Canvassing for Obama again

I went canvassing with our friend Steve on Sunday afternoon.  About half of the names on our list were in this huge, bleak development of apartment units southwest of town.  A lot of “Not Homes” although sometimes we could hear someone there, and one “Refused” (a guy who slammed the door in our face).  But there were two gratifying encounters.  One was a self-described 33 year old mother of three who has never voted before and is gung-ho for Obama (although is also planning to vote for our incumbent Republican governor Mitch Daniels — there’s a lot of this, apparently).  She was really fired up and told us about how she convinced her mother that maybe it wasn’t a good idea to vote for another rich Republican born with a silver spoon in his mouth.  “Obama was born with nothing, so he knows what that’s like.”  She was happy to learn about early voting, so we felt we’d accomplished something, albeit minor (the Obama people are very eager to get people to vote early in order to reduce lines on Nov. 4).

The other memorable one was deep into the depressing complex.  This shirtless dude entirely covered with tattoos and with peeling skin on his back answered the door and got his wife, also extensively tattood in what seemed an especially unsystematic/piecemeal way.  She said she’d never voted before but had registered this time, and is going to vote for Obama.  She said she was really glad we’d come by, because she didn’t know where or how to vote.  It came out that she had no idea what Democrat or Republican means, basically did not have any sense of what a political party is.  I got the feeling that she was worried that the process of trying to vote might be somehow embarrassing or difficult (I actually wish we’d explained the process in more detail).  Steve did a great job of trying to explain the party system concisely and sort of nudging her towards voting the Democratic ticket, although she too seemed inclined to vote for My Man Mitch (she had no sense that there’d be anything strange in doing so).  We left her with a handful of campaign leaflets.  Steve mentioned afterwards that she’d made a reference, which I’d missed, about “not caring what religion” Obama is, so she’d clearly gotten some of the emails claiming he’s a Muslim.

We got canvassed the other day, and I had this visceral sense of how that experience of chatting with a stranger who’s come to your door about the election does make it seem that much more concrete and not in a realm of media abstraction, even for someone like me who is thinking and talking about it all the time.

Here’s one way to do some canvassing, start here at the Obama/Biden site.

Canvassing for Obama

The whole family went canvassing Saturday on a semi-rural stretch south of town.  Sarah had been assigned this cluster of 30 or so residences in this area and handed a google map with the addresses highlighted.  These were people whom the campaign had reason to suspect of being undecided or wavering or persuadable.  We parked the minivan in the Laminated Tops store parking lot (closed on Sat.) and hauled the girls on the wagon.  We’d brought along coloring books and markers, and had stopped at Kroeger’s on the way for a bag of Tootsie Roll pops to dole out to the girls for good behavior bribe the girls.

Our first pass was in a little mini… not sure what to call it, a tiny subdivision?  Basically just a big driveway off the main road with 5 or 6 multifamily apartments.  My guess is that these places might rent for $500-600 a month, I’m not really sure.  Not fancy at all, with a touch of trailer-park feeling, but in a way, nice; one good thing about living here, if you want to go this way, is that you can have this kind of rural existence with a forest off your back yard and still be a 10-15 drive to town.

Anyway, the first name on our list turned out to have a big POW-MIA poster in the window, so we weren’t hopeful, and he didn’t really want to talk.  Wasn’t rude, but did not want to tell us anything about his political views (part of the task here is to mark down whether the person is leaning toward Obama or McCain, and what political issues matter most to them).

The next guy was a sleepy-faced 22 year old, maybe, with no shirt on.  He was friendly, especially when he saw Celie and Iris — he mentioned that he was a twin too.  He told us that he was probably leaning toward Obama because his sense was that Obama is “probably more for the working man.”  He is a construction worker and a member of the union; he sort of apologized for his appearance and mentioned that he had a shoulder injury and had slept in late because of the medication. He did not seem to know much about the election; when I said something about Biden, I wasn’t sure if he knew who I meant.  I mentioned a factoid about McCain planning to give the top 1% wealthiest members of the population an over $100,000 tax cut, and that seemed to make an impression.  Overall, talking to this guy felt useful if only to associate some friendly local faces with the Obama campaign (Celie and Iris probably helped).  Also, we left him with two voter registration forms which he seemed happy to have.

There was one other encounter like that – a nice mom type whose very friendly 3-year-old daughter was eager to invite Celie and Iris in to play in her bedroom.  I missed this conversation, but S. says that the woman explained that her husband is McCain all the way, much of her own family are Obama supporters, and she’s kind of wavering or in between.  We were excited to hear that she said she was turned off by the bitterness and rancor of the RNC.  Sarah’s strategy was to stress what Obama will do for the middle class and on economic issues and to point people towards the campaign website.  She commented that it suddenly felt very useful to self-identify as a Middle-Class Mom (probably better than an oil painter and hugelkultur practitioner, for this purpose).

We found it kind of surprising to witness how many people are truly undecided.  We talked with a friendly man who explained that he and his wife generally wait until the last week or so to decide.  I wasn’t sure if this indicated a basically personality-based approach to the decision — deciding which candidate they feel most personally comfortable about — or whether it was more a sign of a set of political beliefs that is truly squarely in the center, whatever that means.  Sarah was struck by how determining family seemed to be; many of the people we spoke to immediately made reference to what their husband or wife or siblings thought, and that really seemed to be the most important single factor.

A lot of people were not home and I can’t imagine this little stint was hugely meaningful, but it felt good to have put a bit of sweat equity into the campaign (dragging that wagon is hard work!)

I’d urge everyone to consider doing some canvassing.  Remember, there are people in your neighborhoods (or nearby) who may barely know who the candidates are, or know little beyond what their spouse told them, and people who will not bother registering if someone doesn’t physically hand them a form.  Just call the Obama campaign and say you can do some Neighbor-to-Neighbor canvassing.

Obama’s speech

That was really satisfying.  Every night this week I DVR’d the PBS coverage of the convention and started watching at 8:45 or 9 — that way by 10 or so I’d be nearly caught up after fast-forwarding through all the various functionaries.  Obama’s speech really felt like a culminating payoff to the week (although it was distracting when Sarah showed up in the middle of it with a mewling newborn kitten — more on that later).

I liked Andrew Sullivan’s comment today, which accords with my brother Jake’s theory (expressed to me a week ago) that Obama and his people were engaging in a crafty “rope-a-dope” strategy — letting McCain attack, hanging back and not really responding, waiting it out, and then finally striking back at the right moment.

It was a deeply substantive speech, full of policy detail, full of people other than the candidate, centered overwhelmingly on domestic economic anxiety. It was a liberal speech, more unabashedly, unashamedly liberal than any Democratic acceptance speech since the great era of American liberalism. But it made the case for that liberalism – in the context of the decline of the American dream, and the rise of cynicism and the collapse of cultural unity. His ability to portray that liberalism as a patriotic, unifying, ennobling tradition makes him the most lethal and remarkable Democratic figure since John F Kennedy.

What he didn’t do was give an airy, abstract, dreamy confection of rhetoric. The McCain campaign set Obama up as a celebrity airhead, a Paris Hilton of wealth and elitism. And he let them portray him that way, and let them over-reach, and let them punch him again and again … and then he turned around and destroyed them. If the Rove Republicans thought they were playing with a patsy, they just got a reality check.

He took every assault on him and turned them around. He showed not just that he understood the experience of many middle class Americans, but that he understood how the Republicans have succeeded in smearing him. And he didn’t shrink from the personal charges; he rebutted them. Whoever else this was, it was not Adlai Stevenson. It was not Jimmy Carter. And it was less afraid and less calculating than Bill Clinton.

Above all, he took on national security – face on, full-throttle, enraged, as we should all be, at how disastrously American power has been handled these past eight years. He owned this issue in a way that no Democrat has owned it since Kennedy. That’s a transformative event. To my mind, it is vital that both parties get to own the war on Jihadist terror and that we escape this awful Rove-Morris trap that poisons the discourse into narrow and petty partisan abuse of patriotism. Obama did this tonight. We are in his debt.

Look: I’m biased at this point. I’m one of those people, deeply distressed at what has happened to America, deeply ashamed of my own misjudgments, who has shifted out of my ideological comfort zone because this man seems different to me, and this moment in history seems different to me. I’m not sure we have many more chances to get off the addiction to foreign oil, to prevent a calamitous terrorist attack, to restore constitutional balance in the hurricane of a terror war.

I’ve said it before – months and months ago. I should say it again tonight. This is a remarkable man at a vital moment. America would be crazy to throw this opportunity away. America must not throw this opportunity away.

Know hope.

One observation (obviously not an original one): in the focus on Obama’s “lofty rhetoric” and oratorical powers, it sometimes seems forgotten that for a President, words and language are the primary and almost the only tool at hand.  The President isn’t going to wade into a bar fight, fire a gun, lift heavy weights, run a marathon, or anything like that.  He (or she) is going to use language is various forms, in speeches, policy meetings, bills, diplomacy, and so on.  Even the President’s “actions” are for the most part going to be verbal.  So it’s not as if it’s a minor or trivial part of the job to be a powerful and effective speaker and crafter of words.

This week sent me back to the way I felt a while ago, that it seems crazy and impossible that McCain could stand a chance this year, although that is probably naive.  It does seem like a sign, though, that a hurricane threatening New Orleans may arrive simultaneously with the Republican convention.

Eat Your Heart Out Chris Matthews

Hilarious/great talking head commentary on the Democratic race by two five-year-old twins, one a Barack supporter, one in Hillary’s camp. There’s some nuanced discussion of their respective willingness to vote for the other candidate if he or she gets the nomination, etc.

These girls are a bit more politically sophisticated than Celie and Iris, who are Obama supporters but can’t quite seem to get it through their heads that Sarah and I are not also candidates for office.


I enjoyed this Keith Olbermann diatribe about which states & votes “count”, according to the Clintons. “When you boil it all down, only one vote really matters: the 50-something conservative registered Democrat who’s not independent but not part of the base, and skipped college so they could go straight into teaching rather than become a casino worker, who votes on domestic issues but not in a primary or caucus in a big state that doesn’t border Illinois….” etc.

It was exciting to count for once here in Indiana yesterday.