THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT


THE TRUE PATRIOTS: FROM THE FRONT LINES OF THE GOPATS PARTY

by by Will Guzzardi

illustration by by Galen Broderick

Four road hogs roar off Route 6 in Foster, Rhode Island and pull into the parking lot at Lucky's Bar and Pizza Restaurant. Lucky's is the only anything for a while, and the bikers join a dozen or so assorted locals in front of the TV, get beers and settle into the friendly banter--birthday parties, handgun prices, who broke up with whom, the stuff of regulars.

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The Patriots game is early in the third quarter, and it isn't going well for the home crowd. The offense looks anemic without posterboy Tom Brady, the MVP quarterback who's been sidelined for the season with a torn ACL. Matt Cassel, his replacement, has been playing an uneven game and the Pats have managed only two field goals. The Miami Dolphins have just scored another touchdown on the much-vaunted Patriots defense, using a variation of the same trick play that's fooled the Patriots all day, a direct snap to tailback Ronnie Brown. The score is 28-6 and doesn't show signs of improvement.
But the gathered crowd, half-filling the bar, is in high spirits. The beer is flowing, and the talk is jovial, welcoming me and my friend, a couple of unfamiliar faces from College Hill. The football was only a secondary concern: Sunday was an event at Lucky's, endless pizza during the game for a $15 donation to the Rhode Island GOP.
Among the leather jackets and the usual bar paraphernalia, there's a Ronald Reagan bobblehead on the single tap of Budweiser; "Veterans for McCain" plastered on the fridge; McCain-Palin buttons and stickers by the pizza; paper napkins with the GOP elephant; a woman in a "Patriots Fans for McCain" t-shirt. You wouldn't mistake the event for a political rally at first glance, and at first it seemed that the talk turned to politics only when we brought it up. But among the gun-store owners and Harley enthusiasts, there were some more serious politicos: Mark Pappas, Executive Director of the RI GOP, and Lammis Vargas, Director of Operations.
Given how distant the town of Foster feels from the world of politics, and how few serious prospects the GOP has in Rhode Island (Obama polling ahead 20 percent and enormous Dem majorities in the General Assembly), it's surprising how closely Pappas and Vargas hem to the party line. To be fair, they aren't living in delusion--Pappas smiles as he tells me Rhode Island is a foregone conclusion in November. But they both give up-to-the-minute versions of the Republican soundbite. Of note is the recent effort to portray McCain as the agent of change, an effort they both cheerily endorsed. There was also a lot from all corners about Sarah Palin--how she's energized the party, rejuvenated the ticket and shown up as a candidate with a record of reform.
We get a little more time with Vargas, although her young daughter tugs at her sleeve for most of our discussion. She stays on message about 'values' issues like abortion, issues she described as important to the Latino communities in which she works. She also mentions proudly that she attended the RNC in Minneapolis, "had the floor pass," stood an arm's length from Sarah Palin and took pictures of her. On immigration, she's cagey; she opposes the border fence, but excuses it with the dubious claim that "in reality, a lot of them come through our airports."
For the most part, though, we could have heard these same lines on the Sunday morning talk shows. This isn't what brought us to Lucky's. So we return to the entertainment: settle into our $2 Buds, grab another slice of pizza and watch the Patriots put up their only touchdown of the day. We--two undergraduate Obama supporters, a girl from Northern California who thinks a nickel-back is a band (it's an extra defender on a football team) and a guy from North Carolina who just cares about his home-team Panthers--watch the game.
The Dolphins come right back with a score (the same trick play, incredibly), and we strike it up with Doreen Costa, the bartender. It turns out she organized the event. She works three nights a week at the phone bank for McCain, asking people in New Hampshire about their preferences. She also works at Lucky's, knows the manager and figured the Pats game would be a nice draw for some like-minded people to raise money for their candidate. In addition to the drinks and the pizza, she's running a raffle. The drawing's at the end of the game.
We talk politics with her, and she's got a few leanings on policy. She likes McCain on the economy and healthcare, but she seems to be voting with her gut. We ask why she got involved with the GOP, and she says: "I just don't like Barack Hussein Obama. I just don't believe anything that comes out of his mouth." And she's not a life-long Republican; in fact, she became a Republican when Bush ran in 2000. On the President: "I still love him. What I like about him is he's gutsy. He's not afraid of anything or anybody. He does what he says he's going to do, which I think is terrific."
As our interview winds down, a biker couple walks in the bar and makes a comment about the crowd. Doreen tells them it's a McCain fundraiser, and hackles raise: they clearly didn't know it, and don't like it. They'll stay, but they won't donate, thank you. A margarita for her and a Jack on rocks for him. Alcohol, I quip, is non-partisan.
At the bar, he starts to browse a gun catalog, and we start chatting with her. She used to be a cheerleader, but she never really liked football. They were just in Manchester, NH. A salsa band they like was there and gave a concert on the green.
We divulge more of our leftward lean to them than to anyone so far, and they seem sympathetic. She hadn't voted in the primary because she hates jury duty: "They'll never find me again." And she describes herself as out of touch and more than a little apathetic. She confided: "When I got here, I heard the name John McCain, I was like, 'Is it a biker who died?'" But when we press her on who she'd pick in the fall, she turned out to be a gut voter too. She'd take Obama, she said, but she couldn't say why.
Cassel's fourth-quarter fumble is a nail in the coffin; the Pats fans groan and the stadium starts to empty out. The biker and her husband are elsewhere in the bar; the seats next to us are taken by Adam Dacko and his daughter, who looks about ten. It's a relief to talk to an issues voter, albeit a single-issue voter. Adam is the proprietor of Foster Bear Arms (the sign on the highway shows a bear with a rifle, a pretty clever Second Amendment pun in my book), and his views start and end with guns.
He does mention his concern that Obama subscribes to the One World, One Nation philosophy, which he ascribes to Hillary Clinton and George Soros as well. But this turns out to be a guns issue too. Barack, he said "wants to work with the United Nations and stay with the world. England--they have a ban on their guns. Australia--they have a ban on their guns. And we don't. And that's what the United Nations wants. I am not giving up my rights."
He grew up in a military family, believes unshakably in hunters' rights and is raising his daughter as a sportswoman: "I have my daughter here, she's been shooting since the age of four," he tells us. "She enjoys the sport, and she has her own collection." John McCain's war record and Sarah Palin's lifetime membership in the NRA are unequivocal selling points for him.
The raffle is held, the Dolphins are running the clock out and it seems like an opportune time for an exit. But there's something appropriate in today's odd coupling of football and politics. The Lucky's patrons were Rhode Island Republicans and Patriots fans. They'd gotten to these views in different ways, by upbringing or strong conviction or maybe just a feeling. And, at least for this afternoon and possibly for some time, they were pulling for a losing team. But they did it with a beer in their hand and a smile on their face, and they showed a couple of big-city liberals a good time.
WILLIAM GUZZARDI B'09 generally favors a 3-4 scheme, but only if you've got some fast OLBs.