For the first time in my life, my vote for president may actually matter. Until two years ago, I lived in California, as true a blue state as can be. But now I’m a New Mexican, and my state appears as purple on all those red-state-blue-state maps. New Mexico’s electoral votes went to the Democratic candidates in 1992, 1996 and 2000, but in 2004 they went to George W. Bush. We may not have many electoral votes, but they are up for grabs. We are a swing state.
Not that this is any sort of compliment to New Mexicans. All it means is that the most shallow, apathetic, and politically uninformed people in the state get to make our decision for us. Because that’s what a swing voter is: a person with no political principles whatsoever.
I have nothing but contempt for people who say, “I vote for the person, not the party.” This is absurd. All it means is that they do not appreciate the profound, gaping chasm between the two parties, and vote for trivial reasons. Like the people who voted for JFK because he looked cool and debonair in his debate with Nixon, who looked shifty and sweaty and sported a mean five o’clock shadow. Like the people who voted for Bush pater because he was tall and distinguished and towered over Michael Dukakis at their debate. Like the people who voted for Clinton because he was, well, gosh, just so darn much cooler than that stodgy old Bob Dole.
The Democrats who gave Reagan his landslide in 1980 do not fall in this category. So many people were disgusted with how Jimmy Carter had made the United States an international laughingstock that they could justify voting for a man whose domestic policies they abhorred in order to get a truly disastrous president out of office. My dad, a thoroughly leftist Democrat, was one of these, voting for Reagan in 1980 because anything at all was better than four more years of being embarrassed by Carter.
But what about Reagan’s re-election four years later? That was largely attributable to his charisma – and the fact that Mondale had none at all. The swing voters were back to picking the cool guy again. It was the same with Clinton. I could see it when I watched Clinton’s speeches. He drew you in. I could feel the undertow of his charm pulling at me, felt like Luke clutching at his light saber and his code of values as Darth Vader’s deep, mellifluous voice called, “Join me…” Of course I could never be sucked in since I had a firm ideological foundation. His values were not my values, and thus I was impervious to his charm. My husband laughed at me when I said this at the time, called Clinton “your boyfriend” and made fun of his bulbous nose and the bags under his eyes. But it isn’t handsome features that gives a politician charisma. Reagan was handsome as a young man, but that wasn’t the source of his charisma. Bill Clinton was never handsome, but a man doesn’t have to be handsome to exude charisma and charm, to have the kind of masculine magnetism that made a female journalist, Nina Burleigh, say she wanted to perform fellatio on him just for keeping abortion legal. I’ll bet Burleigh wouldn’t have wanted to grant Ted Kennedy the same favor, though she may have fantasized about big brother Jack when she was a young girl just getting her political legs (or knees, as it were).
Reagan, Clinton, and Jack Kennedy were the cool guys. So is Barack Obama, which is why he was able to pluck the nomination from Hillary’s grasp after all the pundits had declared it to be hers before the race had even started. Unfortunately, we Republicans don’t have a cool guy on our ticket. Those of us with firm principles will vote for McCain anyway, even if he wasn’t our choice in the primary (he wasn’t mine, but none of the others were all that inspiring either), because he shares more of our core political values than the cool guy does. Back in high school, when all the sheep voted for the cool guy for student body president, it didn’t really matter. But we’re not in high school anymore, and now it really does matter. Unfortunately, all too many Americans have never matured past their stupid, shallow, high school mentality, and are choosing the person who will lead the most powerful nation in the world the same way they chose a homecoming king when they were 17.
God help us all.