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Jewish World Review Nov. 12, 2004 / 28 Mar-Cheshvan, 5765

Tom Purcell

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Straw Man | Our intellectual class would call a fellow I know a member of the "religious right."

He's 62, married to the same woman for 39 years and a devout Christian. He's a millionaire who volunteered to help Bush win reelection.

The left alleges that such greedy, anti-gay fellows are the reason Bush won. Karl Rove exploited their ignorance and narrow mindedness, you see, and that is how he secured a Bush win.

But this "straw man" stereotype falls to pieces when you learn more about the fellow I know.

He came of age during the JFK era. Like many at that time, he believed in the power of government to do good. He studied liberal arts, then went on for a masters in sociology. His dream was to run a government housing project to help the poor, and for a few years he did just that.

But he had to quit that job. He had met a lovely girl during sophomore year in college. She went on to become a social worker, too. They married and soon had their first of two children. They decided it best for their family that she stay home with their daughter. He would have to find a job that offered better pay.

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He tried his hand as a stockbroker and discovered he had a knack for numbers and making deals. Eventually he started his own business. He helped others successfully invest in oil, gas and real estate. By the time he was 40, he was a millionaire.

And then he hit a wall. His family faced some difficult challenges. His wealth was not filling him up. There had to be more to this life, and there was. He had a spiritual experience and has been a devout Christian ever since.

For the last 20 years, he and his wife had done extensive volunteer work. They deliver meals to the elderly, tutor inner-city kids and support a number of volunteer organizations. He's embarrassed to share all these details, which is why he didn't want me to reveal his name.

Now he's taking on one of his biggest projects — a charter school. In his city, only 20% of minority kids are reading at grade level. He knows that education is their only hope. So he found a dilapidated building in the heart of a struggling area and he is bringing people together to make the school a reality. He goes to that old building every day and he prays.

If you met this fellow, you'd have no idea he was a rich Christian Republican conservative. He drives a 12-year-old car with 200,000 miles on the odometer. He dresses more like an off-duty welder than a country club member.

If you had to guess, you'd think he voted for Clinton. And he did. You'd think he is a spirited, fun-loving fellow who is tolerant of the way people live. And he is. He has friends from every political ideology, friends from different religions, friends from the inner city, friends who are gay.

He'll be the first to tell you that Republicans have some extremist fringes in their party, some of them religious. He cringes when Jerry Falwell talks and says that most Christians feel the same way. But despite what the left believes, this fringe is just that — a fringe.

He'll also tell you there are extremist elements in the Democratic Party, and right now they are running the show. The image of Whoopi Goldberg cussing up a storm while Kerry and his wife laughed was profound. The image of Michael Moore sitting next to Jimmy Carter during the Democratic convention was also telling.

That's why he voted for Bush instead of Kerry. Like Bush or hate him, he says what he's going to do, then he does it, and that is why Bush won.

Our intellectual class prefers not to see it this way. They find it easier to create religious right straw men, then blame their stereotypical creation for all their woes.

It's a lot easier than thinking.

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© 2004 Tom Purcell