I'm casting my vote this year both as an American, and as a citizen of the world. I'm swayed by the aspirations of millions of decent human beings who are not Americans, who cannot vote, but who have as much stake in this election as I do.
That's why I'm probably going to vote for Bush. I'm not swayed by the supercilious leftist intellectuals the "Guardian" lined up. I'm swayed by real people of courage who are working and fighting for freedom in Iraq, and across the Middle East, holding Americans to our own high standards, often at risk of their lives.
Such as Humalia Akrawy
What would you do if you were a 22 year old Kurdish Muslim woman in March of 2003, when an army drawn from several countries invaded your homeland?
John Kerry doesn't have a good word to say for her. As I've written before, it would be possible for him to criticize George Bush's decision to go to war, and his handling of the war, and still praise the Iraqis working for democracy and freedom in their own country, as well as the Americans risking their lives to give it to them.
If you were Humalia Akrawy you would remember your brother, killed under Saddam -- and remember how they sent back just one leg and part of an arm to demonstrate his death and their power to your family. You would look at your father, who no longer has full use of his hands after being tortured by Saddam.
And then, despite the disapproval of many but with the blessing and support of your family, on 23 March you would volunteer to become a translator for the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army.
But what would you do when Ba'athists and jihadists ambushed your car, injuring your brother and trying to kill you, and when they later killed your 24 year old sister thinking she was you -- pumping 60 AK47 bullets into her body? Or when you received a letter saying, "We know we missed killing you, but we will be back" and then your home was blown up, injuring another brother and killing the Iraqi policeman guarding it?
If you were the remarkable Ms. Akrawy you would help your remaining family members move to a safe area in the far north of the country and then return to your job. And this time, instead of insisting on a lower profile role, you would eagerly agree to become the translator for Lieutenant General Petraeus himself, the commander of the 101st - despite all the media exposure that entailed - and you would proudly do that job in the face of continued death threats against you.
I had the humbling experience of meeting this courageous, intelligent and outspoken 23 year old woman today. Here are some of my notes, capturing her own words as much as I was able to do so, and posted here with her enthusiastic permission.
He hasn't done so. He's failed them, all of them. Instead, Michael Moore, with his vision of Saddam's Iraq as a children's paradise, sits at Kerry's convention in the place of honor beside the elder statesman of the party.
Not one word for the Iraqis. Not one. Their emerging secular, democratic leadership is dismissed as "puppets." He mocks the notion of building fire stations in Baghdad. Freedom there is "wrong."
The American right, embodied in the Republican Party, has its dangerous tendencies. When it goes off the rails, we know well what that looks like, and we who participate in politics on that side, are alert for its signs. We are constantly checking for the "compassion" in the "conservatives."
It seems to me the American left is in danger of going to its own extreme, which would be a depressing mix of the "spit on a veteran" spirit of Vietnam and the really brutish mutation of the British left:
The British anti-war movement is falling apart, but for a reason that the most cynical observer of the left in the 20th century could never have imagined. The left, or at least that section of it which always manages to get the whip hand, has swerved to the right - to the far right, in fact - and is actively supporting theocrats and fascists: the oppressors of racial minorities, secularists, women, gays and trade unionists.
When you go into your voting booth, don't think of George Bush's smirk or John Edwards' hair. Think of Humalia Akrawy, and people like her. They have a lot more at stake in this election than the British chattering class, or the French kleptocracy.
Naturally, no criticisms of Saddam Hussein and no alliances with his victims could be permitted. George Galloway, who had saluted the tyrant's "courage, strength and indefatigability", became the movement's leader. Since then, we have had gay rights campaigners being surrounded by howling Trots and radical vicars when they tried to speak up for persecuted Palestinian homosexuals, and the former left-winger Ken Livingstone embracing a far-right Islamic cleric who has supported wife- beating, queer-bashing and the murder of Jewish civilians.
I'm voting for Anyone But "Anyone But Bush."
At this moment in history, it's absurd to vote for a man who's more angry about my $300 tax refund than about 3,000 dead Americans from terrorism. For a man who doesn't have a single good word to say for millions of Iraqis looking to America to guide them out of political squalor, and for hundreds of thousands of Americans who are risking their lives to do it, because they believe in the cause.
So, it'll be Anyone But "Anyone But Bush."
That only gives me one choice? Not my first choice? Fine. I'll take it.
I biked down to the local technology school (Thaddeus Stevens) to vote. Got there about 3:30 and walked right in, no lines. They looked like they'd been busy earlier. I like my polling place. It's festive, rollicking: they give a cheer whenever a first-time voter walks in.
My girlfriend was one of the few undecided voters I knew. Not that she's uninformed, but she found both candidates so distasteful in their own ways that it was a tough call for her. She went into the booth expecting to pull the lever for Bush, but just couldn't do it, so she voted for Kerry. "I agree that Iraq is hugely important, but in the end, I was even more swayed by weight of a million other issues I felt so strongly about that I knew weren't Bush or republican values."
My ward is heavily minority, and the neighborhood is full of rental properties. I'm one of the few single-family homeowners on my block. Consequently, the MoveOn, Democratic Party, and other heelers were out in force, knocking on my door every hour and a half, all day. That wouldn't be such a problem, but I work second shift and sleep during the day. So after about the fifth interruption. I was tempted to hang a note on the door saying, "Yes, I know what day it is. No, I don't need a ride to the polling place. I'm sleeping. Go the fuck away." But I got up instead.
Interestingly, many of them came to the door with lists of registered voters in hand. I've been in my house for 14 years, and the person before me was there for 20 years, yet there's several people with names like "Rosario" I've never met who list my house as their voting address. I can just imagine how many votes they cast for the straight Democratic ticket.
Out on the main intersection downtown there's a scruffy slacker guy with a splotchy growth of beard and tribal earrings holding up a Kerry-Edwards sign to passing traffic. On the other corner a white-haired guy with a Bush-Cheney sign is passing out Bible tracts. I think they ought to switch signs, just to make things interesting.
If I ever get fired from here, I think I'll open up a service that hires out protesters/rally attendees who defy stereotypes. A local anti-war rally with people in neat haircuts and business suits would really be a nice break from the usual crowd of patchouli-reeking neo-hippies and Birkenstocked little old lady Quaker librarians. And I bet it would get a lot more attention.
Nov. 03, 2004
Regions of Mind is pondering the great red-blue chasm that runs through the ventricles of the nation, and the attempts to suture it. He points the way to a Slate reader-response section and "AnnaS," a " 'lefty' living in a red state," whom Slate holds up as a Kerry voter who, post-Nov. 2, wants to make peace and heal the wounds.
Demonizing the other side is fun, but it's rarely accurate -- whether you're talking about Iraqi insurgents or evangelical Republicans. And it's hard for even those ignorant masses to miss the irony of throwing rocks at people in the name of reason and liberalism.
Wait a minute. How many evangelical Republicans saw the heads off people who disagree with them, then dangle them like trophies, then make a video of the whole bloody mess as a recruiting tool? I'm supposed to think this woman is mature because she now sees that evangelical Republicans aren't evil, just misunderstood -- why they're no worse than our old friend Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
If there's an advantage to living in a state that was called for Bush before 8pm Tuesday night, it's that we see the other side up close. They're our coworkers, our neighbors, members of our family. We can't paint them with broad strokes, can't point to them and call them stupid or willfully ignorant or cheaters. By and large, they're good people -- in some cases, spectacularly good people -- and we hold more values in common than not.
The biggest difference? They're scared, and they've been victimized by a political party that ruthlessly preys on those fears. And this sort of mean-spirited "us-and-them" name calling only makes it worse.
The people who didn't vote her way are not, she concludes after careful observation, "stupid" (though "ignorant masses" apparently still is on the table). That is, we're not totally stupid. Just stupid enough to be scared of what she is mature enough not to be frightened by (Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, perhaps). And stupid enough to be victimized -- yes, we're victims! -- by a ruthless political party.
It would be easier to take such people seriously if they didn't behave like the worst cliches their enemies saddle on them. To get past thinking of us as enemies, AnnaS takes the only path available in her mindset: you disarm yourself of hatred for an enemy but visualizing him as a victim. Turn us into another pack of people who just are crying out for help, and sympathy and tolerance begin to flow. In the right light, I might even look like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Will that help?
Hell, I'm a college-educated, pagan, pot-smoking, ghetto-dwelling, licentious poet and journalist and I'm far less offended at being called a conservative redneck a**hole than I am being called a "victim."
Slate follows this response with another (from TarheelJag), coming from the other direction. This was meant to show the political flip-side of AnnaS, seeking the same healing and wanting to "turn down the volume:"
From Jane Smiley to Surfergirl, there is a strong message, sometimes explicit, other times implicit, that anyone who voted for Bush is an ignorant idiot. Far from the rationale and thoughtful discourse that I normally expect from Slate, these demeaning articles only serve to heighten the divide between liberal and conservative.
These posts hardly are bookends. AnnaS says, "you're not so stupid after all; you're just semi-stupid victims." TJ says, "You lost us because you can't stop insulting us." They don't meet in the middle, as Slate seems to hope, but both posts seem to me to prove one point.
How can you criticize Bush for polarizing America when you so pointedly put down the opposition in a manner that isn't going to win you any friends, much less sway an "undecided" to think that you are right.
I'll stop short of a Rodney King-esque "Can't we all just get along," but I will close with this -- if you want someone to listen to you, calling them ignorant is a poor place to start.
Shall we set a precondition for red-blue dialogue that the blue side drop the snarky presumption that disagreement is only explained by ignorance? Visualize us as just as smart and concerned as you are. What do you want in return?
By which I mean, stop saying things like this:
"Fifty-one percent of the American people lacked information (in this election) and we want to educate and enlighten them," [Michael] Moore was quoted in Thursday's edition of Variety. "They weren't told the truth. We're communicators and it's up to us to start doing it now."
Nov. 10, 2004
INDEX - AUTHOR