Before, During and After the Election

I have a ritual on elections. I volunteer to be a pollwatcher. I have done this several times. It makes me feel like I am “doing something” even though it is probably, on the margin, nothing. I am in a state of suppressed hysteria and can’t sit still or focus on Election Day, anyway.

This time I signed up with the Republican Lawyers Committee. They had a meeting a week or so before the election at the Union League club. It was a class, basically a primer on election law. It had CLE credit, too. Woo hoo. I went to that, and it was pretty good, and I met some cool people.

One guy there was acting really weird, demanding to know why he could not challenge a voter who did not speak English and “does not belong in this county.” His demeanor was all wrong. He slumped in chair, talked too loudly and was offensively argumentative. Other people argued back against him in a sane way. Maybe it is not paranoid to think he was a plant, from some Lefty blog or something, fishing for a chance to talk about how the Republican lawyers are bigoted against Spanish-speakers. He got nowhere, and left in the middle of the presentation. Strange.

The night before the election they were giving out assignments. I went over to the Union League Club again, and people were milling around, and they had some snacks out, which was nice. I ate a bunch of prosciutto on little crackers and cut up pineapple. I got assigned a set of six polling places, all on the West Side, not too far from Oak Park, the socialist village where I live. I was given a pile of blank, signed “credentials” which entitled me to stay in the polling places and observe and challenge any unlawful behavior I might see. I got a quick review of some of the stuff to look out for and a reminder of the limited scope of my poll-watcherly duties.

I had a good talk with a young man who was a firefighter who was going to be a poll watcher, too. He liked to read Supreme Court opinions and he had listened to the argument for the Heller case, and had well informed views of the case. Like almost everybody, he looked at other people’s jobs and saw the cool and fun parts. I told him it was literally one lawyer in a million who got to work on cases like that, and that putting out fires and doing EMT work looks exciting to other people. It is a cliché but a true one that everybody in every job gets weary of it and at some point or another thinks other people who made other choices have it better.

The next day I got up at 4:30 a.m. I put on a blazer and a tie and tried to look official and respect the dignity of the process. I wanted to get to the first polling place at 5:30, before it opened, to make sure it was set up honestly and that there were no ballots in the box before any had been legitimately cast. This is a rather heavy-handed way to cheat, but apparently it has happened in the past. Oddly enough, the first place I went did not open on time. The election judges were standing outside a community center for the elderly, in the dark and cold, a few of them smoking, clearly irate that no one had unlocked the place to let them in and set up the polling place.

Two voters arrived right on time at six a.m. and were not happy. One lady was yelling into her cell phone. She was calling the board of elections or something. Finally, someone came and unlocked the place about 6:30. The election judges quickly got the place set up only a few minutes before the first wave of voters arrived. One thing about being a poll watcher is that you make the election judges a little nervous or irritated because they figure you are going to find fault with something. So my presence only added to their flusterment, though I hope my demeanor was benign.

At the second place a very dignified gentleman had on a very nice Obama bomber jacket. Since Mr. Obama was not on the ballot, I decided this item of apparel did not constitute electioneering in the polling place.

I spent the day riding around to the other polling places. I had a nice rental car, a black Dodge Charger. As the sun came up it turned into a beautiful Fall day. It was a good day to be out and around.

One thing I like about volunteering to do this is it forces me out of my zone. You always get sent to hardcore Democrat precincts where they think something screwy might happen. So, I was sent to West Side polling places. These were areas I would never have gone otherwise. In the course of the day, I saw many voters and election judges. I saw a total of four other White people: one Caucasian voter, one Hispanic looking guy, and two White women poll watchers, who were Democrats. I have no idea why they were sent to the West Side. This was a pointless use of Democrat manpower, or womanpower. None of the places was as desolate or grotty or bombed-out as the phrase “the West Side” usually makes Chicago area people imagine, which was a pleasant surprise. The only place I really did not want to get out of the car was the sixth place I went, and I could not find the polling place. I must have been given the wrong address. Some young African American gentlemen gesticulated threateningly at me, with hooting sounds, as I circled the block a third time, and I decided that civic duty had its limits and I did not get out and ask them where the polling place was.

Nonetheless, despite this regrettable and unpleasant non-incident, I was struck by the lack of any overt hostility or racial tension caused by my presence throughout the day. Precisely one person looked at me glaringly. (This was balanced off by one young lady looking at me a little flirtingly, though this may be a figment of my middle aged imagination.) As someone who grew up in the Boston area in the 1970s, I can recall getting off of a subway platform in the wrong place and having a silence fall among all the people on the platform. I can recall going to a high school event at the JFK library, and walking past the Black kids getting on school buses coming out of the housing projects there, and it was like a wall of ice, dead silence, and finally someone yelling “motherfuckers!” and we ran like Hell. Closer to home, tensions ran very high during Harold Washington‘s first election.

So, we really have made progress on this front in America.

I did not see anything that looked dishonest to me. But I could easily have been fooled. For example, people could come in, show an ID, have the election judge look at it, give them a ballot and they could vote. Unless I checked every person’s ID, all day, if a phony voter was colluding with the election judge, he could always get in and vote. So, maybe this happened. Maybe it did not. Or maybe some of the voters came in and voted in exchange for something that happened outside my view. I will never know. Maybe my presence deterred something. Maybe not. I don’t know.

There were, formally, by rule, Republican election judges at each polling place. But in fact they were certainly just local Democrats filling that role for the day. The rule is that if a voter asks for help filling out the ballot, there has to be a Democrat and a Republican election judge. At one place an older lady came in with a purple streak in her hair (I heard her say she was born in 1938, though I would have guessed at least ten years later) who could not see well. She needed help with the ballot. The election judges sort of glanced at me, and one very nice lady said, well, we need the Republican judge to come with me. A gray haired old head said, no, I am going to eat my lunch, you just do it. Lunch first, Illinois election law, second and last. I could have made an issue out of it. I decided not to bother.

One thing I always notice, and which I like about visiting polling places, is the faintly solemn tone of the proceeding. People take voting seriously, and it has the feel of a civic ritual. Not to the level of religion, nor to the level of a jury, but above the ordinary course of business. There is nothing quite like it and I hope it never changes.

I stayed at one polling place until it closed. I watched the ballots being counted. I saw them put in a sealed bag, in a zipped box, then put in a locked metal cabinet. They ran a tape showing the vote. The GOP lost 245 to 8 on the statewide elections. I was surprised there were any GOP votes at all. I would like to have met the few GOP voters. Thank God for the secret ballot or it would have been zero.

With a disparity that severe, cheating would almost be superfluous.

I chatted with the Democrat precinct captain. He knew every voter in his precinct. He made sure that people got out to vote. He had been in that neighborhood for 25 years. That is the Democrat ground game in Chicago. Even with nothing illegal going on, the Democrats dominate in some neighborhoods, and there are no Republicans at all. In many neighborhoods it is a one party city.

After I was finished with this, I met up with Bruno, my fellow ChicagoBoy, and we went to the party for Cedra Crenshaw, who unfortunately, and despite being an excellent candidate, lost her election. Adam Andrzejewski had been involved with her campaign, and he was there. I told Adam, and I believe it, that he would have beaten Pat Quinn. But I won’t talk about the Illinois GOP anymore because it depresses me too much.

We watched the election results come in from around the country. It was a great night, but people were pretty subdued about it. The GOP victories are more like stopping the bleeding than cause for any major celebration. Also, they have to earn the trust of the American people, which they squandered before, and I don’t know if they are going to be able to do it. I saw Boehner’s speech, which was fine, and had the right tone. I wish he had not gotten teary-eyed. It seems like that is a little too tolerated these days. Man up, John. This is going to be really, really ugly.

Two nights later, I went to an event at the University Club sponsored by the Acton Institute. It was a nice event, full of interesting conservative and libertarian people. Again, a subdued tone. No gloating whatsoever. I remember 1994 very clearly, when Conservatives were ecstatic and we really believed the country was going to change course. We were childish. We now know the politicians will stab us in the back and that party labels or professed beliefs mean nothing when confronted with money and power and corruption of Washington. Maybe this time it will be different, but the track record is not good, and the situation is very dire now.

The speakers at the event were Rev. Robert A. Sirico, who is the honcho of the Acton Institute, Joseph A. Morris, a Chicago conservative who has been around a long time and reliably says good things, and Brian S. Wesbury, a professional economist. (Why doesn’t Joe Morris have a real bio page someplace? Here he is with one of his many bow ties.)

To boil down the presentations, Sirico and Morris presented a consistent picture of the need for economic libertarianism to have a moral foundation. This was solid, fusionist Conservatism with a pedigree running back to Frank Meyer, with references to Hayek and Wilhelm Roepke and even a kind word from the Catholic priest for Ayn Rand. This was a Kool-Aid flavor that the crowd could be relied upon to enjoy, and I did. Morris in particular was very University of Chicago-style in his presentation, very bookish, which is fitting as he is an alumnus of the College. I love that kind of talk.

But having spent a day on the West Side, and having just met the entrenched Democrat foot soldiers in their own bunkers, it struck me that these intellectual arguments have very little purchase outside a fairly small circle. The question is: How do you say these things to voters of ordinary intelligence in a way that they care about? The answer may be: You can’t. If so, a case has to be made to these voters based on other things besides the Judeo-Christian foundations of the Free Market Economy. I happen to agree with those ideas, and I like talking about them. But I would also like to be winning elections for people who agree with these ideas, or will at least act consistently with them, more or less, most of the time. The two things may not have as much to do with each other as I wish they did.

The third speaker, Mr. Wesbury took a different tack, claiming that the economy is not nearly as badly off as the nutty conservatives are all saying. But he had to make an implausible leap to get there. Confronted with a net present value of $60 Trillion in unfunded government obligations, he said, in effect “everyone” knows those won’t get paid. He “proved” this by asking if anyone in the room under age 40 thought they would ever get any Social Security money. No one did. But that does not prove very much. A roomful of well-read libertarians and conservatives who are cynical about the government are scarcely a simple random sample. I don’t think that “everyone” knows that these trillions of dollars are never going to be paid. People are more likely to persist in a delusion than face a reality that ugly. Denial and whistling past the graveyard will last until the last possible moment. When the millions of people figure out that they are actually, in the aggregate, sixty trillion dollars poorer than they thought they were, some very non-comedic hijinks are likely to ensue. Nor do I think that the prospect of civic unrest when people figure this out is so laughably remote as Mr. Wesbury seems to. Further, he seems to think that an almost automatic political process will lead to an orderly writing down of these unpayable obligations. The opposite is more likely true. Politicians of both parties will kick the can down the road as long as they can, and we won’t get any reform until some kind of catastrophe is upon us, and then it will be a mess that makes things worse, and that makes the already powerful yet more powerful. All the news is bad, and no one wants to be the messenger. The American voter has a habit of responding to bearers of bad tidings with hostility rather than a grateful handshake. Maybe that is changing.

So the evening, much like the election itself, had the feel of being not quite there yet, not quite as serious as we really need to be, not yet.

I had another rental car which I drove home from this event. It was a Dodge Charger again, gray this time. This one had satellite radio in it, which I was ecstatic to see. I tuned it to 25, the Little Steven Garage Rock channel. As I pulled onto the Eisenhower I heard my beloved Joan Jett singing You’re Too Possessive. I turned it up to a righteously high volume. And, way cool, the DJ was the mighty Handsome Dick Manitoba, of the legendary Dictators. HDM also blessed me with one song by my all time heroes the Ramones and one by the Yardbirds before I got home.

A great American car, great American technology, one of my favorite rock legends spinning great records …

It does not get any better than that.

This gave me way more cheer than any of the politics.

The point of life is not politics.

The politics needs to be bulldozed back.

The Government needs to be hacked down to a rational size.

It is crowding out everything else, choking and starving out everything else in American life.

What we have now can’t be and should not be sustained.

We need our money and our freedom and our lives and our pursuit of happiness back.

We need more rock’n’roll.

Here’s hoping.

God bless America.

19 thoughts on “Before, During and After the Election”

  1. Thanks for sharing this.

    I have to disillusion you about the ritual of voting, though: out West here, at least, there’s a huge and sadly successful campaign to go to all-mail voting. Oregon is now entirely mail, and irrc my county in Washington is practically the only one still having polling places.

    A very bad idea–practically a disaster, imo–but unfortunately, whoever it was who coined the phrase “nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come” forgot to restrict it to good ideas…

  2. Yes… Thank you very much for sharing.

    From your post: “If so, a case has to be made to these voters based on other things besides the Judeo-Christian foundations of the Free Market Economy.”

    I have been thinking about this very thing lately, and I wonder if an approach that is similar to the one demonstrated in the following video link; might give us a place to start.

    The speaker is a left leaning fellow who is speaking to a left leaning audience.

    I do not agree with this gentleman’s assumptions, but I think that this general approach could provide a framework for engaging our friends and neighbors in a conversation about what is even “possible” in the real world.

    The first step is to find agreement that, as a practical matter, society cannot do everything on the “really important” list at once.

    The second step is a discussion about setting a rational order of tasks, a ranking system that integrates both moral imperatives and cost-benefit models.

    The third logical step would be discussion of the best ways and means to achieve the desired ends.

    Steps one and two will help folks to accept the idea that we are going to have to make some tough choices. These might allow the construction of a national consensus that we are going to cut spending, and we are going to go about it in the following order…

    Step three is where we earn our opportunity to discuss political philosophy, within the framework of practicality, of effectiveness.

    Thoughts, anyone?

  3. Thanks for the picture. It is pleasant – and a good deal easier going than I picture you. Blogs only give us moments here and there of other’s lives. I respect your altruism & cheer & obvious heart.

    By the way, if you never found the 6th polling place, do you have any idea of how the votes came out there? Did you ever find it?

    A vote of 245-6 (like some of the results from the Texas Valley and academic polls) reflects a way of looking at the government, at elections, and at how we make our own decisions. It isn’t just whether people choose free market or not – before that they need to choose – to make choicees that resonate within them, building muscles and self-awareness.

    Did the huge change when the Bible was translated into the vernacular really never happen in isolated communities here and there? Or is that old way the world and change is only slowly and perhaps ineffectually making an isolated spot here and there of free thinking? Did that change express or transform human nature? Obviously, to people like Hayek & Friedman, such choices are important to who we are. I think they are. And to our happiness.

  4. Very interesting post Lex.

    In the legendary days of Daley the Elder, the Boss always had opposition in his races for Mayor and while they lost, the GOP candidate usually racked up tens or hundreds of thousands of votes. There were a few token Republican aldermen.

    I can’t imagine that happening now. Since those days, the middle-class has steadily left the city leaving it increasingly split between a majority of predominantly black and hispanic poor and a caucasian-dominated, multicultural, upper-middle class elite that is tied into City government or businesses that have worked out a relationship with the machine. This sems to me to be largely the Democratic Party’s view of an ideal America.

    “To boil down the presentations, Sirico and Morris presented a consistent picture of the need for economic libertarianism to have a moral foundation. This was solid, fusionist Conservatism with a pedigree running back to Frank Meyer, with references to Hayek and Wilhelm Roepke and even a kind word from the Catholic priest for Ayn Rand.”

    In the original drafts of Atlas Shrugged, which were even longer than the monumentally long novel, Rand had a Catholic priest character, a “good” figure, who was a follower of St. Thomas Aquinas. It ended up on the cutting room floor when the publisher tried to squeeze the book down to an affordable dimension.

  5. Well written post and interesting observations, Lex.

    (As to some of your larger questions – I think you have to engage, daily, with the very people that never hear the message of limited government. I think that you have to do it in a way that resonates with local issues. So, using local issues, make your points without seeming didactic or as if you are “preaching” a political philosophy. There are pockets of the country where people never hear about the philosphies we discuss.

    I asked a friend of mine if I could donate a few books about African-American libertarians to a local store that specializes in the literature of Africa and African-Americans. The shop owner is a friend of hers. My friend said that the shop owner would likely display any book by prominent African-Americans. I need to get on that….)

    – Madhu

  6. The best part:

    “The point of life is not politics.

    The politics needs to be bulldozed back.”

    That’s the head of the nail and you banged it greatly. Thank-you.

  7. Thank you for sharing your experience. It prompts me to want to do the same in 2012 and beyond.

    I often have patients come to my office, wanting a letter to get out of jury duty. Some of them aren’t in shape to serve; most of them, however are, and simply don’t want to be ‘bothered’.
    I tell them that it would be a lie on my part to declare them physically unfit, and that it’s a civic duty. Those who aren’t in shape for it get a request for a 6 month delay. They sometimes hem and haw; it would be easier to just say ‘sure’, and write the note. One must draw a line on these things however, and facilitating another’s shirking of civic responsibility is guilt in itself.

    More people should participate in our elective process, and I suspect that the exposure of the manipulations in multiple districts (“Hey, looka here: I found a bag of Democratic ballots in Bridgeport, Conn. Whoulda thunk?”) will prompt more people, with more video devices, to watch the process more closely. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

  8. @ zen – That’s a great comment.

    The poor are willing to listen but they never hear our messages in a meaningful way. Have you listened to urban radio? It’s like propaganda! That’s why the media portrayal of Tea Partiers as racist is so destructive. Some people are fearful because of an inaccurate portrait that has been painted. If all you know is what you see and hear around you, how can you judge?

    – Madhu

  9. We can’t use politics to push down politics. But with the politicization of everything, what can we use?

    We have segregation by idea/worldview. As Shannon has repeated, the lefties react to cartoon caricatures of the right viewpoint. They don’t see any real conservatoids in their lives which might cause them to question the stereotypes.

    (Sure, it works the other way, too.)

    The cure to the ills of segregation is integration. But how to persuade those who evacuated those neighborhoods to move back?

    Although the aspect of culture we seek to change is political, the nature of political belief suggests we look to the techniques of religion to win converts.

  10. “Confronted with a net present value of $60 Trillion in unfunded government obligations, he said, in effect “everyone” knows those won’t get paid. … A roomful of well-read libertarians and conservatives who are cynical about the government are scarcely a simple random sample.”

    My son recently graduated from college with majors in math and econ. When he took public finance the professor assigned: “The Coming Generational Storm: What You Need to Know about America’s Economic Future” by Laurence J. Kotlikoff and Scott Burns

    He understands now. But, he tells me that his friends are, for the most part, completely clueless.

  11. “The point of life is not politics.

    The politics needs to be bulldozed back.

    The Government needs to be hacked down to a rational size.

    It is crowding out everything else, choking and starving out everything else in American life….”

    Good points all, Lex! The reason the American public seems to be so obsessed with the Gov’t is because there is too much of it. Quick, tell me just one thing that Benjamin Harrison accomplished during his Presidency, hmm? In the 20th Century, Americans allowed the media to make public servants into the people to watch, rather than the real heroes, American business and American know-how.
    Let’s cut these people back to size and get on with our lives!

  12. My mother could have used a Republican poll watcher in 1996 at 7447 South Shore Drive. Refusing to leave South Shore where she had lived since returning to Chicago, from California, in 1929, she was one of three elderly white women still living in that building, built as luxury apartments when I was in high school in the 50s. She was turned away by a Democrat judge although she had lived in the building 30 years. She went straight up to her apartment and called the Tribune.

    Bob Dole wasn’t going to get more than three votes in that precinct anyway but she was enraged. She was 98 at the time.

  13. While politics may not be the point of life, the fact is that the moment we take our attention off of it for 1-3 election cycles, the people to whom politics IS life steal the present and the future from us.

    We don’t have to make it our ‘life,’ but we lack the luxury of tuning it out.

  14. Bruno, I did not say I want to tune it out, precisely because people who think like me cannot to do so at this point.

    My participation in this blog and on election day show that I understand that, though I could do more.

    I do say I resent the fact that I can’t tune it out.

    And I would like to change things to the point where I can, or at least that people who come after us can.

  15. Does the Chicago Union League still require being a Republican for membership? The Philadelphia chapter (the only other one I know of) dropped the requirement from “Republican” to “believing in Republican Values” about 20 years ago and has since dropped it entirely.

  16. Lexington, I riffed on your post over at my place, and one of the comments I got was a John Adams quote that applies:

    “I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine.”

    Also, LSUG is the main reason I have satellite TV (which comes with several dozen Sirius stations.) MondoSpawn has noted I spend more time listening to the TV than watching it.

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