No, it's not me who wrote to Althouse about voting for McCain in the midst of (her?) exhilarated black neighbors and bursting into tears afterwards. My neighbors in Chapel Hill are mostly white students, who are blandly pro-Obama and willing to commit voter fraud on his behalf, and white liberal Whole Foods habitués, who are self-righteously pro-Obama and openly despise Sarah Palin. Luckily for me, it's not so hard to part company with them -- and few of them were even around when we voted. But I certainly identify with that person's saying that "it was a bummer not to be able to be on the side of my heart." When the kindhearted -- black -- waitress at our favorite cafeteria, who's always so sweet to Jacques, noticed our "I Voted" stickers and gave us a warm conspiratorial look, I felt like a snake. Only later, when we spoke to a beloved old Italian-American friend -- who just lost a foot to peripheral arterial disease -- was it a pleasure to be able to tell him we'd voted for McCain, like he did. How absurdly social this all is!
I'd had this iconic vision, like my own private ad, of walking J's wheelchair down the hill through bright falling leaves to the Baptist church on the corner, our polling place. It would have taken about five minutes, unencumbered by the van. But it rained all night, sodden November rain, and it became obvious halfway through today that it had no intention of stopping. So I loaded J into the van, its windows fogged up, and we drove down the hill and into the church's deserted parking lot. It was about 3:45 P.M., within our hoped-for parameters of "after lunch hour but before the end of work," and a lot of people around here voted early anyway.
I got out of the van to investigate where to go in (the church's administrative backside looked like a low-ceilinged school or clinic, gray cement brick, glass-and-metal doors and white linoleum), and the first thing I saw was a booth on the church grounds from which a pair of older ladies sprang up and called out, "Do you want a Democratic ballot?" They had planted the booth right up against the footage limit for electioneering, with all its signs blazing in plain view of the door where voters went in. There was no competing Republican display anywhere in sight. This, and the assumption that I would automatically want a guide to voting straight Democratic (even if you wanted to do that, it's perfectly plain on the ballot itself, you don't need help), really offended me. It was perhaps some compensation that the jolly fellow who came out to the car to administer our "curbside voting" made a distinctly Republican impression. I can't put my finger on it, but, you know, it's a style thing . . . 'pubdar . . .
We got our ballots. J has gone back and forth ("I really like him!!" when watching either candidate in a close-up interview, "What an asshole!!" when watching either candidate make a stump speech), but today he was a race man, instructing me to put his mark down for "the white boy." (I can hear McCain: "Flattery will get you nowhere.") Whatever. (Now, tonight, he says he's hoping Obama wins.) Then it was my turn.
FLASH: **OHIO CALLED FOR OBAMA** (on low Republican turnout!)
I bit down and carried out my vow to vote for McCain -- with a heavy heart. No cliché, an actual sensation. Most of what I've written about this election on this blog has been from reason, and reason has inexorably taken me where I didn't want to go. (Michael, in supposing that my emotions have been with McCain all along, has completely missed the masochistic nature of this process, how much it has been like rubbing salt in a wound.) At times when I've felt I'd found some spiffy justification for voting for Obama, I've felt absurdly light and happy, like I just got a "Get Out of Jail Free" card. But my reason didn't buy it, and patiently reeled me in again.
On this voting day, however, it was all emotion. My actions were going against everything I felt, which was a surge of primitive, tribal . . . exile. (So voting is a tribal act, not a rational one?! Maybe that's, on another axis, what reared up from the hypothalamus and got J to vote the way he did?) It was like being a salmon swimming up the wrong stream. It was like overhearing the festive sounds of an irresistible party from which I had Puritanically shut myself out. I thought, what's the point of this? Why vote for McCain if everything below the cerebral cortex will be happy if Obama wins?
I realized that the answer had to do with this blog. With commitment to what Althouse might even call an "art project." What I've been doing here is a kind of outreach. You've noticed that this is one of the few places where the two sides still talk to each other -- yell at each other, sometimes, insult each other, go away mad for a while, but come back and talk some more. That's precious to me. Because I have dwelt on both sides, have real friends on both sides, and see sense as well as excess on both sides, I need to try to hold the two sides together -- quixotic and maybe impossible as that is -- to hold myself together. I have, I guess, the hubristic aspiration of maintaining the last strand of the frayed corpus callosum connecting the two hemispheres of the political brain. But that means keeping the tension tight between my own heart and reason. Whatever that might mean to others, for me, coming from where I come from, that means voting for McCain. Doing otherwise might not completely shut down the channel I'm trying to keep open here, but it would taint it. (One reason I can do it is because I know my ardently pro-Obama family is not going to disown me. We don't do that. It's only politics. Blood is much, much thicker.)
The things that are cold, calculating, cautious, opportunistic, callow, elitist, and vestigially radical about Obama are real, and could be consequential for our nation, but many of those who are enraptured by his intelligence and thoughtfulness, his inspirational eloquence, his youth and grace, his symbolic value (I'm right with you so far), and his oxymoronic promise of Democratic dominance and national unity, will either fail entirely to see the flaws (like newly infatuated lovers), or beef up Obama's rather thin promise to outweigh them. It's having an eye open to the right that forced me to see those flaws, and I can't close that eye again . . .
Jacques: "That's great. Isn't it?"
Bill Bennett: "It's a great country, and I hope he's a great president."
Jesse Jackson is crying.
As virtually everyone has acknowledged, tonight is a night to celebrate the historic milestone of electing an African American president. Tomorrow we can start to transcend race in earnest and see how the content of his character comes forth. We can only hope.
UPDATE: I wasn't as happy at the outcome as my tribal feelings might have predicted. I'd have preferred the clear-eyed McCain who conceded so nobly, like a man shaking off an evil spell.