Monday, October 13, 2008

Swing Voters?

George Packer, writing in The New Yorker, about voters in southeastern Ohio, who may be facing their "hardest vote" - a vote that would cross a racial line that looms larger than the issues and their economic self-interest. An excerpt:

A maintenance man at the nearby high school, who declined to give his name, said that he had been undecided until McCain selected Palin to be his running mate, which swung his support to Obama.

“So you’re a sexist more than a racist,” Herbert joked.

“I just think the guy Obama picked would do better if he got assassinated than McCain’s if he died of frickin’ old age in office,” the maintenance man said.

Four women of retirement age were sitting at the next table. All of them spoke warmly of Palin. “She’d fit right in with us,” Greta Jennice said. “We should invite her over.” None had a good word to say about Obama. “I think he’s a radical,” a white-haired woman who wouldn’t give her name said. “The church he went to, the people he associated with. You don’t see the media digging into that.”

“I don’t know anyone who’s for Obama,” said Jennice, a Democrat who supported Hillary Clinton and who won’t vote in November.

“If they are, they don’t say it, because it would be unpopular,” an elderly former teacher named Marcella said. That had not been true of Bill Clinton, Al Gore, or John Kerry, she added.

“I think the party-line Democrats are having a hard time with Obama,” Bobbie Dunham, a retired fourth-grade teacher, told me. When I asked if Obama’s health-care plan wouldn’t be a good thing for people in Glouster, she said, “I’ll believe it when I see it. If it’s actually happening, I’d say that’s good.” But she and the others had far more complaints about locals freeloading off public assistance than about the health-insurance industry and corporations. Dunham declared her intention to write in a vote for either Snoopy or T. Boone Pickens. “I’m not going to vote for a Republican—they’ve had their chance for the last eight years and they’ve screwed it up,” she said. “But I really just don’t trust Obama. He only says half-truths. He calls himself a Christian, but he only became one to run for office. He calls himself a black, but he’s two-thirds Arab.”
One wonders how it could be that so many Americans could be so poorly informed, so culturally backward, so crudely prejudiced. How can any nation face the 21st century challenges of the global economy, and deal with climate change, the war on terror, nuclear proliferation, energy independence, health reform, and the financial market meltdown, with such limited brainpower? The world looks to us for leadership (yes, even after the disappointments of the past 8 years) - how can we possibly lead while we carry the dead weight of such abysmal ignorance on our backs?

Packer's point of course is not to mock these folks. Nor is it mine. We ought to figure out how to help these people, for our own sake if not for theirs.

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