Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Scott McConnell's Essay

You probably won't be reading this until after the election, but I thought it was still worthwhile to publish Scott McConnell's (former editor of American Conservative, now fully recovered): excellent essay.   Here it is:

"I spent the weekend canvassing for Obama in the Virginia Beach area. Our task -- for the hundreds of Obama volunteers who descended from DC and New York -- was to make sure as many as possible of Virginia's "sporadic Democratic voters" -- a designation which seemed to mean, pretty much, poor minorities -- get to the polls on Tuesday. Making sure everyone understands where their polling place is, what ID they need, to be reminded that it's important, to make a plan to vote and stick to it, etc. And, of course shooting down the various disinfomational memes that "someone" has been circulating in the area: that "because of the hurricane" you can vote by cell phone by calling this number, or alternatively that you can't vote a straight Democratic tickets -- if you do, your Senate or Congress vote won't count. It is a core axiom among Democratic activists that the essence of the Republican "ground game" is to suppress the Democratic votes, by lies, intimidation, whatever might work.
It was a curiously moving experience. Much of the sentiment comes from simple exposure. I have led most of my life not caring very much whether the poor voted, and indeed have sometimes been aware my interests aligned with them not voting very much at all. But that has changed. And so one knocks on one door after another in tiny houses and apartments in Chesapeake and Newport News, some of them nicely kept up and clearly striving to make the best of modest lot, others as close to Third World as one gets in America. And at moments one feels it as a kind of calling -- and then laughs at the Alinskian presumption of it all. Yes, we are all connected.
At times when I might have been afraid -- knocking on a door of what might of well have been, judging from the pitbulls and the young men who answered, a sort of crack house -- I felt no fear. Protected by age and my Obama campaign informational doorhangers.
And occasionally, one strikes canvassing gold. In one decrepit garden apartment complex, where families lived indwellings the size of maybe two large cars, a young man (registered) came around behind me while I was talking to his mother. "Yeah" he said, "Romney wins, I'm moving back to the islands. He's gonna start a war, to get the economy going." Really. He stopped to show me a video on his smart phone, of one of his best friends, a white guy in the Marines. I couldn't make out what the video was saying, but I took it as a Monthly Review moment. In a good way.
And Tomiko. Plump, pretty, dressed in a New York Jets jersey and sweatpants. "If the campaign can get me a van, I can get dozens of people around here to the polls on Tuesday." Yes, Tomiko, the campaign might be able to do that, and someone will be calling you.
Very small sample size: But of the white female Obama volunteers with whom I had long conversations, one hundred percent had close relatives who had failed marriages with Mormon men. I think Mormonism is the great undiscussed subject of the campaign, and I don't quite know what to make of it myself. But contrary to Kennedy's Catholicism (much agonized over) and Obama's Jeremiah Wright ties (ditto), Mormonism is pretty obviously the central driving factor of Romney's life. This may be a good thing or a bad thing -- but it is rather odd that it is not discussed, at all. I think it safe to say that if Romney wins, the Church of Latter Day Saints will come under very intense scrutiny, and those of us who have thought of the church as simply a Mountain West variation on Protestantism will be very much surprised.
I spent a good deal of time driving and sharing meals with three fellow volunteers, professional women maybe in their early  orties, two black, one white, all gentile, all connected in some way, as staffers or lobbyists, to the Democratic Party. All had held staff positions at the Democratic convention. They had scoped out my biography, knew the rough outlines from neocon, to Buchananite, to whatever I am now. They knew my principal reason for supporting Obama was foreign policy, especially Iran. They  spent many hours interrogating me about my reactionary attitudes on women, race, immigration, all in good comradely fun of course. At supper last night before we drove back to DC,  I asked them (all former convention staffers) what they thought about the contested platform amendment on Jerusalem. Silence. Finally one of them said, with uncharacteristic tentativeness, "Well, I'm not sure I really know enough about that issue." More silence.
Then I told them I thought it was an historic moment, (though I refrained from the Rosa Parks analogy I have deployed before) which portended a sea change in the Democratic Party attitudes on the question. I cited various neocon enforcers who feared the same thing.
And now, with permission to speak freely, they spoke up. It came pouring out. Yes obviously Israel has to give up something.  There has to be a two-state solution. We can't just one-sidedly support Israel, etc. But really striking was their reluctance, perhaps even fear, to voice their own opinions before hearing mine."

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