Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Well, My Goodness: An Election Montage

The day before my eighteenth birthday, Mr. Everdell, who had taught me Modern European History the year before (and who I know will not object to the presence of his last name on this blog) took me to register to vote. A course in Modern European History with high school students obviously included extensive discussions of voting rights, including M's question, "Mr. Everdell, how can we get young people to vote?" and the long pause before Mr. Everdell's immediately post-Columbine reply "... Shoot at 'em?"; it was for this reason that I asked him to come with me. And while it's corny as all hell and I admit that openly, I will never forget the shared sense of pride as I, with poise I'd just found that year, walked up to the desk and said I wanted to register to vote: he had taught me, I had learned, and this was what I had taken from it.

Again, it's corny, but I feel that same sensation whenever I'm walking to vote. For the most part the voting is itself anticlimactic, but the feeling that I'm going to participate in a fabulous complex system with such fascinating historical precedents persists. I tend to dress up for it, with mixed results (unaware that it constituted electioneering, I wore my "lick bush in '04" T-shirt to the last presidential election; no one noticed until after my ballot had been processed, at which time I was admonished with a sharp "Button your jacket!). Walking to my polling place makes me proud. Voting is one of the only things, these days, that still makes me feel patriotic.

Democrats have the House, and may soon enough have the Senate, depending on how Virginians have taken to George Allen, erstwhile creator of this here now ad. What that means we soon will see.

When I was five, David Dinkins was elected mayor of New York City, the first black man to have such a position; it was the first election I followed, and I recall in particular the Democrats' scare ads against Dinkins's opponent, Rudy Giuliani (who would run again and win four years later) which ended with a deep, calm male voice intoning as the words appeared on the screen, "Why are people afraid of Rudy Giuliani? Because they should be." My family had supported Dinkins, and supported my somewhat hazy idea of politics: my kindergarten class was studying marine life, and the first letter I wrote to an elected official was a letter asking David Dinkins to oppose the killing of humpback whales. I then created a sign that read "Please don't kill any humpback whale" and hung it on lampposts in my own neighborhood and my grandmother's. This with the aid of my father, who was fortunately a sport about the whole thing.

Several states, including Wisconsin, voted gay marriage bans into their Constitutions. That's less good, but we'll see what it means, as well. As Tom pointed out, Alabama still has a school segregation amendment written into its Constitution, but I can't quite take that as lightly as he can, since that amendment, while overruled by Brown v. Board, still de facto works. His point that those who supported segregation held on just as vociferously when the tide was clearly turning is well-taken, but I'd add to that an examination of race in public schools today, and say that the symbolic victory, while certainly important and (I believe) inevitable, will not be all it takes.

A delightful message from T-bone last night, printed here in its entirety:
"Rick Santorum lo-ost! Rick Santorum lo-ost! Rick Santorum lo-ost! EEEEEEE! Well, that makes me wanna go have gay sex."

The first national election I followed was George H.W. Bush v. Michael Dukakis, in 1988. My family supported Dukakis, but I've no recollection of the commercials, not even the infamous Willie Horton ad. My parents had just divorced, and as my father had Tuesdays according to the custodial agreement, I went with him, as I would for all the subsequent years until I registered myself, pulling the levers on New York City's fabulously old-fashioned voting machines according to his instruction. Our polling place was a public school two blocks away, as mine is now. As we left my house, we passed my friend M's family, who was just returning from voting. I asked her whom they had voted for, and my father admonished me, "You can't ask that! That's a very personal question!" I found myself saying the same to my third-graders yesterday (one of my co-teachers was absent because she'd signed up to do pollwatching, and when we explained the reason for her absence, I proudly displayed my ballot receipt. The children asked who I voted for, pronouncing the easier name, Judy Baar Topinka, with pride [come on, none of the non-Poles among you could have said "Blagojevich" in third grade either], and I said it was a personal question that I didn't really want to answer. Strange). Once again, the outcome of the election, while in this case disappointing, led to political letter-writing: my first-grade class, studying elephants, wrote letters asking Bush to ban the trade of ivory (I have very distinct memories of learning that phrase, breaking down the meanings of each word). When he did, we all felt that same fantastic sense of contributing that I have, however misguided, when I vote.

And Britney Spears is divorcing Kevin Federline. I saw Talladega Nights last week, where NASCAR-paced marriages and divorces were parodied. It's almost not a parody anymore.

I want to make a confession here, publically—it's going to sound a little ridiculous, but I've honestly never told anyone this. I voted in neither the 2001 nor the 2002 elections, too lazy to do the paperwork of getting an absentee ballot and not nearly aware enough of local politics to change my registration from New York to Illinois. Where college made some more passionately political, I, actively political through middle and high school, became more apathetic. I confess this in light of the fact that I was a jerk to several friends before this election in pressuring them to vote, and I regret being a jerk, though I do not regret the pressure. I've the feeling I made a difference in a couple of cases, and the content was therefore right-on. But the form could've been much, much better. And those friends were therefore courageous in telling me they were even thinking of not voting, something I four years ago had nowhere near the guts to do.

There are, as of last night/this morning, now 49 Republican governors and 51 Democratic governors in the United States, which is interesting. From my childhood and adolesence as a New Yorker, I'm a particular fan of new governor Eliot Spitzer (I remember my father waking me up to inform me that George Pataki had won the gubernatorial election the first time he did, the only political depression I can remember even vaguely comparing to Bush the Second's win in '04), while Blagojevich's reelection, here in IL, gives me mixed feelings. I am impressed and pleased with the 11% win for Green candidate Rich Whitney, and am hoping the national laws about third-party funding apply in Illinois, as well. But Blagojevich *is* solid on the health care—I actually believe, based on his previous actions, that he can deliver socialized medicine for the state—and his lieutenant governor, Pat Quinn, is solid on environmental issues. Living in Chicago, one can only have a limited amount of scruples regarding the sleaziness of politicians. They built this city. I'm disappointed that Tammy Duckworth seems to have narrowly lost her Congressional campaign, and impressed that she got it as far as she did.

I can imagine not having the right to vote. The scary thing is it would be something of a relief on one hand, in that I wouldn't have to feel such responsibility for my connection to my leaders. I mean, I didn't elect Bush, but My Fellow Voters did. It would certainly be a frightening way to live, in that I wouldn't know where to start when I thought of changing things, because it would be a much more terrifying prospect. I don't even know if, assuming I lived under a somewhat benevolent dictatorship, I would feel the need to. Voting is, after all, pretty easy, all things considered. Even in Ohio.

Lincoln Chafee lost in Rhode Island, which leads to another interesting question: will the newly Democratized Congress be able to get rid of the Military Commissions Act? Will anyone try?

I have some hope. Not a lot, but enough. The Democrats haven't proven themselves strong recently; I imagine a substantive number of the votes cast were cast for Not Republicans. Let's see if they take up the challenge to create self-definition.


At 3:37 PM, Blogger Connor said...

Here's hoping.
But I'm going to milk this good feeling for all I can.
It might be all the nourishment we get for awhile. :)

At 10:01 AM, Anonymous Milligan said...

Incidentally, there are 28 Democratic and 22 Republican governors, an exact flip of the pre-election numbers.

In Illinois you only have to win 5% to get automatic major party status in the subsequent election. So the Greens are good to go. Given the structure of Illinois politics, the Greens can very possibly do more than the Republicans can to keep the IL Dem party honest, so that's all to the good.

At 11:03 AM, Blogger Ammegg said...

Yes, someday I will be relaxed enough and have my brain on enough to do coherent things with numbers.

Scoretacular about the Greens. It shows exactly how Blue this state is, perhaps, that Whitney got 10% and Blagojevich still won by a blatant landslide. But what're you gonna do. :>)


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