Monday, November 5, 2012

Thoughts at Campaign's End

It’s come down to this. In just a few hours, polls will open for the final day of this long election campaign. By sometime tomorrow night, or late the following morning, we’ll know who has prevailed and will lead the US government for the next four years.

I’ve been making calls the last few days, logging into the Democrats Abroad website, and dialing households in Ohio, Colorado, Iowa and Nevada. These are four of the dozen or so “swing states” which, by virtue of being toss-ups, will determine the outcome, or so the pundits believe. Eighty to ninety percent of my calls go directly to voice mail, and I leave brief messages encouraging them to vote, and to contact the campaign if they have difficulty. And, I generally add a couple of sentences about why I’m volunteering: because Obama is growing the economy in a way that will benefit all citizens, I say, not just those who are the most prosperous. Or I say that I’m a social worker, and I recognize that what are dismissed as entitlements are investments in human beings who, as their lives improve, improve our country. Or something else along those lines.

Even when I get a live person, most of the calls are concluded without me making it more than a question or two into my script. These poor citizens have been inundated by calls, and I’m of two minds about calling them – knowing how annoyed and put off I would be were I on the receiving end. And yet, my own anxiety about tomorrow’s outcome is severe enough that I feel I have to take a part, do what I can to support the cause. And those I manage to speak to seem sympathetic, for the most part, and maneuver politely out of conversing with me.

I sound to myself like one of those political spots, like one of the sound bites that come rapid fire out of the television at every commercial break, alerting me when I’ve landed on an American as opposed to a Canadian station. Wearysome, grating, annoying is what they are – even those for my guy, because I’d like to think that our side doesn’t need to resort to such tactics.

But...such is life in America these days. Or, better yet...such is life as a human being. Because it’s true that we respond to poking and prodding, to come-ons and guilt trips, to bribes and to having our buttons pushed. I learned that when I was an encyclopaedia salesman. It isn’t so much that people are manipulated into liking what we don’t like, or into doing what we don’t want to do. It’s that we respond to encouragement to do what we think we ought to do, and to like what we ought to like, but don’t find convenient or easy or worth the cost.

I get how hard politics is. I get that it’s so much about getting us to feel better about what isn’t easy or what costs too much. I get that it’s sometimes about prettying up some ugly choices, and about uglying down the choices the other side wants you to make. And I sincerely wish that it were more workable to talk politics in a different way. Of course, that can be done, if winning, if achieving the desired end is not paramount. I sometimes spoke to my encyclopaedia clients as though it didn’t matter if I got the sale or not. And, truth be told, I rarely got those sales, unless the buyer had negotiated all their questions and doubts and fears of a bad deal before sitting down with me. You learn quickly in sales that when you let people drift away to “think about it”, it’s a sale you’ll never see. They may buy, but it’ll be the next guy, or next year, or never.

Yes, it’s a bit cynical. But when it comes to this political game, it’s more real than any set of books anyone will ever buy. And the buying time is now. No longer time for folks to “think about it”. It’s act now, or forever hold your peace.

On the other hand, it’s estimated that thirty to forty percent of voters will have already cast their ballots before tomorrow dawns. This is no longer a 1-day event. Election Day itself becomes more and more symbolic and ritualistic. People have been voting for weeks already.

I voted three days ago, doing so electronically for the first time. I completed my ballot on-line, then sent it back to Washington State by email. I haven’t set foot in Washington State for almost 20 years, but for voting purposes, my address is still 1600 S. Massachusetts, in Seattle, a fitting address for the occasion.

I intended to use this post to lay out my most compelling reasons for supporting Obama. But I don’t really have the patience or inclination to do that. Instead I’ll give my strongest non-reason, which is how bizarre this all looks from beyond the borders of the US. Gallup did a poll awhile back, asking nationals of several other countries whom they’d like to see win this race. The results were overwhelmingly for Obama. And I see this reflected is most of the conversations I have with non-Americans about the state of US politics. To them, it’s like a bizarre and severely dated sideshow.

It strikes most non-Americans I encounter as extremely backward that, after being the sole developed country without any kind of national health care system for so long, that it was fought against so vehemently and hysterically, and that repealing it is a core position of a candidate that could actually win. It strikes many as absurd that religious fundamentalism has become so enmeshed in politics that it dictates what candidates can and cannot say, and that it has contributed so enormously to an anti-scientific mind set that stubbornly scoffs at climate change and even at evolution. And, most take it as extremely unfortunate, if not insulting, that the US seems to care little about the values, interests and opinions of the rest of humanity (except Israel). And finally, in a country once so proudly egalitarian in principle, how odd that so many working class Americans are more committed to supporting the interests of the wealthy, than the interests of the poor.

Happy Election Day to All of us, America!

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