John Walker's Electronic House

US Election Experiences – Part One

by on Nov.06, 2008, under The Rest

Good grief, I’ve wanted to update my blog this week. I’ve been in Seattle visiting Valve, along with the other three members of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, playing an awful lot of Left 4 Dead. Which is a many-splendored thing. And of course, I was also there for election night.

However, for reasons unknown the WordPress software point-blank refused to resend me my password, so I was locked out all week. Now I’m back, dizzy with jetlag, I must splurge.

Clearly I was amongst most of the population of the world in desperately hoping that Obama would win. I was also an optimist that he would, throughout, although obviously feared a terrible repeat of the events of 2000 and 2004. But I realised early on in my stay in America that such election rigging was going to be close to impossible this time. Watching the various US national news outlets on Sunday evening, it became clear that none of the networks or cable news channels were going to allow it. Video clips of fixed voting machines were looping on their broadcasts, reporters were providing in-depth analysis of how the election could be fixed if people weren’t looking in the right places, and an air of cynical awareness was ever-present. They were looking in the right places. Criticism of the ludicrous queuing to vote took place before the inevitable queues formed. Poor, black areas of the nation were under heavy scrutiny from the media to make sure people were able to vote. The US news media called bullshit, and about time.

Obviously by this week the polls were showing Obama with a distinct lead. But everyone knows that means very little after Gore and Kerry’s having shown leads pre-vote as well. Then on top of that, trying to factor in the “Bradley Effect”, let alone the brazened racism in so many regions, it was still so hard to feel any sense of confidence.

I was staying in an odd region of Washington. As a state, it was always going to vote Democrat. But I was staying in Bellevue, a peculiar Republican bubble. On our first evening we walked past a pathetic gathering of protesters on the sidewalk, brandishing banners reading, “DEMOCRATS FOR MCCAIN”. This meaningless epitaph was somewhat undone by everyone else (by which I mean, the other four) holding traditional “MCCAIN PALIN” banners. The home of many banks, businesses, and their ant workers, Bellevue was destined for disappointment. But that didn’t hinder the placing of placards and posters all over.

It was considerably exciting to be in the country at this time. About two thirds of the commercials on television were political ads, which allowed the all-encompassing presence of the election to be complete. And a peculiar collection they were, mostly consisting of extended sniping at opponents, each ad clearly a response to a previous ad for the other side, trying to state their version of the truth in the most fervent fashion. Especially interesting was a proposition being voted for in Washington on the 4th which, if passed, would allow people the right to choose to die once diagnosed with fewer than six months to live. The “vote no” ads were completely astonishing, claiming that the bill would give doctors the freedom to murder your grandparents against their will. The “vote yes” were a response to this, filling the screen with the word “LIES”, then trying to sell assisted suicide as if advertising a comfortable retirement home. There was another set of ads for a particular congressman, presented by the anti-ads as having caused a devastating landslide through his deforestation programme (performed by a company who happened to be on of his main sources of funding). The pro-ads announced that he had apparently spent the previous few years doing nothing but planting trees and caring for the environment. Not knowing the background to any of this, it was more hilarious than anything else.

And of course amongst them all were the McCain/Obama ads, which were both desperately trying to be positive, but held back by the shackles of needing to berate the opponent. The Republican commercials were unquestionably the most negative, mostly bilious, and entirely founded in generating confused fear. The Democratic ads clearly intended to begin somewhere positive, attempting to put forward progressive answers, but then collapsed on themselves by finally yelling how the opponent was going to eat your babies, or whatever.

But surely it was too late for all this nonsense to make a difference? It was all noise to fill the gap between then and Tuesday.

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