Sunday, February 3, 2008

Religion, gender and race, oh my!

And what we’ve seen in these last weeks is that we’re also up against forces that are not the fault of any one campaign, but feed the habits that prevent us from being who we want to be as a nation. It’s the politics that uses religion as a wedge, and patriotism as a bludgeon. A politics that tells us that we have to think, act, and even vote within the confines of the categories that supposedly define us.
Barack Obama-excerpt from South Carolina Victory Speech

Religion, gender and race, oh my. Toto, we’re not in South Carolina anymore and I would gladly trade in my ruby slippers for a crystal ball to find out how America will vote on Super Tuesday.

Even before last week’s Democratic primary I knew there was mutiny in the ranks when my "W" worshipping southern white conservative mother, who wouldn’t even ride in the car with me during the last election because of my Kerry bumper sticker, said that she wanted Barack Obama to be our next President. "At bridge, I try to tell my friends that he’s a Christian, not a Muslim; the Democrats aren’t that dumb." she chides. Her reason for crossing over seems to echo that of most polled voters. She feels that what we have now is not working anymore and she is ready for someone fresh. She also explained that it’s not the party but the person she is voting for in this election and to drive the point home added that she "can’t stand that Hillary Clinton."

The outcome of last week’s South Carolina primary showed that the South was once again underestimated and misunderstood. It was assumed that the conservatives would only vote Republican, the women Democrats would vote for Hillary, the African-Americans would vote for Obama and the rest of the folks would just stay at home and watch "The View." But what seems to be developing is an unprecedented time in American politics where not only are the candidates making history because of their gender, skin color and religion, but the voters in the South are making history by throwing out their predicted scripts and choosing to vote across party, gender and race lines.

The power of the swing vote was apparent even in a fifth grade presidential election held in my son’s class this month. He and four of his classmates campaigned with candy, speeches and fliers to win votes for the presidency. When it came down to a run off between my son and a female student, the class evenly divided the votes along gender lines, the girls voted for the girl, the boys for the boy, which is not surprising for a group of eleven year olds. But instead of a tie, my son was elected by a one vote margin, that unexpected swing voter being a girl who later told him that she had voted his way. Now enter the nebulous world of grown up politics in the South and it may again come down to those unexpected swing voters bucking the "category that supposedly defines them" that determines our next President.

My own informal and very unscientific methods of political polling consist of grilling friends and family and eavesdropping. I had one witty Republican voting friend volunteer that she wished that some of the GOP candidates in this year’s race knew their Constitution better than their Bibles. "I’m electing a president not a pastor," she said. I also overheard a telling little exchange last week between two women working in one of our local home furnishing stores. It went something like this: "You know, I just don’t like the fact that they got so mad at each other during that debate. They let their emotions get the best of them. I’m just not sure that I want Hillary making big decisions while she’s going through menopause." The other woman responded, "Oh, honey she went through that years ago when she was in the White House with Bill!" While I prayed that Gloria Steinem had not made a sudden pit stop to buy antiques that day I did wonder if it was only in the South that Hillary’s hot flashes got top billing over her health care plan.

Whether our fellow southerners voting on February 5th in Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia and Arkansas are Yellow Dog Democrats, Moderate Republicans, Independents or first time voters not even a crystal ball could predict how they will cast their votes. The outcome of Super Tuesday may even be more exciting than the outcome of Super Bowl Sunday. The field is wide open. As for me, my money’s on Barack and the Giants.