The following is a transcription of a conversation I had with two women from Zanesville, Ohio I met in line for the October 10, 2008 rally featuring Barack Obama in Columbus, Ohio. They wish to remain anonymous.
Jim Cook: I’m Jim Cook and I’m with Irregular Times and I’m here on October 10, 2008, and I am speaking to…
Anonymous: um… [shaking head]
Jim: to someone from Zanesville,
Anonymous: Left of Zanesville!
Jim: Left of Zanesville. OK. I’ve just let you know that I am an undecided voter. I am deciding basically between voting for Ralph Nader and Barack Obama. I told you that was because of some of the defections that Barack Obama had made in terms of policy. Your friend here to the left here just said, “Oh, she’s going to change your mind here! She’s going to convince you!” So what do you have to say to convince me, to change my mind, to get me to firmly voting for Obama?
Anonymous: Well, I think you have to understand that he’s running in a general election and, like all politicians, they have to come to the center and appeal to massive amounts of people, which I think he has done to some degree. I mean, he’s definitely not as progressive and maybe so far left as he started out with his original base, but that’s just campaigning. That’s just life on the campaign trail. When you look at the big picture, I mean a vote for Ralph Nader? Let’s be realistic. He’s not, obviously, going to be winning the election and we have a two-party system right now that we’re stuck with, and I think you have to look at the best of the two people.
Jim: Well, do you actually know how many parties there are on the Ohio ballot?
Anonymous: Um, no, not exactly.
Jim: OK, so we have the Green Party, we have the Constitution Party, we have the Socialist Party, we have two Independents, we have the Republicans, we have Democrats, and we have a couple of other parties so we have at least six parties and more people. So we have more than a two party system.
Anonymous: We have many choices, but the predominant parties that, let’s face it, rule are the Republican and the Democrat.
Jim: And so what’s the reason they’re predominant parties?
Jim: Is it because people vote for them?
Anonymous: Um, well, yeah. A majority of people. I’m all for a third party!
Jim: OK. So then how do we make that happen?
Anonymous: OK, I get your point. But come on: Ralph Nader? I’d rather vote for the Green Party!
Jim: Are you familiar with the Oath of Office that a president takes?
Jim: All right. The oath that they take is to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.
Anonymous: Right. Are you saying that Barack Obama would not support the Constitution?
Jim: The 4th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States states that the people shall be secure in their persons and their effects from unreasonable search and seizure. Well, are you familiar with the FISA Amendments Act?
Jim: Do you know what the FISA Amendments Act does?
Anonymous: Uh, pretty much, yeah.
Jim: How would you summarize it?
Anonymous: Uh, I don’t know.
Anonymous: I know in general, and I was not supportive of him voting for it. I think he had to pretty much.
Jim: So are you aware that it’s now law and creates a 67-day period in which the president of the United States can without restraint not only engage in electronic surveillance of any person, but can also engage in physical search and seizure? That is not supporting the 4th Amendment to the Constitution, which states that there is to be no search or seizure except with a warrant, which is not provided for by the FISA Amendments Act. So you asked me the question…
Anonymous: I know, I know.
Jim: You were asking me if I think Barack Obama would not support the Constitution, and there’s an Act that he said in February he’d oppose and after the primaries are done he turns around and supports. I would have liked him to support the Constitution. Do you know Ralph Nader’s position on the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution and the FISA Amendments Act?
Jim: It is in opposition to it.
Anonymous: So are you voting on a single issue, or are there a lot of issues?
Jim: Well, one issue is the rule of law, and I consider that not just a single issue but a broader principle because if you don’t have support for the rule of law, and the Constitution is the supreme law of the land, then what…
Anonymous: Well, we do have a Congress and a Senate and a court system.
Jim: But they don’t play a part any more. The Congress just abdicated responsibility, and the judiciary has had its role curtailed. Checks and balances by the FISA Amendments act are curtailed.
Anonymous: Did you write your Congressman and your Senators?
Jim: Absolutely. So as a constitution voter and someone who believes we have to have support for the law of the land — because that’s what constrained George Bush until we let him run away with everything…
Anonymous: Do you know Obama’s reason for voting for it?
Jim: Yeah, he said he was voting for it because he wanted to support the Bill of Rights. So that led me to question him a little bit. But he’s also made some other changes: about offshore drilling, about missile defense, about the first amendment. So this is my honest question, and I am really, honestly an undecided voter on this: do I vote for Ralph Nader as a way of expressing my support for the Constitution and as a way of articulating my differentiation from Obama’s positions on these other things? Or do I vote for Obama as a way of saying, “I don’t want McCain, who is worse, to go into office?”
Anonymous: I think there’s too much at stake in this election, and I totally respect your point of view, and I believe that being a man of conviction is totally right on, and I do agree with you on the FISA Amendments Act. I was very disappointed. As a matter of fact, I wrote letters in to the campaign expressing my viewpoint at that time. But I think that this is a dangerously, nail-biter close election. I mean, you can see this country is really divided, and there’s just too much at stake. I think the vote for Obama is where you have to put it because of what’s at stake in this election. To get McCain in there is going to be the worst thing for our country. I mean, it’s dangerous. It’s scary.
Jim: So what’s the difference between an Obama administration and a McCain administration, what for you is scary and at stake?
Anonymous: I think in this instance you have to weigh, you have to do like a “Pros” list and a “Cons” list and McCain’s cons are way up here, and Obama might not be the perfect candidate for you, but his cons are, like, down here. He’s also, I believe, an unconventional candidate in a lot of regards, so look at the broader picture. Look at some of his other stances and the way he’s run his campaign, the things that he’s done to go against his own party. It’s kind of like the balance, you know? There are a lot of people we meet that are just like you, who are undecided, who aren’t even as articulate about why they’re undecided because they’re not crazy about either of these candidates. At least you know the issues a little bit more than most, but I just think losing your vote, not that you would be responsible for McCain… but what if your vote was the very last vote that tipped the balance?
Jim: How many presidential elections have had a difference of one vote, though?
Anonymous: Oh, I’m totally being cheeky, but what I’m saying is especially in Ohio we’re fighting for every single vote for Senator Obama. McCain doesn’t have to do anything in Ohio, really.
Anonymous’ Anonymous Friend: We are just working a lot, she works about 15 hours a day…
Anonymous: I’m in there every day making phone calls and as you must know this is Columbus, I don’t know where you live but you know, Southeast Ohio is pretty much Republican all the way. It’s a stronghold, and like I said McCain doesn’t even have to put a bumper sticker in any of these counties. So I think for this particular election that’s the difference for me, because I totally get what you’re saying. I really do understand it and appreciate it. But man, this one’s too close. It’s just too close to end up with another four years of Palin and McCain.
Jim: So here’s something I’m struggling with — honestly, not rhetorically, struggling with. What is a vote for? If one vote is all I have, not like ACORN… you know they say “One vote can make a difference.” But that’s a rhetorical flourish. Even in Florida in 2000, my one vote wouldn’t have made a difference. It wouldn’t have made the difference.
Friend: But can we all say that?
Jim: Well, here’s my struggle. On the one hand, my vote does not make a difference. On the other hand, if I abide by some converse of the Golden Rule and expect others to behave as I behave, and I recommend that other people, say, vote for Ralph Nader as a kind of communicative act which is what one vote can be, then that could make the difference. So I’m stuck here. On the one hand, I want to do something useful. On the other hand I want to responsibly communicate. If enough people communicate their position by voting Nader, we’ll have President McCain. I don’t know honestly how to resolve that, and I need a bit of advice.
Friend: First of all, we have Palin to deal with. That’s scary. That’s very scary.
Jim: What scares you about Palin?
Friend: She, she… her name? She’s not qualified to become President! That’s the scary part. That’s what the debate is, I think. When I talk to people, I say, “Do you really want Palin to be our president? Do you want to think about that?” It’s frightening, very frightening. I don’t know, I think we’re going to buy a plot in Canada!
Anonymous: It seems like with this particular Republican, you’re not voting for the man anymore. You’re voting for a group, a group mentality that seems to be taking over the Republican Party. I know after George Bush and Dick Cheney they were a pretty different administration with the whole NeoCon agenda thrown in there, but honestly it does seem like there is a group thing going on there with McCain and Palin. Someone else made the decision to choose her, not him. It’s all, like, strategy. He’s sold his soul to his campaign handlers. He’s not the man who ran against George Bush in 2000. That is for sure. There’s insiders in Washington, Republicans, who go, “Wow, we don’t even know who this guy is anymore.” I think there’s just too much at stake in this particular election. But you’ve got to vote your conscience, because you’ve got to be true to yourself.
Friend: So if that’s how you feel. But reality…
Anonymous: In this country, in our part, down where we are in Ohio, people can’t take any more. I mean they can’t take any more. They can’t take any more of the economy…
Friend: I talk to people every day. Yesterday, my heart, I was sobbing. I talked to the lady, it was a little town south of Zanesville, Duncan Falls. I talked to this lady, they had just gotten their envelope from… they lost $30,000. They’re 71 years old. She said her husband was so despondent she’s afraid to leave him. I mean, this is like back in the Twenties. You know, jumping out of their windows. And then, another person lost $60,000 of their savings. You can’t do this to the little people. You can’t do it to us. There’s no jobs. They go to McDonald’s and sweep the floors. There’s nothing there. Nothing there.
Jim: OK. But it may be hard to hear from the debate, which was pretty high this week in generality and pretty low in specificity, but let’s get specific about this. Let’s get specific about the situation with people losing their savings right now because of the stock market crash and because of the inability to get loans and things like that. What is the difference between an Obama administration and a McCain administration in how they actually handle this and how they right this situation?
Anonymous: Well, one general difference is that if Barack does get elected, I mean, he has the support of the same party Congress and Senate, which we haven’t had for quite a few years. There’s always been this sort of, you know, butting heads. And I think some things could actually get done. I think that Barack, you must concede that he has some good policies as far as, maybe, health care, or…
Friend: The health care prescription drug program? OK, my mother, for instance. She’s 86, she’s in the Medicare drug prescription program that puts her in the “donut hole,” you’ve heard of that. Her money has run out. She takes quite a few pills. The one med that she has to take for her diabetes, which is not a generic, is $208 a month. She brings in $800. That’s just one med. Excuse me? Obama’s going to close that donut hole. He’s going to take care of us. He’s for us. McCain? OK, he has seven homes. He doesn’t know what it’s like. He doesn’t know what we are, who we are in the middle class. He has no clue.
Jim: But returning again to the economic issue of the stock market, what is the distinction between what McCain is going to do and what Obama is going to do, as you see it, to rectify the current financial crisis?
Anonymous: I don’t think either of them…
Friend: I don’t know. I don’t know. It’s too new. Nobody knows how to do it.
Anonymous: I think in general Obama has more regulatory measures that he wants to put in place which, you know, people are really conflicted about, but McCain is so the opposite as far as deregulation is concerned. I mean, come on, if we had privatized Social Security, can you imagine what would have happened with this stock market crash if we had privatized Social Security? People would have lost everything. So I think that’s a huge difference. And it’s another generality, but the Republican Party in general seems to side with the pro-business, the big business, the corporate moneymakers of society. I don’t hear him talking about the middle class. I don’t even hear him talking about the poor.
Friend: Prisoners? Remember?
Anonymous: Yeah, “Fellow Prisoners?” What was that?
Jim: We’re all feeling like that lately.
Anonymous: I think, Obama’s mantra of hope, you know, I guess we’ll see in four years whether he can actually come through on some of his promises. Then, you know what? We’ll go from there.
Friend: He’s fresh. He’s new. He has ideas. He’s for the people! He was brought up in poverty and he worked his way to Harvard and blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. You know? There is no difference? The only way to go is to Obama! I have not been excited about a campaign ever since Bobby Kennedy when I was 14, you know, because he was cute. OK? We all were in love with him. Well, that’s the way it was.
Anonymous: Have we changed your mind?
Jim: Well, I’m always thinking, and I have some thinking left to do.
You get the last word. Go ahead, leave a comment with your thoughts on this subject. I look forward to reading it.