Wednesday, October 06, 2004

finding america

Excellent, excellent article here: | Looking for votes, finding America

Jonathan Alford is a California postal working and jazz pianist who took a week off to volunteer for Kerry in Pennsylvania. His article about the experience is insightful and reflective, humble and wholly unpatronizing.

I hope at least part of it is open to non-subscribers. Here's a taste:

I reach a few stalwart old working-class Dems -- "kick those bastards out of office" -- right at the start, but soon enough the typical responses to my questions become expressions of confusion and hopelessness. "I don't know who to believe -- I don't what to think -- something needs to change -- they always promise old people things but nothing ever happens -- my income hasn't changed in 12 years and everything keeps going up." One old woman says that her friend is being forced to sell the house she has lived in for 40 years because she can't pay her bills. She says it is happening all over and it just makes her sick.

What is touching about some of these undecided seniors is the responsibility they feel about collecting all the information before making a decision. "Well, Al and I are planning on watching the debate and reading some more and then we will probably make up our minds." Or "we just don't know enough." It is the older generation's inbred sense of the importance of a vote. It is a precious thing, to be cast with care and deliberation. Most of the seniors are leaning toward Kerry, but most are not excited by him. An interesting -- and depressing -- note is how many have been influenced by the scurrilous GOP attacks on Kerry's wartime service. One lady, a lifelong Democrat, said she couldn't vote for Kerry because Teresa wasn't ladylike enough. "Can you imagine telling that reporter to 'shove it'? My goodness." When I pointed out that the reporter had been dogging her for days and was personally abusive, she said simply, "I don't know about that but I just don't think she is a first lady." A slender reed on which to make a decision, but gratifying, I am sure, to Republican spinners.

Many are not really willing to engage at any length, but a few every hour will tell me personal details and allow little glimpses into their lives. These phone calls are no longer a pro forma political exercise; they are achingly poignant and compelling. Irma tells me her husband can't come to the phone as he has just gotten out of the hospital and is resting. She confides that she too had a stroke two years ago and they both are pretty much housebound. "I don't know what we are going to do. I thought that you were supposed to enjoy the older years -- you work your whole life for this?" It is a hard dance, to try to talk to Irma about the political dimensions of her life woes, convince her to vote for the man I want her to vote for, and still simply be a listener and a fellow human being. And that of course is the nub. Politics has been so dehumanized by image glorification and the pursuit of power that it has become impossible for many of these men and women to even imagine a world in which the personal and the political could ever intersect.
Alford also reflects on the first debate, with some insight that unfortunately proved all too true for the second debate:

The media, unable to confront the propagandistic web of distortions and lies the administration used to make its case for war in Iraq, falls back on simply evaluating its effectiveness. Abdicating their responsibility to find out the truth, they vanish into a never-never land whose apparent cynicism ("it's all spin anyway") conceals its moral and intellectual vacuity. They would still roll over for Bush in tonight's debate, if only he had told his lies crisply and with folksy assurance. Thank God he didn't.