ANYONE TAKING the political temperature of the Northwest over the past couple of weeks, as President Bush slid through the region, would have to conclude that, all of a sudden, it's very hot out there. And angry. And that much of that heat and anger isn't coming from the usual anti-Bush crowd of radicals and anarchists. It's coming from the middle class.
The outward expressions of political heat came in response to Bush's fund-raising and photo-opportunity trip through Oregon and Washington last week, in advance of next year's presidential election. Thousands turned out in the streets of Portland and in the Seattle area to give Bush hell as his black limousine ferried him around while he raised $2.7 million in the Northwest. What's more, there were plenty of caloric waves surrounding the insurgent presidential campaign of Dr. Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor, who came to the Northwest soon after Air Force One's heat signature disappeared from the sky.
It was hottest for Bush in Portland. That city has become ground zero in this country for anarchists and radicals of every stripe. To them, Bush is Satan. On Thursday, Aug. 21, at least 3,000 protesters marched to the site of a Bush fund-raiser, where a barbed-wire-topped chain-link fence and hundreds of riot police hemmed them in.
But it wasn't just radicals standing in the blazing Portland sun and giving the president a middle-finger salute. It was people like Joel Spinhirne, a middle-class, unemployed high-tech worker, who said he was "newly radicalized" as a result of Bush's handling of the economy, tax cuts for the wealthy, and the wrecking of the American health care system. "It's going to be people in the middle class who turn this around," he said.
HE COULD HAVE BEEN talking about the anti-Bush turnout in the Seattle area over the next two days. Last Friday, Aug. 22, hundreds of demonstrators turned out in Bellevue, tony Hunts Point (site of Bush's $1.7 million fund-raiser at the home of billionaire Craig McCaw), and Victor Steinbreuck Park in Seattle to denounce the president. The majority of them appeared to be from middle-class working families and trade unions.
"Everything is going in the wrong direction, the whole thing is a fraud," said Geoff Braden, a shipwright who was at Hunts Point.
On top of that, on Saturday, Aug. 23, approximately 1,500 people showed up for an anti-Bush rally and march along the Seattle waterfront. Again, it was the soccer moms and dads carrying the virulently anti-Bush signs, a demographic that was largely missing from the anti-war rallies of last March.
BUT THE STRONGEST SIGN that the Northwest's middle class is mad as hell came when Howard Dean's "Sleepless Summer Tour" swept through Boise, Portland, Seattle, and Spokane, drawing thousands out to hear the Democratic front-runner flay Bush and declare, "We can do better than this."
The excitement among the crowds in Seattle and Portland was palpable, especially in Seattle on Monday, where an estimated 10,000 people gathered in and around Westlake Park. Despite press accounts painting the Dean campaign as a youth movement, the Seattle turnout was solidly middle-aged and middle-class.
Dean isn't an inspiring orator, except that people get excited by the very fact that he's saying things they've long felt, but which other Democratic candidates have tip-toed around. "We're not going to beat Bush by being Bush Lite," Dean said in clear reference to other Democratic presidential candidates. "I'm standing up for what it means to be a Democrat."
Dean got some of his loudest cheers inveighing against the Iraq War, advocating for universal health care, and criticizing Bush's stance on the environment. Listening to him, it's hard not to envision President Harry Trumanshort, combative, plain-spoken, truth telling, and a pain in the ass for the Beltway crowd.
Mark Wiener, a long-time political consultant in Portland, says he can't remember a presidential candidate generating so much passion in the Northwest so far in advance of the primaries. "He's the exemplar of the radical middle," says Wiener.
Perhaps most striking was the Dean turnout in Seattle. There was little advance buzz or advertising. The crowd of 10,000 was largely the result of the Dean campaign's innovative use of the Internet. Via Web sites and blogs, the Dean people have begun to mobilize an army of small campaign contributors and political like-minds.
Although Bush was more lovingly received east of the Cascades (at the Ice Harbor Dam near Pasco and in Redmond, Ore.), there's plenty of heat to contend with over there, too. The Dean visit to Spokane on Monday was expected to attract an audience of 200. Nine hundred showed up.