Tuesday, April 15, 2008
This Is What I Told People in 2004
When I went back there, and visited similar small towns in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia, one thing I heard over and over—from registered Democrats!—was that their national party leaders were elitists who couldn't seem to relate to their struggles. Again and again, they brought up Kerry's windsurfing and polyglot wife and Hollywood friends and brand spanking new hunting attire as proof positive of the kind of elitism that was turning them into Republicans. Perhaps worst of all in their eyes was his habit of mocking Bush's intelligence; every time Kerry laughed about how dumb the president supposedly was, they assumed he thought the same of them. But it doesn't have to be that way.
Here's how a high-school teacher in Fairfield, Ill., put it: "I used to be a Democrat, and I'm still very much independent. I voted for Clinton [in '92 and '96]. I'm religious but not a fanatic; I see a lot of gray. My mother has Alzheimer's, so I'm for stem-cell research, and I'm not against people's right to an abortion.'' But Kerry "just struck me as arrogant,'' while Bush inspired "the feeling that this was a more open person who would not be "I'm important and you're not.' '' And yes, Fox News exists to whip up such sentiments, but it only works when Democrats foolishly hand them fresh material. I don't for a second doubt that Obama genuinely cares about the people he just put down -- or question whether it's his party's policies that would help low-income Americans more. Which makes this Democratic penchant for cultural condescension all the more baffling and inexcusable.
I had a feeling about a month before the election that Kerry was going to lose. Why? Because Letterman didn't like him. Oh sure, maybe it's the way I still see everything in stand-up comedian terms, but I think I was on to something else.
At the end of September 2004, Kerry appeared on Late Night, and I could feel my attention drifting, even though I was no fan of Dubya and fully intending to vote Democrat that year even if they ran my cat Chico at the top of the ticket. I chalked up my inattentiveness to my worries over my husband being in the hospital getting radiation to his brain, my job concerns, and the fact that I got a grade of "C" in "Listens Attentively" back in fifth grade.
But the next night as Dave went to his desk, he remarked to his band leader, "Paul, we had Senator Kerry here last night...What the hell was that about?"
Uh-oh, I thought. Uh-oh.
See, Letterman may be smart-ass and snarky, but he knows what people like, and candidates that Dave hasn't liked have not won the popular vote. When Bush was a guest during his 2000 run, I got the distinct feeling that the host thought he was an obnoxious frat kid making a ham-fisted attempt to be charming and funny by wiping his eyeglasses on the make-up lady's shirt as the interview went to commercial break. And Bush did not win the popular vote, and then there was that business in Florida, which Dave has never stopped making jokes about.
So Letterman didn't like Kerry, and if I, a temporarily Yellow Dog (or Orange Cat) Democrat, felt my mind wandering when the man spoke, what the hell would people think who were on the fence, or wary of the Democrats, or already thought that the candidate was talking down to them? That's when I knew the Democrats were going to lose the election.
Many people took Bush's (re)election as a sign that Americans were stupid, or that we were turning into a theocracy. But the uncomfortable fact was that it wasn't the idiots and holy rollers that decided that election, it was the swing voters. And it'll be the swing voters again this year. I didn't swing that year, but this year, with a couple of iffy Democrats and a Republican that doesn't look that bad compared to the one we've got now, there's still a chance that I--and many other left-leaning moderates--could swing as ring-a-ding-ding as Sinatra...and Frank was a Republican, baby.