women_vote_ny_19172
We are children of our era;
our era is political.

Wislawa Szymborska

Four years ago, I was old enough to vote in my first presidential election. I was living with my parents. I had to brave the terrors of going back to my old high school to cast my ballot. I wore my “I VOTED” sticker all day and into the night, waiting for the results that would validate my efforts and prove that I had made a difference. And then I was crushed. (more…)

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It was only last Spring that Senator Obama enlightened us about the characteristics of Pennsylvanians, saying, “You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them, and they fell through the Clinton Administration, and the Bush Administration, and each successive administration, has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate, and they have not. And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns, or religion, or antipathy to people who aren’t like them, or anti-immigrant sentiment, or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

And over this past weekend it would appear we, as a nation, acquired a 51st State in the Union, the state of North Virginia. In defending the idea John McCain would lose the state of Virginia, with polls leaning towards Obama, Nancy Pfotenhauer, a senior adviser to McCain, stated, “as a proud resident of Oakton, Va., I can tell you that the Democrats have just come in from the District of Columbia and moved into northern Virginia, and that’s really what you see there. But the rest of the state, real Virginia, if you will, I think will be very responsive to Senator McCain’s message.”

We live in a world with internet, 24-hour news channels, and live blogging, which accounts for a lot of words being spoken and written, at a rapid pace, and what we seem to lose in the fray is the ability to step back, think before we speak, and choose the words that say what we actually mean. In an effort to get sound bites out quickly, words and intent seem to become opposed, and I would argue the result is that dangerous, divisive sentiments are being put before the American people.

In two weeks we elect one man to be our leader. The executive branch of government is an office in which we allow just one of our citizens to give the entire population a public voice for the world. And as I weigh my decision the word I consider most often is “American,” as in; which man does actually speak for and represent the majority of this nation’s population?

The media is certainly participating in the devolution of language as evidenced above. Perhaps the Republicans were not wrong to criticize the way the media pounced upon Sarah Palin’s nomination for Vice President. Initially, instead of impartial journalistic reporting, the first few weeks following Palin’s nomination were filled with cruel rumor-mongering, going so far as to attack her children, and even question the parentage of Palin’s youngest son.

As I write, as I claim to want to write, to participate in a public discourse, be it journalistically, poetically or fictitiously, what I see around me leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. In an essay on moral vision, Norman Mailer wrote:

“Democracy is the throbbing embodiment of the dialectic— thesis, antithesis, and synthesis ready to become the new thesis.

You cannot have a great democracy without great writers. If great novels disappear, as they are in danger of doing, and our storytelling is co-opted by television and journalism, then I think we will be that much farther away from a free society. Novels that reinvigorate our view of the subtlety of moral judgments are essential to a democracy. Americans were affected for decades by The Grapes of Wrath. Some good Southerners even developed a sense of the tragic by reading Faulkner…

I’m right and I’m wrong so often that I have no interest in convincing others to think the way I do. I’m interested, rather, that we all get better at thinking. If a book is good enough, you cannot predict how your readers are going to react. You shouldn’t be able to. If it is good, it is not manipulative, and everyone, therefore, can voyage off in a different direction.”

So I return to the word that I believe is the heart of the matter: American. Each citizen has their own personal interpretation of what that word means, and are also entitled to their interpretation. The diversity of thought and belief in this country are a direct result of the freedoms we enjoy, and are privileged to employ as citizens of this nation. The two men running for President have already been given great opportunity to have their voices heard around the globe. The writers who create the space for that voice, enjoy an opportunity that is a mere fantasy to other nation’s populations. And these privileges are largely taken advantage of, as they come with a great responsibility no one seems to uphold anymore. Take a minute, take a breath, and say what you mean, because lately no one seems to mean what they say.

My interview for this week fell through so I thought I would just touch on a few issues that have recently been making my hairline recede even more than it already had before this election process started.

Joe vs. His Own Ambition

On the final presidential debate on Wednesday, “Joe the Plumber” (Joe Wurzelbacher) dominated a lot of the conversation, and he unwittingly became the new symbol for the working-class American. Joe is getting ready to buy a business that could make him $250,000 to $280,000 a year. He straddles the fence that divides Obama’s economic plan and McCain’s, and depending on how he does in the future Joe could end up being taxed more under an Obama administration. But the same can also be said for McCain’s tax plan, too.

So I figured it out, Joe. If you plan on doing insanely well, and I mean becoming the next Roto-Rooter, then go ahead and vote for McCain, because you’ll get a sweet tax cut, and there’s nothing wrong with shooting for the stars. I believe you can plumb the hell out of America. But keep in mind that your hometown of Holland, Ohio, has a population of 1,306 and a median household income of $45,000, so when and if you do make over $250,000 this next coming fiscal year, remember that your neighbors might not be as fortunate and that “spreading the wealth” helps more than it hurts. Not spreading the wealth is what’s currently killing our economic livelihood. You’re actually fortunate if you stand to make that much money in the coming year. I’ve never even heard of a plumber making that much, so good for you, pal. And let’s say Barack Obama becomes president and Wurzelbacher Plumbing, or whatever you might call it, does well. Paying higher taxes isn’t going to put you in the poorhouse, buddy.

The Uninformed

The last two presidential elections have given rise to a new type of American voter. The Uninformed: People who vote against their economic self-interest and vote for moral and religious reasons rather than political issues. It’s been going on for years, but in this election a major issue with The Uninformed is, of course, race. In a recent article in The New Yorker, a retired state employee from eastern Kentucky was quoted as saying, “I really don’t want an African-American as president. I think he would put too many minorities in positions over the white race. That’s my opinion.” And you are entitled to it, but disregarding your economic status and voting for someone who doesn’t have your best interest in mind is just plain ignorant. It seems people in low-income, white, working-class sections of the rust belt would rather vote for Republicans, who according to the Tax Policy Center will make favorable tax cuts for people who make $112,000 and up. With how things stand currently, it doesn’t matter if they vote for John McCain because Barack Obama has a solid lead in the national polls, and hopefully they will see that his tax plan will actually help them. So to The Uninformed I say shake out a newspaper, crack a book, get on the damn Internet for Christ’s sake and inform yourselves. Consider it your MORAL obligation to SERVE YOUR COUNTRY by finding out whose ideas will benefit you and your family.

Intellectuals and The Elite

It seems in the last year or so, a term used to describe the kind of people who write for 12thstreetonline (and for the print version of 12th Street) has been turned into a bad word. Being an intellectual in today’s world has become somewhat of an epidemic that apparently is hurting America. It’s as if people who denounce intellectualism want to live a life of destitution in which they wander around stupid and drooling all day long. I think people would want someone running the country that is smarter then they are. Intellectualism is part of the American tradition. That’s why we have the best higher education institutions in the world. And the same could be said about elitism. The presidency is an elite office that used to take an elite person to hold it. John McCain graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy—an extremely elite and highly competitive institution. According to U.S. News and World Report‘s America’s Best Liberal Arts Colleges list, it currently ranks 22nd in the nation out of four tiers consisting of 100 schools in each tier. John McCain is elite. Barack Obama went to Columbia and Harvard, ranked #9 and #1, respectively. He, too, is elite. Hell, even Sarah Palin is elitist: She’s a governor, a very elite position. People who are running for the highest offices in the land are elite. They’re not always intellectuals, but they are elite.

“I’m not a Washington insider.” —Every Politician Who Ran for President in the Last 20 Years

Both candidates claim they are Washington outsiders who will reform the corruption inside the Beltway. Both are also United States senators who, in order to do their jobs, have to be Washington insiders. So in this instance they are both wrong. The only person in this whole political rigamarole who isn’t a Washington insider is Sarah Palin, and she is considered an extreme outsider, having no experience in Washington—or really anywhere else, for that matter.

I’m not an expert by any means, so please feel free to disregard everything I have said. It’s your right as an American to tell me shove it, but I feel its our duty within the democratic process to inform ourselves on the issues. Be smart on November 4.

A song and video close reading of the Republican vice-presidential candidate’s comments to the press. (Performance by Matthew Brookshire. Song by M. Brookshire and L. Jaramillo)