The Space Between Us: An Election Day Wrap-Up From A Bright Blue State

November 3, 2010, 12:11 pm

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Exclusive report by Tenured Radical from the People’s Republic of Connecticut. 

Yesterday, as I was going door to door on a get out the vote effort in Zenith, I had to admit that it wasn’t much of an effort, and that it had little to do with getting out the vote.

The idea, for those of you who haven’t done election day door knocking, is this.  You have a map on which are marked likely Democratic voters in a certain region (in this case it was three long blocks just outside the strip malls that lead into Zenith and four apartment buildings embedded in those malls), and you knock on people’s doors.  If they answer, you ask them if they have voted; if they don’t answer, you put what is called a “door hanger” on the knob that has the names and pictures of all the Democratic candidates running for statewide office.  You mark down on your sheet what the outcome of each visit was: home/not home; voted/has not voted; won’t say.  There is no box for “None of your f$%#king business,” a likely response among half the people who answer their door or their telephone in a Yankee state when asked about their politics.

Theoretically, my sheet indicated that there would be three visits, or “passes” made at each of these doors.  However, as I was completing the first pass at 3:00 P.M., and there had been a large box of untouched envelopes at Zenith campaign headquarters, my guess is that these people had no other visitors that day.

I encountered two people who had already voted; two who threatened to sic the dog on me (like the rest of you, we in the People’s Republic have been bombarded with relentless television ads, so you can hardly blame them); and one woman who was clearly drunk or stoned who shouted through an upstairs window that I should “Goo. ‘Way.”About a quarter of the residences appeared to be completely unoccupied.

As I crawled down the street in my car, squinting at street numbers, and banging on doors where I suspect the people on the sheet no longer live, I couldn’t help but think the Tea Party was doing a better job somewhere.  I thought about the Orange County women about whom Lisa McGirr wrote a path-breaking book, Suburban Warriors:  The Origins of the New American Right.  Goldwater enthusiasts living on snug cul de sacs, they met over coffee cake and Conscience of a Conservative, providing child-care for another as they got out the vote for a candidate whose time had not yet come.

Goldwater Republicans would have known whether anyone still lived next door, for example, as I suspect the Tea Party people do.  The primary virtue of Tea Partiers from my perspective is a seeming tenacity about activating relationships with each other in the interest of politics, and a somewhat naive belief in the efficacy of social relationships in the face of devastating social and economic structural collapse partly caused, ironically, by the individualist economic policies that they advocate.

Tea Party successes around the country should remind political historians that the spaces between us are not just metaphorical or ideological right now.  Geography, I thought as I looked for a single active Democratic voter on a winding street full of non-voters, Independents and Republicans, is so important to politics.  The sprawling forms of development that characterize my state, the “lollipop” driveways that lead back to a comfortable house with no apparent neighbors, the long hallways filled with identical double-locked doors — mean that most of these people don’t even know their neighbors, much less talk among themselves about political ideas, what is best for their community or how to activate that on election day.  They are too busy plotting the fastest route to one of my state’s major highways where they will survive up to a three hour commute to the job they are grateful to have. It’s also important that the vast majority of families need two incomes to keep their heads above water, much less have the resources to pay for health care, a mortgage, and college tuition. 

Who would stay home to make the coffee cake, much less invite the people over who would take their politics with cream and a little sugar? Do you know a single man or woman who would have the time, much less the vision, to self-publish an inexpensive book and mail a hundred thousand copies out of her garage, one by one, as southern Illinois conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly did in 1964 with A Choice, Not An Echo?

When I returned to Zenith election headquarters with my map filled in, I said to the twenty-something guy in a cheap suit, day-old facial hair and rakish bandanna that I didn’t really think that I had done much good, particularly since anyone who planned to vote and was at work (as opposed to dead, evicted, removed to a nursing home or foreclosed upon) would probably do so on the way home. “Yeah,” he said. “But the idea is that any of those people who have forgotten will come home, see the door hanger and” (he struck himself in the forehead with the heel of one hand in the universal duh gesture) “say, ‘Wow! It’s election day! I’ve got to go back out and vote!’”

Well I’ve got news for the Democrats.  No one with a television could have forgotten it was election day.  We have been praying for it to be over for weeks.

I realized that, once again, the Democratic Party wasn’t really fighting for Zenith’s votes in the contest I really cared about, the Governor’s race between former mayor Stamford mayor Dan Malloy and businessman Tom Foley (who did, in fact, purchase the Bibb Mill in Macon, Georgia and suck $20 million out of it, driving it into bankruptcy, throwing its employees out on their heinies and forcing the town of Bibb itself into bankruptcy.   This is not just a nasty campaign ad, it’s true.) I wasn’t too disheartened.  I thought that Connecticut would stay blue because of the cities:  New Haven, Waterbury, Bridgeport, Danbury and Stamford. It did.

The exception is the governor’s race, which is still in dispute.  Although much of the state trends blue in national races, the Republicans could run Howdy Doody or Al Capone for governor (they have! they have!), and the towns would go so thoroughly red for that office that the cities couldn’t stop it.  If you check these results provided by MSNBC, you will see that.  Even Democrat Jim Himes, who won in a squeaker two years ago, managed to extend his cushion be about 1600 votes.  But in the governor’s race, which is still unresolved as of this morning, the Republicans’ sole strategy seemed to be to disrupt voting in the cities:  hence, Bridgeport was shut down for almost two hours yesterday afternoon, because only 21,000 ballots were prepared for 69,000 potential voters (nice work Democrats.)  After the court order was issued to keep the polls open after 8:00 PM, “confusion” as to which polling places were affected by the court order.

My guess?  For Malloy to to lose this, the Republicans would have to succeed in throwing out all the votes cast in Bridgeport.  You heard it here first.

I don’t find the national shift to red depressing as others do: as I said to my students yesterday, I have seen much worse.  I recall watching the television during the presidential race in 1984, appalled, as Walter Mondale — a decent and good man — lost every single state but his own.  Now that was bad.  And I can’t say that the spectacle of the next two years won’t be interesting.  Will the Democrats sit back and say to Dick Armey, John Boehner and their buddies:  “OK — you bought it, pal; now you fix it”?

More interesting for this political historians will be watching conventional conservatives and the people elected by nihilistic independents maneuver.  I predict it will be some version of what might have happened if William Jennings Bryan, Huey Long, Frances Townsend or Barry AuH2O had been elected. What have Republican operatives unleashed by financing these Tea Party people?  After inviting candidates who identify as renegades and rebels into the fold, can John Boehner exercise the iron-clad “party discipline” that has kept nearly every member of his party saying the exact same thing, over and over, and voting in lockstep to block the Democratic majority?   Will the Tea Party folk, now elected, be swayed into becoming what they ran against — Washington “insiders” who go on junkets with corporate executives, take bags of money from the Scaifes and dream of a comfortable middle age as well-paid lobbyists?

That’s what happened to those Contract With America conservative Republicans in 1994.  Their insurgent zeal shut down by their own party, they became just like everyone else, with their book contracts and their K Street offices. Similarly, although they appeared to have changed politics in 2008, the Obama people have handed the Democratic Party back to the old-time hacks who, to paraphrase John F. Kennedy’s jocular comment about the Chicago votes his father was said to have purchased on his behalf in 1960, in Connecticut, keep Connecticut only as Blue as it needs to be to win.

Only time will tell.  But what makes me as blue as my state are that the spaces between us have come to characterize politics.  Here in the People’s Republic of Connecticut, where we are free to gay marry and split the family farm into as many ticky-tacky houses as we like until each incoherent development merges into the next, we seem to be bluer than ever.  But that doesn’t mean that democracy is working as it should. There is too much space between us, and if you ask me, both parties prefer it that way.

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