Mystery Unraveled: How a white, moderate, churchgoing, middle-class, middle-aged woman could vote for Obama
‘We do not see things as they are; we see things as we are.” – Anais Nin
If there’s one word that seemed to characterize Romney supporters’ immediate reaction to Obama’s victory, it’s “shock.”
A conservative Facebook friend posted this status: “For the first time in my life I am at a loss for words…absolutely baffled by the electorate and the election results, especially considering the current state the country is in.”
A radio reporter interviewed a woman at the Romney campaign party in Denver shortly after the election was called. Her response simmered with anger as she pondered the reality of how more than half the nation had voted: “What don’t they see?? It’s mind-boggling!” What they don’t see are people like me.
I’m a 50-year-old white woman who lives in the swing state of Colorado. I’m married, I’m a mom, I have a PhD, and I’m a Christian. In Boulder. I can’t imagine trying to explain the world without faith and science. I’m upper middle class, but I come from blue-collar stock. I believe in capitalism, but I also believe its inevitable excesses must be tempered with regulations – you know, Genesis, original sin, the human propensity for greed and all. I’m pro-life in the fullest sense of the term. I’m happy for my gay friends who want to marry – I’m all for commitment when it comes to sustaining the social fabric. My evangelical grandmother, whom I treasured, was a member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. I’m a Democrat who likes hymns and red wine. Try squaring all that when it comes to putting me in a political box.
Like a great many voters who helped tip the election to Obama, I see social complexity that the poles refuse to acknowledge. I’m a reasonable centrist. And I think Republicans write us off at their own expense.
If one had spent the campaign watching only Fox News, following only conservative pundits and pollsters, it’s no wonder the election results seemed so inscrutable. Daniel Larion, doing some Wednesday morning quarterbacking in The American Conservative, observed that the entire Romney campaign was organized on “flawed assumptions.”
“Romney and his allies not only didn’t understand their opponent, but they went out of their way to make sure they misunderstood him, and in any kind of contest that is usually a recipe for failure.”
Likewise, Romney supporters misunderstand many of us who sent Obama back for four more years. Why on earth, given this economy, would tens of millions of Americans choose to do that?
The right-wing radio blowhards think they have it figured out: we’re dupes of the mainstream media, a giant liberal-elite faction engaged in a conspiratorial embrace with the Left; Hurricane Sandy and turncoat Chris Christie joined forces in an eleventh-hour PR move for the president; or – and this is emerging as the dominant narrative – we simply want more stuff that we don’t have to work for. We’re takers, not makers. Romney was right when he talked about the 47 percent, only it was 51 percent – apparently there were more slackers in the country than he counted on.
All of those explanations are as wrong as they are offensive.
I would like for my bewildered Republican friends to know how I could possibly have voted for Obama without being a far-left ideologue who is simultaneously blind, immoral and lacking in patriotism.
Here are five reasons. And I’m pretty sure I speak for the bulk of the moderates who broke for the president on Tuesday night.
1) I don’t believe Obama is a closet Muslim with a radical socialist agenda to undermine America. I don’t believe he has a false birth certificate and a fake Social Security card. I think he is a deeply sincere, smart, principled man who is far from perfect but deserves a chance to continue what he has tried to begin.
2) I’m more comfortable taking a risk on Obama’s economic agenda than Romney’s. The numbers are starting to look up. I’d rather hedge my bets with Keynes than Adam Smith. Mitt wants to cut spending and slash taxes, and give most of those tax breaks to the richest Americans. That doesn’t square with my sense of what’s rational or what’s just. We’ve tried that before, and that Kool-Aid does not trickle down for me.
3) I’m willing to take a chance on Obamacare. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than a system that excludes millions and is dedicated to lining the pockets of insurance companies whose primary mission is not to cover care but to deny it. The Affordable Care Act is not “socialized medicine” in which the government dictates my health care. It’s a hybrid system that worked in Massachusetts; I’m ready to see how it goes in the rest of the U.S.
4) I care deeply about protecting this planet, our home. How could we elect a president who is so cavalier about God’s creation that he wants to dismantle the EPA? Really? The clean air and clean water acts established under Richard Nixon aren’t important to keep for our kids? I can’t imagine a world leader not grappling with the problem of global climate change. Solyndra was a debacle, but to suggest that we ought not to pursue green energy isn’t just short-sighted, it’s grave foolishness.
5) I believe a graduated tax system is the most moral means of structuring an economy. I think that rich folks who benefited so disproportionately from a wildly deregulated Wall Street need to return to shouldering more of our shared burden. Luke 12:48 says, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”
Now, plenty of wealthy business owners are going to argue, ‘This wasn’t given to me, I built it.’ Yes, you did, with a public infrastructure supporting you. But until we have genuine equality of opportunity in this country – including equal pay for equal work – some people can build a lot more than others.
There are parents who hire me for $50 an hour here in wealthy Boulder to coach their kids on college application essays. They fly to visit schools so their kids can interview in person. You think that teenager of a single-mom Wal-Mart clerk struggling to pay her rent has the same crack at a premier college education and the connections that come with it? Where is the equal opportunity?
And don’t tell me that working woman is a sponger. Don’t tell me that Diego who painted my house or Beatriz who sometimes cleans it is a freeloader. As a Christian, I am told to care for the least of these. When I vote, their self-interest should be as important as my own. “Sink or swim,” or “Go home even though you’ve lived here since you were two” is no more a path to economic autonomy than a government check is.
The fact is, we are all in this country together, and we have different needs and means, and we have a lot in common when it comes to teaching kids, fighting fires, cleaning up after storms or caring for our national parks. Those who have more need to do more, as we work to give the rest not a handout, but a hand up. As for me, I went to college on Pell grants, work-study, scholarships and summer jobs. That combination of my own hard work and a little help from a society that supported my potential is what got me a college degree. That powerful model – public and private in synergy – remains most compelling to me and is the most fundamental reason I voted for President Obama.
Clearly, the Right and Left perceive the role of government differently. We may ultimately be captives of a postmodernist analysis that says there is no way outside our own subjectivity to view the world through another’s eyes. If that is so, then empathy is a casualty and our divisions rigidify.
I refuse to concede that. I’d rather share the prophetic words of Abraham Lincoln, speaking to a deeply divided America in his 1861 Inaugural Address:
We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.
May we each appeal to the better angels in one another as we start healing the wounds of this election season.