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Fear and Voting

My daughter may be the biggest Tina Fey fan that there is. If she were running for—well, anything—Madeleine would be campaigning for her. And this started long before Tina Fey’s new career in politics. Her imPalinization of the governor of Alaska was just one more reason for Madeleine to like her. Can she rock the vote? Could be.

We’ve spent a lot of time at my house talking about Sarah Palin and practicing our winks. So far I’m the best at it, but that’s because I’ve had so much experience—winkin’ from the pulpit durin’ my sermons. I don’t know, I always felt it made my parishioners feel that I was intelligent, reliable. And darned cute.

The other day, in a spirit as charitable as I can be about our possible future president and vice president, I told Madeleine that one good thing you can say about Sarah Palin is that she’s got really nice clothes. And great legs. (I’m a bipartisan leg girl, what can I say?)

Madeleine became genuinely annoyed with me, claiming the superficiality of my comment was indicative of how many people decide to support this candidate or that one.

I felt a little chastened. She knows I didn’t decide to support Obama because he likes Stevie Wonder. Nevertheless, she had a point.

I remembered reading in The Wall Street Journal about a voter in Missouri explaining why she, a former Clinton supporter, had now gone Republican. It was because of Palin.

“She’s like the people I know. Her husband snowmobiles. We drive tractors and fly airplanes.”

The McCain-Palin strategy panders to people who think like this. Rather than encouraging voters to engage with the issues, this campaign goes for voters’ emotions.

Palin’s mean-spirited quip about Obama “pallin’ around with terrorists,” the implied racism of McCain’s “that one,” the YouTube video “the One” with its anti-messianic overtones—none of these engage issues. Instead they’re viral smears intended to elicit reactions. They’re aimed at raising the blood pressure of the kinds of people who are already thinking that a black man with an Islamic middle name who practices the wrong kind of Christianity (if he’s really Christian at all) and actually lived in Indonesia which has the greatest percentage of Muslins in the world, is not white enough nor Christian enough to lead us.

So it’s no wonder that at McCain-Palin rallies supporters hurl insults about Obama, calling him a terrorist and a commie and a traitor, saying that Obama scares them. True, those insults gave McCain the chance to show he was a nice guy who would brook no character assassination of his opponent. But he and his running mate are the ones chiefly responsible for whipping up the anti-Obama fervor in the first place.

All the campaign rhetoric (and the debates) has led me to believe our country is bifurcated into those who are reasonable and those who are reactionary. That sounds simplistic and elitist, but it sure seems like there is a large percentage of the population who prefer jingoism and judgmentalism to a thoughtful assessment of the character and ideas of the candidates.

The question is, what is that percentage?

It’s hard to say, but I think the election will turn on it. If emotionalism rules at the booths, then we’ll have a McCain-Palin administration. If reason rules, the election will go the other way.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if more voters took the time to weigh the issues? When I heard Colin Powell’s remarks on Meet the Press, I thought this is what it means to be “fair and balanced.”

Obama, he said, “displayed a steadiness, an intellectual curiosity, a depth of knowledge and an approach to looking at problems . . . not just jumping in and changing every day, but showing intellectual vigor. I think that he has a, a definitive way of doing business that would serve us well.”

For Powell, McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin “raised some question in my mind as to the judgment that Sen. McCain made.” And as for the Bill Ayers business, he called it “despicable” and “demagoguery.”

“The party has moved even further to the right,” he observed, “and Gov. Palin has indicated a further rightward shift. I would have difficulty with two more conservative appointments to the Supreme Court, but that’s what we’d be looking at in a McCain administration.

“I’m also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, “Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.” Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he’s a Christian. He’s always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no. . . . ”

If only more people had heard Colin Powell’s remarks and fewer Michael Savage’s rant about Barack Hussein Obama being, as he put it, a “moose-lem.”

Anyway, under two weeks till the election and this is where we are. The questions remain: Will the majority of voters let reason guide them in the booth? Or will we have a president elected by the emotionality of prejudice and fear?

—Jo Page

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