Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Oh, politics

You know grassroots campaigning is in your bones when you begin to see life in chunks of doors, not days. Last night, those doors were an endless year of no’s. I coaxed myself from house to house singing, "Every door's a new door..." It was a beautiful, cold, fall night atop one of Seattle’s hills. I could see the black lake below, the cityscape ahead, and the cotton-like whisps of grey clouds, edged in pink, above. But I didn't care. Democrats weren't giving me any money, and I was furious.

With 41 days left until the election, I'm feeling the urgency all Democrats should. You can hear it in the vigorous, persistent way I pound my knuckles against the doors. I can feel it in my temperament. This is not just a job anymore. I'm fighting a war for the White House. As the circus of this election season plays out, and the candidates’ positions and pasts become clearer, I'm getting more passionate. If you've been reading the paper, you understand. Embroiled in the fight, it's becoming harder and harder to let signs of voter apathy roll off my back.

Last night was particularly tough. Oh, the battle for five precious minutes of weekday thoughtfulness time. First there's getting through the initial introduction, which is a challenge all its own. Then there's the jarring beginning, when they see my unfamiliar face at the door. When one woman opened the door the other night, the first words out of her bewildered mouth were: "I don't even know who you are."

I responded, "Yes, ma'am, that's because we've never met. I'm going door to door tonight, and no one out here knows who I am." She lightened up a bit after that, laughing. It's funny how responding with a harsh tone can snap people out of their grumpiness and into a lighter mood.

But quite a few people are determined to keep the tone hostile. These people treat our interaction the same way you would treat a necessary but loathsome interaction with mildewed socks--deal with them delicately enough to throw them away without allowing them to get too close to you.

Some see me through the window and shake their finger at me, narrowing their eyes like I am up to no good, and they're on to me. Others open the door and say you know, we're just so busy right now. It's Monday night, you know? A school night. Their eyebrows are raised in high, concerned arches, like the very situation of being entrenched in the throws of Monday is excuse enough to stop me from finishing my first three sentences. Woah, Monday, I think. Your kids must have homework to do. Maybe they're worried they won't pass the unfair tests imposed by the No Child Left Behind Act, which Obama would significantly reform while McCain would give it few token tweaks. Yeah, I can see why you don't have time. Or maybe you are stressed because the economy is unstable, and you need to prepare for a busy week of struggling to save your business. I get it now. You're too stressed out by the broken system to be bothered to participate in the solution. That makes total sense.

But getting angry at these people isn't too effective, so lately I've given some thought to how I might play up the fact that I am a human person. I could arrive on a horse, showing how down-home and in touch with animals I am. Or I could wear pigtails and carry a sign that says "Car Wash" or "Lemonade." That seemed to work for me in previous entrepreneurial endeavors...but I'm not eight years old anymore. Ooh, I know, I could come with a Bible. Then they would know that I am a good person, not some political junkie tied up in all this corruption. I could start off talking about God and the end times, and how I am concerned for their soul. But awe, damnit, I think some other group already has that covered.

I guess I'll just stick to my guns about things and stop trying to change for everyone. I'll keep driving home my boring message about the stressful issues that make people think, gasp, when they are not at work. I'll keep talking about healthcare and education, and putting an end to the secretive Republican politics and the Iraq war. These talking points are not making me too popular, but they're all I've got.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Listening to the Opponent

WARNING: This is a ranting blog. Amidst the appalling things going on in politics right now, I think cyberspace needs all the rants it can get.

After the Democrats' inspiring words last week, I'm taking this week to hear out the other side. It's not easy. I tend to leave the Youtube videos of the convention in an anxious, angry state. Take Sarah Palin's talk last night, for instance, which she used to attack attack attack, rather than address the multitude of problems in health care, education, and energy that the Republicans have been ignoring for the past eight years.

There is so much illogical rhetoric swimming around right now. First off, using the word "integrity" is not proof that someone actually has integrity. Wouldn't someone with integrity address the responsibilities that political leaders are called to address? Issues like our need to develop alternative fuel sources, balance the budget, end the war in Iraq, and improve education? I'm going to have to go with yes on that one.

At this point, my desires have shifted. I don't just want a political conversation. These days, all I want is to convince Republicans that they're wrong. We are at war right now, and the enemies lurk behind a scary amount of doors.

It's pretty easy to tell when I am on enemy territory. First, there are the visual cues, which I won't go into for fear of perpetuating possibly unfounded stereotypes. Then there are the face to face cues. Once they open the door and I begin talking, the dead giveaway is the smug or laughing smile that spreads across their faces.

"Wrong house," they'll say, and I'll say "Ah," and turn and leave.

"We're Republicans," they'll announce, and I'll say "Oh really?" like it's a sickness. I can't help it.

Some aren't so nice. I had one lady yesterday throw her arms up and look at me with a threatening face as her dogs jumped up behind her in a frenzy. "Not right now," she said. Then, eyes wide and threatening, "NOT right now." I stood there wondering how to remind her I was simply a human person concerned about the state of our country. That's when she slammed the door in my face. I yelled "Wow," through the door. As I headed down the steps, she opened the door and called after me...something like "I hate you." Well, it wasn't that, but I think that's what she meant.

But what killed me was a later conversation I had with a Republican who prided himself on the amount of thought he'd given to his support of McCain, and seemed to see all my ideas as the misguided wanderings of a young mind. He said Barack Obama does not have the experience needed (at which point I always have to wonder why people don't put more weight in his experience working as a community organizer, professor of constitutional law, and Illinois state senator all at the same time, not to mention his immediate success in the U.S. Senate, where he drafted important legislation to curb energy dependence). But the man was not impressed when I mentioned these things.

"The president needs to have more experience in the U.S. Senate than Obama has. He just doesn't have enough. You know, I've watched McCain for a long time, I've seen him do great things, things that showed his integrity, like the Boeing issue he uncovered. That was not a politically popular move, but he did it because he knew it was right," the man said.

He had an air of security about him when he spoke. He hadn't just bought into this idea of McCain as a man with integrity, he'd read about it. But had he thought about what he'd read? I would like to tell him he hadn't. But I missed my chance.

It was an unfortunate conversation for both of us. Unfortunately for him, he was wrong on McCain on this point. Unfortunately for me, I was in Mexico when the Boeing thing hit newsstands, so I couldn't shoot down his argument. But I can now.

McCain's Boeing story is lauded originally as his fight against corruption between business and politics, but as it turns out, it wasn't really. According to Newsweek's June 30 issue, McCain blocked a deal between Boeing and the United States Air Force where Boeing was going to supply the Air Force with a fleet of midair refueling tankers. McCain said that it was a tax payer rip-off, and also uncovered that some of Boeing's top officials had "cozy relations" between Air Force officials and Boeing Executives. This part seems noble on the surface, but in the end, the deal wound up going through anyway, just with a different company called the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co. (EADS). And it was discovered that some of McCain's top advisors and fundraisers were registered lobbyists for EADS. In other words, the very thing that he was criticizing Boeing for--cozy relations--he had with EADS. And now it looks like EADS is getting the bid.

Unfortunately, I did not know all this at the man's door. But in the end, his loyalty to the idea of conservatism would have trumped all arguments. He put a close to the conversation by giving me painful insight into how shallow his thinking was, when it came down to it.

"Change is going to happen no matter what," he said. "I'd just rather see it come from the right than from the left, so that it's not so radical."

Instead of screaming THAT IS NOT A REASON TO ELECT SOMEONE LEADER OF THE FREE WORLD, I raised my eyebrows in concern and said "But there's so much that needs to change. Don't we want someone who's talking about how? Someone who has plans to create 'green-collar' jobs to curb our energy dependence and to address the abismal state of No Child Left Behind?"

Somehow, all these points were easy for him too dismiss. Was it too many words? Or too many specific issues? Too many ideas for a guy who's used to listening to Republican speeches about nothing?

"We need someone who can reach across the aisle. McCain's been around. He has the connection he'll need to get things done," the man said with a wiser-than-you smile that made me throw up a little in my mouth. I swallowed.

"Oooooh," I said, shaking my head in dismay. At a loss for an appropriate retort, I simply recognized our political divide. "That's a very conservative view," I said and left.

Integrity integrity experience experience. They're just words, but they don't mean much without factual backing. Consider who has more integrity, Barack or McCain. Barack has issued no untrue attack ads on McCain, yet McCain recenlty ran an attack ad which made untrue claims about Obama's tax plan. But when it comes to attacks on McCain, Obama keeps his not only true but classy. When asked what he thought about Palin's pregnant daughter, he said people's families should not be a part of politics, and even added, in a true effort to snuff out the story's fire, that his mom had him when she was 18.

Worn from battle, all the crazy logic flying around has me disoriented. I will not venture at any conclusions today, only questions. How are we to talk about these issues across party lines anymore? Is there any way to get beyond the rhetoric to what's behind it?