Friday, October 31, 2008

Nothin' Against the Man

I spent the end of the afternoon calling voters in battleground states: Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia. A disconcertingly large percentage of the numbers were out of service - either connecting to that future-robot woman's "I'm sorry, the number you are calling..." message or ringing for a while then abruptly shifting to shrieking electronic noise. Where did they get these fucking numbers? Are these the numbers from 2004?

Still others went to voice mail. Two giggling roommates reciting each word of their message in alternation before saying "Bye!" in giddy unison. An elderly woman in Ohio reciting hers in a singsongy near rap: "When-you-hear-the-beep, you-know-what-to-do..."

And a few answered. I dialed the number of a 29-year-old male in Ohio and a woman picked up, and cooly asked me who was calling. I explained that I was a volunteer for the Barack Obama Campaign for Change, and that I just wanted to talk about the election for a couple minutes, blah blah blah.

"He's deceased," she said.

"Oh? I'm very, very sorry to hear that. I..."

"He already voted, though. For Obama."


"Yup. But now he's deceased."

"Really? OK. I... I'm sorry for your loss."

"Thank you."



Overwhelmingly, the people I spoke to were planning on voting, or already had voted, for Obama. Every person I spoke to in Ohio, in fact, had voted early for Obama. Dayton, mostly. Some were cheerful telling me this, some were terse and annoyed. But it was Obama, Obama, Obama. Finally, in West Virginia, I heard something different. An older-sounding woman picked up and I asked her for the male name on my list. Who is this? I gave her my spiel from the script.

"He's not here, and you wouldn't want to talk to him, believe me."

"We're happy to talk to anyone."


"OK. Do you know who he supports in the el..."

"Lemme tell you, it's not gonna be that one."

I fucked up a bit with a Pennsylvania McCain supporter. She let me get through most of my spiel: Pennsylvania's gonna be real important in this election, I'd just like to ask a couple of questions if I can. Finally, I asked her who she was supporting.

"John McCain."

She said this in such an emphatic way that there was really nothing else to say. And in fact, there was nothing else to say in the script either, except "thank you" and "goodbye." But there she was on the other end of the line, awaiting words.

"OK, there you go. Well... Have a really great evening and..."

"Thank you."

"And, uh... good luck."

Just before I hung up I heard her on the other end of the line, in a tone of aghast outrage:

"Good luck?!?"

My most remarkable call was with a man in West Virginia, maybe 50 or so. He spoke in a mountain drawl and was a bit animated from the start, which made me afraid things might go bad. But it actually went something like this:

"Now listen, I ain't got nothin' against that man. Obama. Ain't got nothin' against him, ya hear?"

"Yup, that's great."

"I think I'm leaning a little bit to McCain."

I'd been wary, but I was surprised and encouraged by the words "leaning a little bit." I decided to depart recklessly from the script.

"Why is it that you feel that way?"

"Well, listen. I been hearin' this thing of how Barack Obama's gonna spread the wealth. And that is one thing I... That is one thing I cannot stand for. That is the one thing, I do not like that. Ain't got nothin' against the man."

"You know though, John McCain believes in exactly the same system of taxation that Obama was describing. That's the same system McCain believes in."

"Yeah I know, I know, but it's them words, ya know? Them words, spread the wealth."

"You think it's a poor choice of words."

"Yeah! Exactly. It's a poor choice of words. But it don't got nothin' to do with the man in any way! I been listenin' to him and he's intelligent, I like what he says mostly. Listen. I been a lifelong Democrat. But I voted for Bush in 2000 and in 2004. I voted for Bush in 2000 'cause Gore wanted to take my guns away, and ya see, I'm a hunter..."

"You know that Barack Obama specifically does not want to take guns away from hunters..."

"Yeah, I know that. I know that. Now, I did not vote for Kerry 'cause I hated Kerry. Hated the man. But then Bush wasn't so good neither."


"Listen, some of my friends, they called me racist. I ain't no racist. But some of my friends, they called me racist 'cause in the primary, they asked me who I was votin' for, I said Hillary. Now, they accuse me of racism. I tell them, if I'd a voted for him they woulda accused me of sexism."

"That's a very, very good point."

"It don't matter to me what color you are or what gender you are."

"That's great, it's really great to hear that."

"It's just that if he means to take my money that I make and spread it around, I can't take that."

"You know that with Obama as president, you'd get a tax cut if you make less than $200,000 a year, right? And John McCain would be giving his tax cut to rich people. Obama's going to help working people keep more of their money."

"Yeah, I heard about that."

"And health care - he's going to save every family $2,500 on health care by fighting the insurance companies."

"Yeah, that's good."

"If you look at the issues, you can see how much more he can help people. See, the thing about a choice of words is that it's been a long campaign, and lots of things have been said, so sometimes someone uses a poor choice of words. Happens to everybody. But you gotta look past the words sometimes to see what the actual policies are all about. See who cares about the issues that are most important to you and to your loved ones."

"I know whatcha mean. I got nothin' against the man, nothin' against the man. I ain't decided about the whole thing, that's the truth."

"Is there anything else about Obama that you have questions about?"

"This one other thing, ya know, this thing I been hearin' that if Obama is elected it'll be him an' Pelosi an' whatshisname, uh, Henry, uh..."

"Harry Reid."

"Yeah, all of them together, that it ain't good for the country because they get to spread the money around anyway they like. But I dunno..."

"Yeah, I don't think it's like that. I think John McCain kind of feels like he's up against the ropes right now, and every day he tries saying something different, and that's because he doesn't have anything good to say to people about policies and what he would actually do."

"Yeah, I suppose it's like that, yeah. I dunno. I'm thinkin' 'bout it. I dunno what I'm gonna do."

"This has been a really great conversation, and it sounds like you're still thinking about things, and that's great."

"Oh yeah! I'll be thinkin' 'bout it, that's for sure. I won't know what I'm gonna do until I'm right up there in that booth."

"You've got a few days to think about everything, and, you know, obviously, on Tuesday, I hope you make the decision for Obama."

"You know what, I think I'm leaning in that direction."