personal and courageous. It became clear to me that these were more than interviews. These were confessions.


This is what democracy is supposed to be. These people actually listened, considered and were open to the possibility of change. They didn't support a candidate. They actually chose one. And while I'm happy this year they are voting for "my team," they also inspired me to be more open in my own political life.


I thought we were making an ad campaign about Obama. But I think we ended up making an ad campaign about the essential ingredient that makes democracy work: an open mind. We don't belong to our political parties. Our political parties belong to us.


Go to to see all of the videos."


I think this kind of thing resonates with liberals who enjoy the feeling of moral superiority when a conservative decides to cross over to the other side's candidate, but I'm less interested in that aspect of this project. (For instance, the music at the end of the clip, singing "tell me that you'll open your eyes" is the exact wrong message.) What interests me is the focus on country over party, and the discussion of politics-as-team-sport.


I wonder how persistent some of these changes will prove to be. My guess is: not very. This is a particularly unique juncture in our national history, and (as many of the people in the video indicate) they're crossing over for this one vote, but they're clear that they want the Republican party to reinvent itself and they'll come right back. I think if Democrats were in a similar situation -- an unpopular incumbent, and a national crisis that illustrates the foibles of the party's core tenets -- the reverse dynamic would play out just as neatly.


Something for the die-hard party loyalists on both sides to think about. The people who are willing to have an "open mind" (as Hirshberg puts it) are the ones who decide the elections. And that is as it should be.

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