Once you had to go to the Autonomous Zone or the Alley to see a "George W. Bush Is a Punk-Ass Chump" sticker. But there it was on the French blue oxford of Justin DeJong. He's the vice president of Young Chicago Lakefront, the junior auxiliary of the 44th Ward Democrats. On the third night of the Republican National Convention, they gathered in the back room of Duffy's Tavern for an "anticonvention party." In 2004, Bush hating is as all-American as baseball.
DeJong, who was raised in a conservative Dutch community in Iowa, voted for Bush in 2000 because he "bought into compassionate conservatism" and because Republicanism was as much a part of his upbringing as the Dutch Reformed Church. Then he moved to Chicago, to work in government relations. And went native.
"When I came to Chicago, I saw that the world was a bigger place that had a lot more diversity of ethnicity, of races, of lifestyles," he said. "I don't believe that an individual religion should form the platform of the political party."
Kimberly Walz, the president of Young Chicago Lakefront, is so soft-spoken she has trouble making herself heard to a crowd even with a microphone. Leaning forward across a bar table, Walz gave me her group's talking points with Miss America smoothness: "Young people are energized," she said. "We wanted to have an event to rally the troops." But when I asked her to play word association, her disgust with the Republicans seethed out.
George W. Bush: "Asshole."
Dick Cheney: "Blowhard."
Arnold Schwarzenegger: "Worthless."
All over the room, young professionals were wearing buttons with Bush's face and the word "liar," buttons with a slash drawn through the words "Court-Appointed President." Jack Teasdale, a 24-year-old copier salesman, took a cue from an earlier generation. He doesn't trust any politician over 30.
"The baby boomers have polarized the country," said Teasdale. "Everybody who's from that era knows somebody who went to Vietnam and didn't come back. Everybody had something so harsh happen to them that they either thought it was completely right to be this way or completely wrong to be this way. It went underground until they had the power."
A few real politicians spoke from the bar's tiny stage. Alderman Tom Tunney declared that he was insulted by Schwarzenegger's use of the term "girlie men" at the convention. "Those of you who live in Lakeview understand that girlie men are tougher than straight men," he said. "So be careful."
I later explained to the alderman that in the "Hans and Franz" sketches Schwarzenegger was quoting, "girlie men" referred to wimpy straight guys whose girlfriends need to wise up and date bodybuilders. He still wasn't amused.
The free beer was cut off at 8:30 PM, half an hour before the convention speeches began. Then a singer in blue jeans took the stage and Duffy's turned off the TV sets carrying MSNBC. The young Democrats wouldn't get a chance to heckle Cheney. DeJong was let down. "We didn't know there was going to be a band, so we're kind of bummed," he said. "We were going to have a buzzword during Cheney's speech. Like, whenever he said 'George Bush,' we'd say 'Punk-Ass Chump!'"
The following night, the night of Bush's acceptance speech, Republican Senate candidate Alan Keyes held a "Party for the President" at the Chicago Hilton and Towers. It attracted a more colorful crowd.
Tom Pfundstein was a short, blond-haired kid toting a backpack and wearing a necklace of little stainless steel balls and a T-shirt that asked, "Are You Prepared?" He looked like he belonged in a skate park or at an all-ages rock show. But Pfundstein was standing in the hotel's Continental Ballroom, ready to show his love for "my man" Alan Keyes.
It's not easy being a Republican in Chicago. Pfundstein, who lives in Logan Square and works in the mail room at the North Face, has to defend the war in Iraq to hostile neighbors and coworkers.
"It's difficult sometimes," he said. "Some people, you can have a good-natured discussion, and if you say the wrong thing it can turn ugly. I wouldn't say they're pro-Kerry--they're anti-Bush. But he's my man. I voted for him four years ago. I'll vote for him again."
A security guard appeared and asked Pfundstein to open his backpack. Inside were an umbrella and CDs by the Fall, the Buzzcocks, and the Jesus and Mary Chain. Pfundstein loves 80s punk and new wave.
"It's better than anything that comes out today," he said, like a true conservative.
Across the room, a black Republican named Janeese was announcing plans to debut her "online newspaper," platinumcoastreview.com. "It's going to be like a modern-day Time magazine online," she said. "It's going to have worldwide news. I go to everything. I have contacts in the entertainment world, in Los Angeles. I'm trying to get some information on getting some billboards up."
Janeese wasn't willing to give her last name. Though she was raised a Democrat, she registered Republican in the 80s because she liked the party's stands on education and health care. But she's a schoolteacher. She lives on the west side. She's worried about what people will think if she reveals her political orientation.
"I may lose a lot of friends," she said. "A lot of people don't know I'm a Republican. I did tell people one time and now they're giving me a hard time. I'm coming out in my column online, though."
And what does Janeese think of Keyes?
"I think he's trying to sell his books," she said.
Keyes's opening act was gospel singer and author Sandy Rios of Concerned Women for America. Blond, pretty, and shrill, Rios whipped up the crowd with true-life horror stories of sex education.
"There was a survey at Glenbard East High School that asked, 'When did you first discover you were a heterosexual?'"
A few people giggled.
"I don't think it's funny!" Rios scolded. "Homosexuality is being mainstreamed in public schools. If Barack Obama has his way, any objection to this lifestyle will be silenced. You have a choice in this election: a complete moral free fall under Barack Obama or at least a finger in the dike of decadence with Alan Keyes."
Keyes, who has the manner of a fey ringmaster, drew some whoops for statements like "Separation of church and state is a lie" and "I would rather have the faith that God will reward me than have any reward in this political life." But afterward, a well-dressed, presuburban young couple drew me aside and assured me that Keyes does not represent the mainstream of the Republican Party. They were faithful Republicans, even putting a Bush sign in front of their Andersonville home. (It was egged.) She was voting for Keyes out of party loyalty. He was undecided.
Even those who whooped loudest for Keyes weren't willing to put their money where their mouths were. After the speech, I canvassed the room, trying to book some action on the Senate race. I was offering 100-1 on Alan Keyes. Mike Wyszynski and Robert Hoban were both thrilled to see a conservative on the ballot--"I'm really happy to see that there's a politician that stands up for his faith," said Wyszynski, who wore an antiabortion "tiny feet" lapel pin--but they laughed at those chintzy odds.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Yvette Marie Dostatni, Keyes Campaign.