The first event that breached my son Chris’s civic consciousness was the first Gulf War, when he was seven years old. We were glued to CNN, the only 24-hour news channel at the time, and President Bush the elder became his idol. He treasures the memory of seeing Bush 41 close-up at a 1992 campaign rally a mile from our home.
When Clinton was declared the victor of that election, Chris was angry, afraid and seeking reassurance about the future. I reminded him that our country is strong and resilient. I promised that, no matter what, we would always be safe.
I was wrong.
President Bush 43 is still cleaning up the rubble left by the Clinton administration at home and abroad while his opponents plagiarize the Clinton blueprint for deception and distortion to exploit the electorate. Perhaps rubble is not the right word to describe the cataclysm of September 11th, the coarsening of our culture, the compromising of our values, the cheapening of our language, the corruption of the truth, and the collapse of "integrity, integrity, integrity." In January 2001, we were less safe after eight years of Clinton neglect, which we did not realize fully until September 11th. We were less unified after eight years of polarization by class, race, age and gender warfare. We were less trusting of political figures after eight years of gotcha gamesmanship. We were less confident in our political institutions after eight years of cynical rhetoric.
Now my son is in college, preparing to vote in his first presidential election after spending his formative years establishing what he does not want in a president. His generation will face the long-term consequences of the choices we make tomorrow. Chris understands that his future and his country’s future are at stake. Recently we were discussing someone we know whose support of Bush is unexpectedly tepid. "Ask him how he likes his country," Chris urged, "regular or extra-crispy."
Like many who are alarmed by the popularity of John Kerry’s unwillingness to wage a decisive war on terror, we are a family braced for the worst-case scenario. Kerry has run a Clintonesque debase-the-base campaign but with all the charisma and wisdom of Jimmy Carter, which may qualify him as the first hybrid lemon of the 21st century manufactured in the USA. I would like to believe that the electorate, after test-driving Kerry for six months or longer, will choose the more reliable, proven, family-friendly model.
Then again, I would like to believe that the electorate is well informed about issues and candidates; however, polls and personal experience suggest otherwise. I am less concerned about a small percentage identified as undecided that is chronically apathetic than the large plurality surveyed nationwide who seem willing to vote for another lying liberal of no obvious accomplishment whose only consistency is that he has consistently been on the wrong side of history on the Cold War, the spread of democracy, defense, tax cuts, etc. In fact, I find it scary as hell and I mean that in the Biblical sense.
Whenever I feel swamped by emotion, I have a two-phased reaction. The first is to reclaim rationality by dissecting the situation nearly to death. The second is to assert whatever control I have over the situation. Writing helps me work through both phases.
I blog; therefore, I have strong opinions. No, duh. A brand name like Everyone Is Entitled to My Opinion might imply that I am a cocky activist when it was actually intended to be self-effacing. In real life conversation, I rarely assume that anyone shares or cares about my politics and I am loath to sell my ideas. I had worked in campaigns before, but I always ended up talking on the phone, selling my ideas. So, although the GOP phone banks beckoned to me since last summer, I was late answering the call, figuratively speaking of course.
While procrastinating, I worried about widespread fraud and gullible youth duped by a dodgy draft non-issue. I wondered about millions of Christian evangelicals who abstained in the 2000 election but who after September 11th became staunch supporters of Israel and President Bush’s Middle East plan. I tried and failed to comprehend what makes Bush so contemptible to so many, including friends who consider Michael Moore a primary source of information. I battled combat fatigue, avoided new conflict and embraced the cozy sanctuary of the center-right blogosphere. I envisioned Kerry supporters as reckless fools rushing to the rooftops to greet alien spaceships in the movie Independence Day. I let myself become discouraged by polls and spin and media malfeasance.
Finally Chris and I volunteered in the get-out-the-vote here in Orange County, California, a conservative oasis for Republicans in a state represented mostly by liberal Democrats. Our GOP phone banks are so well staffed that we were sent home with lists of voters in our community and in Colorado, registered Republicans all.
In contrast to some locals, all the Coloradoans I called were thoroughly polite, warm, thoughtful, generous with their time and opinions. Perhaps they were grateful to be courted like the Ohioans and Floridians. Some expressed relief that I was a live Republican instead of an automated message from Madeleine Albright (somebody please explain that desperate strategy). Aside from any psychological conclusions I could draw from the geographic distinctions, I rediscovered those welcome human truths I referenced in my abstract homily to my son twelve years ago this week.
One particularly kind Coloradoan told me that the last Democrat he voted for is Jimmy Carter, who turned him into a Reaganite. Like me, he sees Kerry-Carter and Kerry-Clinton parallels. We discussed the post-Carter repudiation and correction that led to the swift onset of the end of the Cold War. He reminded me that our nation is strong and resilient.
By this time tomorrow night we will know if there are enough such Coloradoans, Ohioans and Floridians to re-elect George W. Bush. If I have regained confidence in anything, it is the certainty that there are enough Americans prepared to clean up the pile left by another national folly, if folly there be.
As we watch the cost and the rubble grow, one family asks, "How high?"