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September 08, 2004

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Our Town: Mad Republicans Our Town: Mad Republicans (September 08, 2004)

By Don Kazak

The sunlight was dappled through the trees in a Palo Alto Cowper Street backyard late Thursday afternoon. About 100 people were gathered around in eager anticipation.

An old lion had decided to roar, and they waited to hear him.

Pete McCloskey is a legendary former congressman who represented Palo Alto from 1967 through 1982.

He is a Republican but was a maverick Republican who called for the impeachment of then-President Richard Nixon. At the 1972 Republican National Convention, Nixon's endorsement vote was 1,363 to 1 -- the one vote for McCloskey.

McCloskey, 76, looked great. He was sharp and focused, and he was angry.

It was a odd gathering -- a bunch of Republicans committed in their hearts to the election defeat of Republican President George W. Bush.

Anna Eshoo, the long-time Democratic congresswoman representing Palo Alto, also showed up, with big hugs for McCloskey.

The event was gentle. Everyone who spoke praised each other. But there was a serious undercurrent: a shared disdain for the sitting president.

Maybe the president and his re-election campaign shouldn't fear opponent John Kerry and the Democratic Party as much as they should fear Republicans like these, who seem more furious at him than Democrats are.

The backyard event was surreal. I stood amid proper, grey-haired Republican-looking women -- who hissed and booed at the appropriate moments.

McCloskey is a Marine Korean War veteran, twice wounded. After a visit to Vietnam, he became so upset about what was happening there versus what the public was being told that he challenged a sitting president over war crimes, and wrote a book about the importance of truth.

"Nixon was a prince compared to these guys," McCloskey said of today's Bush administration. But he noted that the president's father, former President George Bush, is one of his favorite people. "If his son was half the man he was ...." He let the thought trail off.

Not only does McCloskey have a great deal of fondness for the president's father, but he has a personal connection to Kerry. Back in 1971, a young, feisty McCloskey testified in Congress against the war along with a young veteran and organizer of Vietnam Veterans Against the War: John Kerry. McCloskey said his congressional office became a meeting place for many of the anti-war vets, some of them in wheelchairs.

Republicans for Kerry is a grass-roots effort of disgruntled party members all across the country. Democrats feel they don't need much help to win the vote in California, so the idea is to raise money in the state and send it to battleground states. McCloskey and his wife, Helen, will soon go to New Mexico, one of the battleground states, to work for Kerry.

The backyard event was dotted with former local mayors: Mike Cobb of Palo Alto, Gail Slocum of Menlo Park, Jon Silver of Portola Valley and Malcolm Dudley of Atherton. All are carrying the Kerry torch now.

Silver said disaffected Republicans may have even more passion about defeating Bush than do Democrats -- out of a sense of outrage from the party being taken over by neo-conservatives, the "neocons."

Eshoo spoke about how polarized Congress is these days, with Republican leaders not even allowing Democrats to espouse their ideas.

"When I was there, Democrats could talk to Republicans," McCloskey said. "These people believe God has told them what to do. They've hijacked the Republican Party we once knew."

With the war in Iraq grinding on, one of the most eloquent protests at last week's Republican National Convention in New York was 1,000 pairs of empty combat boots laid out on a Manhattan plaza, a silent reminder of America's war dead.

And reminders of Vietnam still echo through the years.

McCloskey gained national note, or notoriety, when he spoke out forcefully against the war and his president more than 30 years ago. He remembers that in 1970 he received a letter from 40 young second lieutenants -- recent West Point graduates who were Vietnam-bound -- who thought it was a bad war.

A year later, McCloskey had his office try to locate them. All but 13 were dead.

McCloskey is "a man of conscience," Eshoo noted.

And the lion can still roar.

Weekly senior staff writer Don Kazak can be e-mailed at dkazak@paweekly.com.



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