I was walking through Harvard Square on Saturday and was approached by a young man with a clipboard. I’ll call him Zack. He asked if I had a minute for the DNC (Democratic National Committee). Zack was dressed nicer than the usual youngsters in Harvard Square with clipboards, so I said yes. Zack’s pitch was that he wanted $50 or $100 for the DNC to run ads to fight what he said is sure to be one of the nastiest elections in American history.
I asked Zack if he knew about the elections in 2004, 2000, 1992, and 1988, and how he thought this one would be worse. Zack said he had studied those elections in his PoliSci classes at the University of Michigan, and his professor had taught them all about Willie Horton and Swift Boating. But, Zack said, this year would be worse and hadn’t I already seen that in what they just did to General Wesley Clark?
Zack, I asked, isn’t Wesley Clark the guy who just shot off his mouth running down John McCain’s war record? Yes, he said and didn’t I think that Wesley Clark was great to say that? I told him they needed to be very careful with that line. A lot of Democrats have served in the military or have family who have served in the military and they are not going to take kindly to having military service discounted disparaged as a presidential qualification, even if their candidate has other good qualifications to consider.
So Zack came back at me, asking what I thought about the smear being circulated that Barack is a Muslim. Now Zack, I responded, I have not heard the McCain campaign say that. And where is the smear in being a Muslim? Aren’t you smearing Muslims every time you say that is a smear? Well, Zack looked like me might try to make a run for it, but stood his ground and admitted that wasn’t itself a smear. But, he said, the country isn’t ready to vote for a Muslim. I admit I got a little confused at this point as to whether he was trying to tell me that Barack is actually of Muslim heritage but it is a smear to say so.
I could see that I was losing Zack, so I mentioned that I had gone to Michigan Law School and we talked a bit about Ann Arbor and what a great school the University of Michigan is. Then Zack remembered that another nasty thing the Republicans are doing is calling Barack elitist and arrogant. Well he is, I wanted to say, to people who aren’t privileged with Michigan degrees like you and me.
Instead, I asked Zack what he thought about the Barack campaign deciding not to take public financing. Well, Zack said, that was a decision. The Obama campaign is creating our own public finance, he continued, by asking people to give $50 or $100 and that gives them ownership shares in Obama. What, I wanted to ask, are you saying white guys like you and me can own a little piece of Barack Obama? Yes we can, I imagined Zack would answer. But I didn’t quite have the nerve to ask him that.
Well, anyone who turns down $84 million obviously doesn’t need my money, so I won’t be writing a check to the Obama campaign. And I’m not about to give the DNC money so they can run ads against John McCain’s military service. But I did encourage Zack to get out there and register new voters, like my brother is doing in Washington State.
When I got home from Harvard Square, the phone rang. It was a woman, I’ll call her Mary, from the RNC (Republican National Committee). Mary wanted $300 to help get candidates elected at the state, congressional, and presidential level.
Now, I must admit I don’t think too highly of the RNC. They have been writing me for several years asking me why I have abandoned them. And I haven’t ever given the RNC anything. And they hardly ever run candidates here in my district. When they do the guy quite often turns out to have an arrest record or something equally disgraceful. And when a Republican like Bill Weld or Mitt Romney with some experience does come out of Massachusetts, the national Republicans usually shoot him down. So I have abandonment issues.
I tell Mary that for me the Republican Party is just the Presidential election. Mary has a fine southern accent, but she allows how she knows a few people from Massachusetts and understands. And then Mary talks about how Barack Obama frightens her. And how she’s scared he will team up with Hillary at the convention in August. I don’t have the heart to tell Mary that I am not frightened by either. Mary says their negatives together may hold them back, but it could go the other way too. I agree.
So, Mary goes on about how Barack is inexperienced and only in his 40s. I point out that I am in my 40s. Well, Mary says, anyone who is 35 or older can run for President. I think about whether that is an invitation for me to run, but decide to let that pass. Mary tells me that for Presidents we usually think about someone in their 50s or 60s. I tell her I agree, but point out that we don’t have anyone in that age range this time, as Obama is in his 40s and McCain is in his 70s.
Mary then turned to the war. Mary says she hates how many billions of dollars we are pouring into Iraq. Mary says she doesn’t understand what is going on over there, the mindset of setting of car bombs and things. I tell her that I understand - they are going to keep doing that as long as we have soldiers patrolling the streets, and we need to turn things over to the Iraqi government so we can leave.
They messed with us and we had to do something, Mary says. She believes that George Bush did the right thing, and that she thinks John McCain can get this finished. I tell Mary that I had hoped George would bring this to completion after he reelected in 2004. No, Mary says, after what they did to George Bush on 9/11 they weren’t going to give him world peace, but they’ll be afraid of what John McCain will do even though they all hate us over there. I tell her I haven’t known any Iraqis but I have known Iranians, Jordanians, and Saudis and they were good people. She agrees they aren't all bad.
When she presses I say I’m not ready to give to the RNC. So she asks if she should put me down as a fence sitter.
So what am I to do, now that I am an officially declared fence sitter? I am not going to drink the kool-aid. I am willing to be seduced. But Zack just doesn’t do it for me, and a log distance relationship with Mary probably won't work.