Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Tomgram: Chernus on Apple Pie, Mom, and a Story for a Lost War

Here we are just days beyond the strange event that passes for an election in our country. Election Day now turns out to be just the almost-last step in a grueling season of serial elections called "opinion polls," whose fluctuations are meant to tell us ahead of time how we are likely to vote. That trip to your local polling booth is then followed by another kind of voting process called the "exit poll," a series of tea leaves that, when read right, will interpret our vote for us. In the meantime, who even notices that last Tuesday's actual election was attended -- and this was considered high indeed for a midterm event -- by only 40.4% of the voters. In other words, 59.6% of American voters settled up for the serial elections -- or for Lost and Desperate Housewives -- instead.

For all the writing about extreme gerrymandering, scurrilous campaign ads, voter suppression, and voter fraud (and, as far as we can tell, there was enough of all of the above to make you wonder what the real vote might have been), isn't that 59.6% the mega-voter-suppression story of our time. It's a different kind of suppression, of course; it's everything that politicians, their advisors, and a larger culture does to convince Americans who could vote that their vote, or the actual act of voting, simply doesn't matter -- or alternately that the result of even a vote that did matter, in terms of electing a specific politician, would have no effect whatsoever on their lives (or ours). It brings to mind the question: What if you had a democracy and nobody came?

As it happens, you can search your newspapers and the TV news almost in vain for the majority "exit polls," those that told us about the thinking of all the Americans who never entered a polling booth or who, long ago, headed for the exits. At least, thanks to the exit polls (and other studies), we'll know something about those 55% of Catholic voters who went Democratic this time, reversing the 2004 election; or about the lessening "God gap" the Democrats face among "weekly churchgoers." But we'll hear little or nothing about the Catholics or weekly churchgoers who stayed home, or why they did so, or what they think.

In the meantime, Ira Chernus turns to the election we did have and what to make of it, what stories we're telling about it, and what other stories could be told. Think of this, to appropriate the title of a classic children's tale, as the neverending story, one all of us, including that 59.6%, can still help to tell. A Tomdispatch regular and generally canny guy, Chernus knows the importance of a good yarn. In fact, he's just written a book, which I recommend, about the tales the neocons and the Bush administration fed us all on the endless road to war, Monsters to Destroy, The Neoconservative War on Terror and Sin. Tom

The Unfinished Story of Election 2006

We Get to Choose the Ending
By Ira Chernus

Election statistics are like pies. You can slice them up any way you want. And the way you slice them depends on the tool you use. My favorite tool is a nugget of wisdom from Democratic political guru Stanley Greenberg: "A narrative is the key to everything." The party that tells the best story wins. And the recipe for a winning story is simple: Take a few handfuls of fact, throw in a large dollop of fiction, and stir.

But the story of the 2006 election isn't over yet. It's like one of those movies on DVD with several alternative endings. You get to choose the one you want.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.

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