Met an old friend for lunch the other day. We worked together in GOP politics in the 80s, helping elect Republicans to Congress and state offices.

Back in the day, he was the true believer, a supporter of the policies of Ronald Reagan and the GOP principles of less government, fiscal responsibility and states’ rights.

I didn’t believe. I was a political whore, in it for the money and the experience. Politics was, and is, a heady business. I could have worked for either party. Republicans paid better in those days and, as a general rule, their checks didn’t bounce.

He came to nearby Roanoke, Virginia, to advance the campaign of a client, a Republican of course. He called. We met at a Ruby Tuesday in nearby Christiansburg and talked about old times. He looked tired and stressed.

“Must be difficult being a Republican these days,” I said. “You look like a Christian Scientist with appendicitis.”

He winced.

“You’ve used that line before,” he said. “It wasn’t funny then.”

“I stole it from Tom Lehrer (the Harvard-M.I.T. math professor who wrote satirical songs in the 60s). Back then politics was funny.”

He shook his head.

“Not much to laugh about nowadays. You were right to get out of the business.”

“I was never really in the business. I got into politics to learn how it worked so I could go back to journalism and write about it.”

“Yeah, a lot of people in the party hate you for that. You burned a bunch of bridges.”

“Too bad. I never claimed to be a Republican.”

The conversation shifted to the number one obstacle faced by any Republican seeking office in 2008: George W. Bush.

We agreed Campaign 2008 is turning into a public willingness to accept somebody, anybody, to replace Bush.

The overwhelming need to send Bush and his henchmen packing has voters willing to accept less than the best.

American disgust with Bush is so high that the only President in history with a lower approval rating is Richard M. Nixon – also the only President to resign from office to avoid impeachment.

Nixon may not hold that honor much longer. Bush is only three percentage points away from topping Tricky Dick from the highest rung of most-hated Presidents.

And that hatred is not limited to Democrats.

“The White House is a disaster,” my friend said. “Bush may end up doing more damage to the Party than even Nixon.”

The Party. Always the Party. I shook my head, looked my friend in the eye and tried to control my temper.

“Yes Bush is a disaster. Yes he has severely damaged the GOP. But who gives a rat’s ass about that? The real issue here is what he has done to this nation and the threat he poses to the peace of the world. Don’t feel me that line of crap about the Party. Forget the Goddamned Party. What about the thousands of American men and women dying in Bush’s illegal and immoral war? What about the loss of freedoms we used to accept as rights as Americans?”

I realized people at other tables had stopped eating and were watching. My voice had gone up too many octaves. I struggled to calm down.

“Look,” I continued in a lower tone of voice. “George Bush is a problem but he is only the latest one in a system that’s out of control and you and everyone like you who continues to put partisanship above the nation is a co-conspirator to that immoral system.”

He chuckled and avoided the jab, using an old political ploy to divert the conversation away from the central issue.

“You know,” he said, “for someone who always claimed to be a non-believer, you still get passionate about your non-beliefs.”

Yeah, I do. The political and philosophical divide in this nation has reached the point where two old friends can’t even sit down for lunch without at least one of us losing our cool.

We went back to talking about the old days, of campaigns we worked in New Mexico, Montana, New York and elsewhere. We finished lunch, shook hands and went our separate ways.

He went back to Washington and worried about his political party.

I went home and worried about the future of our country.

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