Vox Pop: My father, the believer
“We’re going to exercise our constitutional right!” my father cheerfully extolled as I loaded up the car with a morning’s worth of baby paraphernalia. This exclamation comes directly after my 11 year old stepson quizzed him on why we were “going boating”. Whoops.
Despite being the chilly 37°F air, constant slushy drizzle, and pending Mormon apocalypse, the mood was chipper. The baby was loaded into the car, complete with ridiculous winter baby hat. I was armed with a pen and paper. We were off to vote.
As we drove, I briefed my Dad on the NSFWCORP election coverage. He chuckled when I told him about Ames’ travel plans. “I know what that drive is like" referring to the trek from Utah to Las Vegas. "You’ve done it too, of course, but you were one years old.” He described the drive as “Um... flat. Desolate.” As he’s telling me this, I can’t get the image out of my head set forth this morning by Josh Ellis of Mark Ames flying through the desert, coyotes bursting into flame, Tom Waits “Goin’ Out West” blasting from the NSFWCORPMOBILE. Apparently, when my parents and I arrived in Vegas at night, the lights of the city blew my little infant mind. Who needs drugs when you’re young?
Overnight, the highway had become a frenetic strip of Republican yard signs. “They seem to be a very excitable election bloc” my Dad muttered, motioning at the political refuse blowing in the chilly wind. “Republicans seem to think that everyone believes what they believe, which leads them to just say whatever pops in their head.” I chuckle in agreement, flashing back to the unholy tirade of racism and liberal-bashing I experienced at the Romney Victory Rally.
Since we were headed to the polls, I opted to ask him the obvious question: How does he feel about voting?
“I’m going to exercise my constitutional right” he announces again, obviously pleased that we are headed to cast his ballot. “And I think everybody should. You know, when you think back on the women’s suffrage movement, that wasn’t very long ago. And now look at us. Voting is a right we’ve got, it’s a duty. I’m very angry about voter suppression. When people try to impress their will or inhibit the rights of others to vote, well, it pisses me off.”
Later in the morning, when I mention the redistricting fuck up that led to many of the votes cast at the uber-liberal Warren Wilson College being thrown out because voters got the wrong ballots, his anger resurfaces. “I hope that this voter suppression stuff gets exposed. We send people all over the world to enforce democratic elections and we can’t even police our own?” He also notes that messing with notoriously politically active Warren Wilson was a stupid move. “Those folks are just looking for a fight” he grins.
All in all, it seems my Dad is very excited about voting. I am very much his daughter. (In fact, the only reason I’m not voting with him this morning is because I early voted over a week ago.)
As we approach his polling location, the wintery mix turns to snow. The quaint, Lutheran church, complete with steeple, in which he will cast his ballot appears to be suspended in a truck stop snow globe. This just might be the most magical voting experience I’ve ever been a part of.
Inside the polling location, it was warm and dry and smelled only faintly of nursing home. Being that I had a four month old with a big drooly, toothless smile strapped to my chest, all of the volunteers immediately flocked to where I stood. Turns out, if you want to get strangers to talk to you without having to speak first, all you need is a baby. (See Tactical Baby-Wearing 101) There was exactly one person in line ahead of my Dad. The voter turnout was a dismal trickle, with approximately one person coming in every few minutes or so. The sweet old lady I spoke to that was handing out practice ballots and reminding everyone that the president is not included on a straight ticket vote said she’d heard this location had received around 800 early voters. Not bad for rural North Carolina, I suppose. I really have nothing to compare those numbers too, as I know nothing about my Dad’s polling district. But she seemed optimistic that people would brave the snow to vote and she let me sit in her chair away from the drafty door, both of which made her irrefutably likable.
My Dad voted, collected his sticker, and broadly smiled. “Well, that felt good. Want some brunch?” Of course I wanted brunch.
Between mouthfuls of local diner fare, we talked politics. It’s a familiar conversation topic between my father and I. In fact, we’d gone to the polls together in the first election for which I was eligible to vote. Politics, in so many households, is a forbidden dinner topic. But for my Dad and I, it’s well-worn, comfortable territory.
How did he think North Carolina would vote? “Ehhh... pretty iffy. Metro areas will definitely go Obama, but there’s a lot of anti-Obama sentiment in the rural areas,” This is shaping up to be the same non-answer I tried to give Paul in my pre-election coverage interview. I press him for his gut instinct. “As much as it pains me to say it, I think it’s going to go Romney. But I would be pleasantly not-too-surprised if it went Obama, like it did in 2008. However, if that happens and we go blue? There will be much gnashing of teeth” I nod. My gut agrees.
I broach the topic of the popular vote and the electoral college. He thinks both will go Obama, but the mention of the two bring up the painful memories of the Bush-Gore debacle. “You know, the Dems have won the popular vote before... “ He takes a moment to pause and look weakly distressed. “But. Even though one of my saddest nights was when they put GW Bush back in office, I still have hope. I still have some faith in the system”.
The talk turns to emotional versus rational voting. “Some of these conservatives, man, they do such a good job of wrapping themselves in the flag and thumping the bible. There’s this idea that they are the moral ones, and that liberal folks are bad people. Liberal didn’t used to be a dirty word, but Reagan did a good job spinning that one.” He rolls his eyes and makes sure to point out that Reagan’s policies would be much too liberal for the conservative party of today. “The conservatives really get a lot of mileage out of issues that are just a single-plank in their platform. The fact that people will vote on just one issue is really well exploited by the GOP. They just stick those little emotional hooks in people and that’s all it takes.” I like the image of politicians wielding tiny little hooks.
I ask him what it was like, living in Utah, deep in Mormon country. He laughs. Apparently, my mother referred to life in Provo as a great anthropological experiment. “It was well-known that part of the Mormon agenda was to get a political foothold, nationally. And, as much as I don’t like to comment on other people’s beliefs, I find Mormonism to be a little spooky. People don’t seem to understand what goes on in those temples. Men can become gods! That’s essentially the Christian definition of a cult. But no one seems too concerned. I don’t know man, it’s spooky, is all I’m saying.”
My Dad is works for the Department of Veterans Affairs in Mental Health, and has for 30 years, so I ask about his vets. He’s a bit bewildered by the blind hatred many of them express over socialized medicine, especially considering that’s exactly what the vets have. “There’s this fear of socialism that so many of my patients have. They are anti-Obamacare, yet they are getting socialized medicine.” He gets especially peeved when politicians use veterans as props to show how much they care, then disregard them once November passes. “I always say to [my patients], ‘Don’t listen to what the politicians say, go look and see how they vote.’ Charles Taylor used to parade veterans out every election season, but he had one of the worst records ever on veterans affairs.”
As our breakfast winds down, and conversation strays from politics, it’s my Dad that steers things back to Vox Pops. “You know, I have to say something. When Bush was in office, anyone who spoke out against him was branded unpatriotic. But now? It’s open season on Obama hatred! You have to wonder how much of it is racially motivated. Such a sad thing. I mean, who cares, right? But people hate him. We have this do-nothing congress whose agenda is not to do good, but to make Obama fail. And if he fails, we all fail.”
My Dad shakes his head. A few minutes pass as we both sit in silence. I stir what’s left of my coffee and bounce the baby on my knee. The weather outside continues to spit ominous, fat snowflakes as the immense weight of the election hangs in the air amid the aroma of eggs and toast.
“Congress should be ashamed of themselves. They should be truly ashamed.”
Illustration by KL Jones