Sunday, October 12, 2008

Spreading Some Canvass

So as I said, Melissa and I went to Pennsylvania yesterday to canvass for Obama. We drove out from Brooklyn that morning -- the New Jersey foliage was beautiful -- and gathered in a church basement in downtown Easton, in the Lehigh Valley. The canvassing office was well-organized, well-staffed, and well-stocked with doughnuts, bagels, and coffee. A bus came in from New York, and suddenly the space was flooded with people of all ages and races. We listened to our instructions, received our walk packet, and headed out to hit the streets with none of the pep rallying I heard before my Kerry canvassing four years ago, no drama or bombast. I guess we all knew how much this election means, and the focus was solely on efficiently, cheerfully getting the job done.

Our territory was a new-looking subdivision west of town, with pretty houses, well-kept green lawns, and jack-o'-lanterns or Halloween decorations on every porch. Melissa and I split up our list and worked up and down nearly every street in the area. Even though I had canvassed before, I was always a bit nervous as I approached each door, and then usually happily surprised by the niceness of the people inside, even if they don't support my candidate. The vast majority of the people I talked to were Obamaites -- naturally, since I was using a Democratic walk list, but it was heartening anyway. The yard signs looked split 50-50. One housebound woman and her husband kept me talking with them ten minutes after my questionnaire was complete. Another woman took my hand, patted it, and thanked me for my hard work. I wondered whether the families inside these housing-boom mansions were worried about foreclosure notices, and tried to keep this line out front: "Are you better off than you were eight years ago? Do you think the United States is in a better place?" The answer to at least one of these questions was almost guaranteed to be a "no," which invited further conversation and a chance to make the Obama policy pitch.

But when I met anti-Obamaites, they were never opposed on the basis of policy -- only on who they believed Barack was. One man I approached heard "Obama" and said immediately, "I'm not voting for him."

"Could you tell me why not?" I asked, just in case he needed a little more information.

"I'm prejudiced."

I think my mouth nearly fell open, but I decided to make him say it. "Against what?"

"Against minorities," he said.

"Really," I said. I honestly wasn't sure if he was just teasing me or whether he meant it, so I decided to play up Barack's non-minority background just in case that made any difference. "Well, you know, Senator Obama is half white, half African American -- literally, since his father was from Kenya." I added a few more details out of Dreams from my Father (which I commend to any of you who haven't read it), about his grandmother and growing up in Hawaii.

The guy shook his head. "I'm going to leave the country if he's elected. I was born in Lebanon and I'm going back there."

"Some people would think that makes you a minority," I said, but he just shrugged. He asked the friend in the car with him if he was going to vote. "Nah, all those politicians are alike," the friend said.

God knows I couldn't fix racism in a conversation, so I thanked them for their time and left. The other notable (to me) anti-Obama incident happened in the afternoon, when we were working over a different neighborhood north of town. By this time I'd put on an "Obama '08" button, and when my subject of the moment opened the door, the guy's eyes went straight to my button. "Oh, honey, I'm supporting McCain," he said.

"Fair enough," I answered, and started to step off the porch with a thank you for his time. But then he said --

"And you ought to look into your guy too."

I stopped. "What do you mean by that?"

"He's got some real questionable friends."

"Like who?" I said, waiting for William Ayers. But he went for Reverend Wright, so I brought up Charles Keating, then he switched tactics.

"Rush Limbaugh says he couldn't even get FBI clearance."

"Rush Limbaugh," I said, rolling my eyes. "There's a real fair and unbiased source."

"Yeah, like Channel 2, 4, and 7 are so unbiased," he said, naming the CBS, NBC, and ABC affiliates out of New York with his own eye roll.

"So what in his background keeps him from getting FBI clearance?"

"I don't know, but he can't get it. You can look it up."

"Fine, I will," I said, and I left. And when I got home, I did look it up. Obama hasn't actually been denied FBI clearance, and given that he's a Senator in line for the Presidency, he probably already has much higher clearance than that. The right wing just likes to allege that he couldn't get the clearance to become an FBI agent if he applied to do so. This is because the FBI investigates past drug abuse and association with "undesirable persons" as part of its background checks for security clearance, and both of those categories could potentially indict Obama. But per Dreams from my Father again, Obama last used drugs more than twenty years ago, and his associations with Rev. Wright and William Ayers have been thoroughly documented and do not seem to have had any lasting affects on his political thought.

So I'm telling these stories not because I think my performance in them was all that fabulous -- it wasn't, in case that didn't come through -- but because I've been so firmly in the tank for Obama, it was fascinating to me to meet people who were against him. And depressing, too, that they were against him for such utterly stupid reasons as his race and a pack of irrational lies. If you're voting for McCain because you're anti-abortion or really rich or you agree with his foreign-policy views or somesuch, I respect that; but if you're voting for him because of anti-Obama character canards from proudly biased talk-show hosts? No way. After these encounters, I found myself mentally reviewing everything I knew about Obama to test that I wasn't being irrational. . . . I've read Dreams from my Father (which he wrote himself), studied his platform and speeches, watched both the debates and all the headlines since January; and I couldn't find anything in all that to make doubt that he will be anything other than a reliable, coolheaded and trustworthy chief executive. (Which does still mean "politician," but other than that. . . .)

Over dinner later, I posed the questions to Melissa: Would you rather have a president who has a reprehensible personal life (fill in your own definition of "reprehensible" here) but policies you agree with 100%, and a good chance of getting them passed if elected? Or a president with a model personal life, but policies you agree with only 55%? I voted for reprehensibility and policy agreement, pending the particularities of the reprehensibility. . . . I do not think Obama's had a reprehensible personal life, for the record, but it's an interesting theory question, as it was an interesting day.

(Two new poll questions at right, since it's been a while! One is the question posed above, and one based on a closing number from [title of show].)


  1. You have been doing the lord's work.

  2. I was at a county fair on Saturday. Now, when I say county fair, that does imply certain things--especially when I add that it's a county fair in the Appalachian mountains in the South. I expected lots of McCain support, to be honest, despite the fact that Obama is clearly, in my opinion, the better candidate. But what I did NOT expect was the blatant anti-Obama propoganda. It wasn't just that people were for McCain; they were against Obama. And there's quite a bit of that based on race--something that I, if I am honest with myself, knew would be an issue in this area, but nothing something that I expected people to be so blatant about. I would be ashamed of my own racism and would try to hide behind policy issues, etc., rather than admit I were racist if that played a role in my candidate selection. Instead, people at this fair were wearing stickers that proclaimed proudly not to vote for a black man.

    My perception is skewed: I find Palin an idiot and am shocked--shocked--that she's even a possibility for the VP office. However, others went around quipping "read my lipstick, NObama!"

    My father is one of those who is staunchly in support of McCain. His argument is: People hate Bush so much that they want the complete opposite--that they're willing to vote Obama in just because he's different. My counter-argument is that people like him are willing to vote against Obama just because he's different.

    I am more excited about this election than any election I've ever been able to be a part of. I cannot wait to see the outcome. I just hope that enough of America is able to put aside presuppositions, think about policy instead of race, go beyond one issue, and vote for the right candidate.

  3. It's not like McCain has led a life of principle and honor. He did abandon his wife (who took care of his kids and waited for him while he was a POW) for a younger, wealthier woman.

  4. Thank you so much for traveling to Pa. to do such important work. Here in Colorado, we are fighting our own fight, but we're all in this together.

  5. Cheryl,

    It's always interesting to hear opposing points of view -- maddening, sometimes -- but interesting.
    Thanks for putting your time and energy where your ideals are.
    Now, if you want to do canvassing in the Sunshine State . . . we could use you!


  6. I really have to admire your cool-head in the situations you related. I don't know if I could have been so calm about it. I'm hoping those traits come with time and experience.

    Thanks for going to PA. Hopefully some of the sense you spread around catches on the wind and blows over to Ohio. Though I do have hope for us, judging by the approval lines running below the CNN debate broadcasts.

  7. Great job! We did some canvassing a month or so ago and it is interesting -- a woman took one look at the Obama button and said, "I'm not going there!" She was older, and I do wonder if the racial issues skew toward an older demographic.

    I know one die-hard Republican who is voting McCain for the benefit of his finances, and one who is ticked at his party, but can't bring himself to vote for another. He plans to be on his boat on election day.

  8. I voted for the first poll, but I couldn't for the second. I don't think it's truly possible for a person to have a "model personal life" and be only "55% [in] agreement". I think there's a scripture for this. It goes something like, 'By their fruits you shall know them' - Matthew 7:16, 20

    Thus, if someone really did have a reprehensible family life and only partial policy agreement I would think that either someone's lying or someone's covering something up.

  9. Cheryl, congrats on your work for Obama. At this point in time, my work for him is to dissuade some seriously republican, non-thinking relatives that all those email's they are sending around are lies.

    It really worries me, that so many people only seem to care about the lies. AND, they believe everything they read and see on the internet.

    The latest was titled:"An old German woman's perspective on Obama" You just would not believe it. They are saying Obama claims he called himself the "American Messiah". It equates him to Hitler and the Final Solution. It is sick and downright scary. Even more so because some of my relatives buy into it.

    I sure hope his party is watching these emails and attempting to fight them.

  10. Hey, good for you! I was out on Sunday, too, canvassing in Ohio (where I live), in a solidly Democratic union town, where there were lots of Obama signs in front yards, as well as some pretty scary evidence of extreme poverty.

  11. THANK YOU for going to Pennsylvania. I loved reading your account of the canvassing and appreciate your efforts in such an important state.

  12. What worries me is not being able to find a candidate I agree with 100%.

    Obama for me is light-years better than McCain, but he's still not left enough on issues I care about. As I understand it, he supports Israel over Palestine, a Berlin-like wall between the US and Mexico, and he voted for subsequent Patriot Acts and to prolong the Iraq war. There's _no way_ I'd vote for McCain, but it makes me sad that Obama isn't my ideal 100% candidate.

    But I agree with you, Cheryl -- what's scary is people not voting for him because they're racist and misinformed. That makes me even sadder. (And angry.)

  13. Interesting poll questions, Cheryl. I, too, had trouble voting on the second question.
    I mainly wanted to comment on how it was unfortunate that the McCain supporters you encountered weren't able to state policy decisions they disagreed with in balance with character. That doesn't seem to represent the McCain supporters I interact with on a daily basis. We can easily tell you that we don't want the government to "spread the wealth around" with any more of our money. We don't want our taxes raised. We think EVERYONE deserves a tax cut and the government should spend less. We want the military commanders in Iraq to tell us when the job is done. We want LESS government; government only screws things up when they take over. That's not to say character issues, like some of his more recent associations (Rev. Wright, as you mentioned, and ACORN), should be discounted. Character counts and who you associate yourself with influences who you are. It's easy to hide who you are in what you say and write. Actions are what matter.
    Anyway, sounds like you had an interesting experience. Lot of different types of folks out there.

  14. Cheryl! You are awesome!
    I live in the most Republican county in California. It is so comforting to hear about good things beyond "The Orange Curtain."
    My small part was taking bags of snacks and beverages down to the "Yes We Can" center in Santa Ana. I took a guess that they might be tired of pizza and brought fruit, veggies, string cheese, and other healthy snacks. They were delighted.
    Keep using your superpowers for good!
    Waving from California!

  15. I would have loved to have run into you and tell you my concerns about Obama. Not all Republicans are bigoted, ignorant bafoons, no matter that we're portrayed that way. Yes, I am a Republican. Yes, I am severely disappointed in my party. Ashamed, embarrassed, etc. I should mention that I live near San Francisco and in any other part of the country I would be labeled "liberal."

    I applaud your volunteering for something you believe in. I know that Obama will be our next president. I was rooting for him from the get-go because 1) my party deserves to be out and 2) the idea of Obama is very appealing - he's black, he's white - the symbol of cultural healing! He's young, he's eloquent, we'll be respected in the world again. Yay!

    I have not read Obama's books and I have tuned out of election coverage for the very reason you mention - all the news is about stuff that doesn't matter to me in the least. 20 years ago? C'mon!

    My problem with Obama is this - he hasn't done anything of note in his career. Has he? Did I miss something?

    I just think we are letting our hopes build up this perfect-seeming candidate into something he's not.

    Here's where my skepticism comes in. I was an econ major and tend to be fiscally conservative. In other words, I am a woman without a party. But everything I've heard from Obama tells me that he does not have a firm grasp on basic economic principals. When he debated Clinton, the moderator said that history tells us that when you raise the capital gains tax, tax receipts do NOT go up, they go down. And yet Obama continued to say that his tax proposals would increase the government's tax receipts. No, they won't. He made some silly statements about oil that defied the basic principle of supply and demand. What else does he not understand?

    He promised voters he would re-negotiate NAFTA, while his minions were assuring Canada that we would not. How many of his other promises can we believe?

    The main reason I am frightened though, is that I really believe he wants to redistribute wealth in an unprecedented manner. I'm not in the 5% he says will pay, but I know that you cannot tax the top 5% and not effect everyone. You cannot tax Corporations and expect them to add jobs. When you tax Corporations, they raise prices, they cut jobs. Our economy is teetering on the brink and I don't think his policies will help. Tell me I'm wrong, I'll sleep better.

    And don't bother saying that McCain will be worse, because it doesn't matter. McCain is not going to be our next president.

    I work hard for my money and I prefer to make my own charity choices. I support five children in underdeveloped countries through Compassion. I like the freedom to help when emergencies come up in the world -from Tsunamis to Hurricanes to local needs. I don't want the government taking my money and deciding who needs it most. That is why I am not a Democrat.

    If I had one wish it would be that we could eliminate the hatred in political debate and simply say, "I don't agree with you, but I respect your opinion."

    I shall remain anonymous, because I am a Republican and I'm afraid of the hate.

  16. Thank you to you and Melissa for doing that! I heard abut some opportunities, but haven't been able to make it to Pennsylvania. I'm so happy you were able to go. OBAMA!!!

  17. When I was door knocking for Kerry someone said as they were slamming the door, "Kerry kills babies!" It's a pity he couldn't hear my reply, "Well, not personally."

    Good for you. Getting out there isn't easy.