Geoffrey Long
Tip of the Quill: Archives
Thinking about America.

Like many Americans, and undoubtedly a huge number of politically-minded individuals around the world, I was up late last night watching the election coverage. At the moment, it looks like Bush has won the race – but the margins in almost every state are astoundingly narrow.

If you go to the New York Times Presidential Election page, you'll see that the margin of victory in the battleground state of Ohio is currently 2.5%. Two point five percent. As for headcount, that's a difference of 136,221 voters, which sounds like a lot until you add up the numbers. In Ohio, 2,794,346 people voted for Bush – two million, seven hundred thousand, three hundred and forty-six – and 2,658,125 for Kerry – two million, six hundred thousand, one hundred and twenty-five. Grand total of people voting in Ohio? 5,452,471 – five million, four hundred and fifty-two thousand, four hundred and seventy-one.

I was not among them. Although I was born and raised in Ohio, and my recent nomad status could probably have allowed me to vote there without setting off too many alarm bells, I didn't want to engage in any form of voter fraud. No, I voted here in Illinois, which also had some interesting numbers. In Illinois, which is always assumed to be a strong fortress of Democratic voters, 2,225,320 people voted for Bush and 2,753,525 people voted for Kerry, a grand total of 4,978,845 voters – but what's interesting are the percentages there. Those 2,225,320 Bush votes in this Democratic fortress represent 44.4% of the citizens of Illinois. Yes, Kerry won with 55.5%, but for a state which was supposed to be solidly in the blue, that's surprisingly narrow.

The same can certainly be said for Bush. He won Arizona with 55.1% vs. 44.3%, Arkansas with 54.1% vs. 44.8%, Colorado with 52.9% vs. 45.9%, and even Florida was insanely close again, with 52.2% vs. 47%. The list goes on – out of the 27 states that Bush has won to date, according to the New York Times list, sixteen gave him those with a percentage in the fifties, another ten with percentages in the sixties, and only one state out of the whole fifty gave Bush a victory in the 70 percent marker. Want to guess which one? You might be surprised – it wasn't Texas, it was Utah. Bush took his home state with only 61.2% of the vote.

Kerry's victories certainly aren't much better. Of the eighteen states and the District of Columbia which went to Kerry, seventeen gave it to him in the fifties, one gave it to him in the sixties and the District gave it to him in the most staggering statistic of the race, a whopping 89.5%. (A more cynical man than me would say that meant that the natives are screaming for the Bush administration to go home, but I digress.) Another interesting comparison: Massachusetts, Kerry's home state, didn't do much better supporting their native son than Texas did with theirs: Kerry took Massachusetts with 62.1% of the vote.

What these numbers say is open to interpretation. Some pundits will inevitably crow that this proves how America is just as sharply divided, if not more so, than we were four years ago. Others will cry havoc and sing the heralds of a coming civil war, where the liberal Northeast and the West Coast secede from the conservative expanse stretching across the middle of the country. Yet it's not that expanse that was attacked by the terrorists – New York City, which obviously suffered the highest death toll of the 9/11 attacks, went to Kerry with a 57.8% count of the votes. Yes, the Big Apple is also known as a Democratic stronghold, but even there Kerry didn't win in a landslide – and if the terrorists ever smuggle in a dirty bomb and set it off, the probability is low that they'll opt to detonate it anywhere in Colorado, Wyoming, Georgia, Missouri, Texas, or even Florida. They're much more likely to strike New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Seattle or even Chicago – all found in the blue states.

What does all this mean? Here are some disconnected theories I'm kicking around.

  • The warhawks are found in the states least likely to be struck by any kind of assault.

  • Those states are also the ones who usually contribute the most young people to the ranks of our military.

  • If you think back to what countries who oppose America usually decry, it's usually the big corporations and the seedy Hollywood output, which are usually associated with those Democratic cities: New York, Washington D.C., and Los Angeles.

  • When you see those commercials declaring how wonderful America is, you usually see an eagle flying over mountains, countryside and farmland, not those big Democratic cities.

  • When you think of that heartland, you don't think of diversity or multiculturalism. You think of vaguely Germanic, Christian white people riding tractors and taking their children to church on Sundays.

  • That same Middle America is moving towards an amendment to the Constitution preventing gay marriage. This may be because the gay population in those states is so low, these people have never met gay people that are just people, not the stereotypes which make them uncomfortable. Further, the stereotypes presented on TV on shows such as Will and Grace and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy only further perpetuate those assumptions, and reinforce the role models for gay people in those states to emulate, further deepening the divide. I'm a straight Methodist registered Republican from small-town Ohio with gay friends of all backgrounds – many of whom aren't in the least that stereotypical. Acceptance and equality is possible, but only through firsthand experience and lessened xenophobia, which aren't going to come through Hollywood stereotypes.

  • While I feel abortion should remain legal and is a right for women, I agree that it can destroy lives – not just for the fetuses, but for the mothers, their families, their significant others... The women I've met who have had abortions are never the same. They have to live with their decisions, and part of their misery comes from the fear of excommunication from that same Middle America. Yet in a society where women are encouraged to take on the boardroom and follow their dreams and careers, the physical needs of the human body is also a real issue. Women are human too – their hormones and urges are just as strong, if not stronger, than those of men, and the pressure that is placed on women from both sides creates an insane amount of internal tension. Many of them believe they can't get married and raise families without abandoning either their careers or their young to day-care centers, and heaven help the young mother who also wants to go to grad school and have a career. Our society screams that women have a right to top positions in corporate America, but they should also stay home with their children, and stay-at-home Dads are almost as bad as being gay! There's a knot here which needs to come undone, perhaps through the church and the community providing better alternatives, and perhaps making younger marriages and matching career paths more attractive, and Hollywood doing less "Mr. Perfect is out there, dump the schmuck and keep looking" coaching and more "How to build long-lasting supportive relationships". Maybe.

  • Middle America has a lot going for it. Family values and traditionalism are warm and strong and supportive ideas. Yet often Middle America is also cold and exclusive – Middle America should be as much of a melting pot as the Democratic cities – all men are created equal means that we should also see ads with eagles flying over Indian men driving tractors and tending fields, next to blue-eyed Germanic women and gay conservative Mexican men. The principles of Middle America are supposed to be inclusive, not exclusive. Hate and xenophobia aren't family values, nor are they Christian. How, then, do we merge these two?

  • Is it possible that the 50/50 split doesn't represent two camps of extremes, but two camps often defined by their extremes but which aren't that different at all, and the majority of Americans are, like me, firm middle-of-the-road moderates yearning for better candidates and fewer special interest groups?

  • Bush committed sins in office – the deplorable Halliburton contracts, leading the American people to war against Iraq under what turned out to be incorrect pretenses and then not owning up to his mistakes, ignoring the economy for the sake of finishing his father's crusade, eroding the separation of church and state, and using fear and hatemongering to get the American people to fall in line behind him. Yet Clinton also made huge mistakes in office, setting the stage for the dotcom collapse, stumbling on international policy in the middle East which set the stage for 9/11, caving into human instincts against what should have been his better judgement and receiving sexual favors from an intern in the Oval Office and then lying about it, etc. etc. If Kerry had been elected, I'm sure that he would have also committed sins in office, and I may have become equally irritated with him. Perhaps these sins are inherent to the office, and should be taken as a given, instead of capitalized upon by controversy-addicted couch potatoes and partisan-funded attack dogs.

  • America in the 21st century needs to be a place of acceptance, of world leadership not by cowboy attacks gone off half-cocked, but through well-reasoned and diplomatic acts of bravery. Bush is right in that sometimes the right thing to do isn't popular on the world stage, but well-reasoned and communicated courses of action are infinitely preferable to "might makes right" and "because God told me so".

  • Education is the solution to almost every single one of our country's problems, yet Americans somehow do not respect the educated as being better leaders than the 'folksy' and proudly ignorant. Bush is a good old boy, a frat boy, a partier, a rich man's son, the kind of guy who got into the best schools on his father's name and pocketbook and then blew his opportunity there, electing to party and schmooze instead. I'm sure Kerry, like Gore before him, lost in part because of his above-average stature. Why do Americans believe that they should be led by the average? Further, why do we punish the above-average? Why do we fear giving our children the best we can, helping them to become the best they can, and following those who succeed, instead of allowing the leadership of the free world to be a popularity contest determined in part by how well the candidate plays on TV?

All of these things are bouncing around in my mind this morning. Lately I've noticed I've been becoming admittedly more open to the idea of Middle America. I've been thinking about God and religion a lot more seriously, I've been longing for the house and family of my own, I've been missing Ohio and enjoying being back in the Midwest here in Chicago. Yet the Middle America that I dream of also has the best parts of the blue states as well – great schools, a better multicultural mix, a higher standard of living and a higher regard for education.

Over the course of the last year or so, the writing I've been doing on this weblog has also often come off half-cocked and ill-reasoned. I've allowed my distaste for Bush's poor speaking skills and often offensive personality to affect my messages here, resulting in infantile fits and bursts of hysteria. Part of that was due to my assumption that Bush had simply stolen the election and was misrepresenting the American people. What this election has shown me is that instead of focusing on how bitterly divided we are, we should realize that we're most likely largely the same, and are all seeking a better America. There are lessons to be learned from both sides – instead of tacking back and forth from extreme to extreme, perhaps what we should be focusing on is figuring out what that new 21st Century America should really be like, and how to incorporate conservative ideas into the blue states and more liberal ones into the red ones.

In the future, I'm going to try and come up with more ideas along those lines, and post them here. I've always said that we should focus more on coming up with new solutions instead of on the negatives. If this election had been a landslide one way or the other, I'd probably just discontinue my political thinking here altogether, but its having been so close suggests to me that what we need now is new leadership, more moderate leadership, more unifying leadership. If Benjamin Franklin were alive today, I'd like to think that he'd be trying to imagine this new 21st Century America as well, trying to bring us together instead of brazenly tearing us apart. I'm going to try and follow that ghost, and see where that leads me.

With a little luck, Bush will read those same numbers and realize that he needs to be doing more uniting as well. The next four years could be terrifying if he treats them as a blank check. Here's hoping the future of America sees us coming together instead of being driven further apart.

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