Thursday, November 09, 2006

Morning in America

By Tony Auth, Philadelphia Inquirer

Voter Turnout

The official voter-turnout count in South Dakota for Tuesday is 67.2%--a good number, by modern standards, but neither a record nor the 72% that Secretary of State Chris Nelson was guessing at.

Nelson's guess, and that of others who predicted lines around the block, was based on an odd bit of reasoning, to wit: The number of absentee ballots taken out before the election (well, of course: they don't let you vote after the election) was higher than usual, therefore overall voter turnout would be higher than usual.

Except that various sources were encouraging people to vote absentee even if they were going to be around on election day, once again on the grounds that turnout would be high, lines would be long, and you could save a lot of hassle by voting before November 7. Well, if enough people did that, then you would see fewer people at the polling places, since so many would already have voted...not that more people were voting, mind, just that more were voting in advance.

I haven't heard if any records were set for absentee ballots.

Granted, more people voted than in recent years. But only one person I've spoken to had to wait in line more than a couple of minutes. Me, I got to my polling place at about 7:25 a.m., chatted in the parking lot with the school custodian a few minutes, went in for my ballot (number 53), took the only open voting booth, marked the aforementioned ballot and turned it in at the lockbox, went back outside and chatted with one of the candidates for a few minutes, and was still at my office by 7:50.

Reflections After the Fact

Yesterday, the day after Election Day, was an odd one.

For one thing, I am long since used to being in the wilderness, politically speaking. It is a rare occurrence for "my" candidate to win, a rare occurrence for me to be on the same side of a given issue as my voting peers. And yet. My gubernatorial, attorney general, and one state representative choices failed, but everyone else I voted for was elected, Bizarre.

Likewise on the ballot issues. As you know, South Dakota had a mess of 'em this year: eleven constitutional amendments, initiated measures, and referred laws. Phew. Again, though, I found myself in league with the majority on an unsettling number of them, most notably our infamous abortion ban, which was defeated, but also such oddities as who gets to decide when school starts (I thought that's what we elected school boards for, and it seems the majority of my fellow residents felt the same) and whether the governor can use a state-owned plane to go to his kid's football game (no).

Add to that the wonderfully bizarre turn of events in Our Nation's Capital--Democrats taking back the House of Representatives and nearly (at that point) the Senate (now an apparent reality), precipitating the ouster of Donald Rumsfeld (one-third of the Axis of Evil that got us into the mess(es) we're in today)--and you can about imagine how disoriented I felt all day!

(I do not for a minute believe that Rummy's departure means that the president or anyone else on Pennsylvania Avenue "got" the message. Mr. Bush did a fine job of ducking the question of whether this signifies a change in approach to the war, leading me to conclude that it's just a new actor in the old role. See "Bush Replaces Rumsfeld with... Another Rumsfeld" by Joshua Holland.)

I'm much more used to waking up the morning after and cursing the imbecilic electorate for being so easily duped.

What accounts for this strange turn of events? I hardly think, after all these years, that I am somehow an exemplar of Mainstream America. So I'm left to conclude that the political pendulum, having swung so far to the right these past several years, has now swung back to the center, perhaps even a bit left of same, where I believe I have stayed all along. Presumably it will now settle back in the moderate mid-range, where the majority of the country (by definition) is.

Of course, it's not all fish and chips in America now. The we-know-what's-best-for-you right-wing extremist morally superior shove-it-down-everyone's-throat lobby has already vowed to "continue the fight" to ban all abortions in South Dakota. Predictable. And the constitutional amendment to "define" marriage (one man and one woman, in case you were wondering) passed rather handily, which is disappointing. I can't decide if it was a win for fear and prejudice (anti-gay) or a case of the electorate not fully understanding that, despite its billing, this amendment doesn't just close the door on gay marriage but also on certain rights afforded to straight couples who are living together without benefit of clergy. What my friend Jerry would refer to as the Law of Unintended Consequences.

I was amused by some people's reaction to the defeat of the mean-spirited and hard-hearted abortion ban...not the diehard wild-eyed right-wing extremists, but otherwise normal and rational-seeming folks. Some of them seemed ignorant of the fact that legal abortion has been available in the United States of America for some decades now, and honestly seemed to believe that Tuesday's election meant that abortion will now be coming to a medical clinic near you. Others (well, actually some of the same people) seem intellectually incapable of separating the concepts of "against banning all abortions" and "in favor of abortion." The truth is, nobody is "in favor" of abortion. I think there is widespread agreement across the board that abortion leaves no winners. The question is not whether one is "for" anything, but rather who gets to make a woman's health-care choices: the woman, or the government?

I think this is why I so often hear, and in very definitive tones, that it is "impossible" for me to be pro-choice and pro-life. Nonsense: It is by definition not impossible, since I am both of those things; rather it just takes a little bit of intellectual discrimination to realize that the two are not mutually exclusive. I think abortion is bad news. My prayer would be that no woman would ever find herself in such a position that she felt abortion was her only or best option. But, meanwhile, we must live in what I hilariously refer to as the real world, in which women do find themselves in that predicament. Given that, I fail to see how adding to her distress by turning her into a criminal, by sending her back into the good old alleyways and into the unsanitary, unsafe hand of butchers (or worse) helps her in any way. I fail to see how this "protects" women, as the anti-abortion lobby insisted the total ban would do.

But for a brief interlude, now, it's possible to bask in the glow of some political success. Not across the board--but as I said, it's so odd for me to have several of my votes among the majority, let alone most of them, that I can do nothing else but enjoy what will most likely be a once-in-a-lifetime event!

Worth a look:
GOP Myths Fall Short Of Reality, by CBS News political consultant Samuel J. Best.
A Victory for Progressive Values, by Nathan Newman, TPMCafe.
Bush Urges Bipartisan Cooperation After Cabinet Meeting
, by William Branigin, The Washington Post. (For comic relief, the headline alone is a knee-slapper.)