Sunday, October 31, 2004

In Purple Pennsylvania, Hijinks and Misinformation

Dateline: Hershey, Pa.

Wearing my home-made Kerry-Edwards shirt in a swing state two days before the election, I expected to hear my fair share of political debate.

The Marks traveled to Hershey, Pa., for the weekend, a family tradition (three years running) on Halloween weekend. Heading west on Interstate 78, we saw billboards for both presidential candidates, as well as a bounty of lawn signs, bumper stickers, buttons, and even a "W '04" sign hanging from a crane, conveniently parked to be viewed from the highway.

Kerry may win the state, but you wouldn't know it in this part of the state, 12 miles east of Harrisburg, well beyond the cities that anchor the east and west edges of the state -- Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. In other words, this part of purple Pennsylvania should have an obvious red tinge.

The amusement park didn't open until 2 p.m. today, so we headed to the Hershey Outlets, just up the road, to kill a couple of hours. Waiting in the checkout line in a store selling kitchen items, an older woman asked to read the scripts on my shirt and my wife's. Nodding approvingly, she told us that she was a Bradley volunteer in 2000, and supported Kerry-Edwards this time around.

"You probably have seen all the Bush signs in the lawns," she said, and we told her we had. "My (Kerry-Edwards) sign has been stolen so many times. ... I finally learned to take it in at night."

She also told us about a letter that had been mass-mailed to homes in Palmyra, which neighbors Hershey. She'd received a copy of the letter, too, which apparently had a fake state office logo on its top, and a message from Gov. Ed Rendell that advised that because of the vast number of newly registered voters, polls would likely be crowded. As a result, the letter went, Republicans should vote on Tuesday, and Democrats on Wednesday.

I told her about a story I'd read in the Newark Star-Ledger yesterday, which said that in South Carolina, black voters had received a fake letter, supposedly from the NAACP, saying that any would-be voters with parking tickets or outstanding alimony payments would be arrested when they tried to vote on Tuesday.


Elsewhere at the outlets, and at the park itself, I was pleased with the number of young people -- and by that, I mean people who appear to be college age -- who asked to read the shirts or said things like "I like your shirt." I replied to them, "Bring 10 people with you on Tuesday!" More often than not, they accepted that advice positively.

One Hershey employee -- who just turned 18 -- asked to read the shirt, then said that she probably wouldn't vote. When I asked why, she said she was torn, because she was against the war in Iraq but she was also against abortion.

I said that I understood her feelings, but said that although the Democratic Party platform supports a woman's right to choose, that didn't mean they were pro-abortion. I cited a statistic I'd heard on Air America recently, that during the eight years of Clinton's presidency, abortions dropped by 50%. She said she appreciated hearing that, but even still, she didn't think she'd vote on Tuesday.


Later in the day, I bought a cookie from a Hershey employee, also college age, with a "W '04" button on. He saw my shirt and asked me why I supported Kerry. I said I had a bunch of reasons, but first and foremost, it was because I thought Kerry generally supported people, and Bush generally supported corporate interests, and that as a result, I usually disagreed with Bush.

I asked him why he supported Bush. He said, "I like what he's done, especially in Iraq."

I said, "But you know that the reasons Bush said we needed to go to Iraq have been proven false. There weren't any weapons of mass destruction, and Saddam had no real ties to Al Qaeda."

"Well, that's your opinion," he said.

"No, really," I replied. "Even Bush admits that he was surprised there was no weapons of mass destruction. There was a big report from our chief weapons inspector."

"That's your opinion," he said. "When we send in SWAT teams, we'll find out what's really there, and we'll find out how much they helped Al Qaeda."

"Iraq didn't have anything to do with 9/11," I said, amazed at what this guy was thinking. "Even the government admits that. Even Bush said so."

"I don't know," he said, in one of those voices that meant, I don't think you know what you're talking about. He continued: "Iraq even helped with the first bombing of the World Trade Center."

"That's not true," I said.

"I'm done talking," he said. "Have a nice day, sir." And then he walked away.


I rejoined my wife, and related the story. We agreed that either this guy was as dumb as a stump, or he'd heard a variation of this story along the way, possibly listening to talk radio or reading a conserative web site.

But, as I've written before here, there is a lot of misinformation among Bush supporters. In the last couple of weeks, MSNBC reported a poll finding that 42% of Bush supporters believe the U.S. found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. A similar percentage though Saddam helped Al Qaeda with 9/11.

A separate survey conducted in September found that among eight key campaign issues, Bush supporters agreed with Kerry on five. The problem: They didn't realize Kerry held those opinions, and more often than not attributed those beliefs to Bush. The survey found that, for example, the average Bush supporter thinks Bush supports federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, and that Kerry supports tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans.


Can one learn much from an isolated example of campaign hijinks, or from an isolated voter's ignorance? If they were truly isolated examples, then no.

But the news has been filled with examples of Republican foul play: indictments in South Dakota and New Hampshire, employees caught on tape throwing out registrations in Nevada and Oregon, the fake letter in South Carolina, etc. Have there been examples of Democratic wrongdoing? I've heard conservatives talk of widespread abuse, but have only heard one example cited, regarding a handful of fake names on new voter registration cards in Ohio. I'd love to hear more tangible examples, but when I ask my more vocal conservative friends, the most common response is, "Do you really think that the Republicans are the only ones playing dirty tricks?" My reply: Give me examples, not spin.

And as for voter ignorance, the aforementioned surveys do tell a story. A person can draw one of two conclusions: Kerry and the DNC have failed to make their positions clear, or the Republican misinformation campaign -- such as when President Bush says Kerry's Iraq plan is to "cut and run" -- have confused voters into not knowing the facts.


Driving home tonight, I picked up KDKA out of Pittsburgh. There was a call-in show, and the topic was the election. A caller said it best, "On Tuesday, you have a choice: Kerry or scary. Happy Halloween."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Considering the rampant corruption instituted solely by the republicans, i am wondering why anyone should bother voting since the election is clearly fixed. What a terribly corrupt country we live in, run by a family dictatorship in cohoots with any and all groups associated with oil interests. A country that has an administration that has chosen to deceive the world, its own constituents, by lying about the reasons to go to war, or of making up evidence that did not exist. And all to settle a score for daddy. A country run by a man who wants to secretly implement a draft and singlehandedly ruin what is left of social security. A man who let UBL disappear into the woodwork of the Pakistan border because they were too busy trying to take down Iraq. How can an insane, moronic yet somehow ingenious president possibly be in a position to win a second term? Oh is because all of the media tells the lie that he is awesome. what a terrible country this america must be, leading a civilized world who is currently busy sending out get well cards to Yasir Arafat while simultaneously condemning Israel for everything short of world hunger.

and then you woke up..............

11:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe the american public is too stupid to vote for president. maybe only northeasterners and californians should be allowed to do so. Or maybe these groups should get two votes per person. I mean really, what does the rest of the country do anyway. Other than making up almost our entire army, navy, AF and marines. It is no wonder reading sites like this that the overall view of liberals from the northeast is that of intellectuals sitting on a pulpit arguing nuance while the real world moves and shakes around them. This is, at its simplest, a vote for the lesser of two evils (with neither truly being evil). If you want to sit there and pontificate and talk down to everyone by twisting facts or bringing up ridiculous points and treat them as fact rather than opinion, hey its a free country. But for most of america, it is a vote for the not so great guy you know or the not so great guy you dont know. Thats it. Sorry to inform you that the election is not about all your issues. It is pretty simple and very close.

11:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's ironic that a conservative complains about pontificating, even as he/she is pontificating.

9:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

People who support Bush are not speaking from intellect, rather from their gut, which has been ulcerated with post-9-11 hysteria.

If Bush wins, it will be because people have been so blinded by fear and outrage following 9-11 that they HAVE to believe in their hearts Iraq wasn't a diversion from terrorism.
If these people really are concerned, instead of choking on Bush spin, they should look to the many available, objective surveys of global terrorism experts in the U.S. and abroad, Middle Eastern experts, and opinions of foreign countries which appear to suggest the U.S. and world are actually at a greater risk from terrorists as a result of Bush policies, not less.
I've heard a few times in recent days the argument from Bushies, "why should we listen to the opinions of foreign countries. Why should the U.S. trust anyone representing foreign interests. They hate the U.S. anyway."
Among those making this claim was an editorial writer from an Oregon newspaper in an email response to a criticism I wrote of his essay supporting Bush.
This is a very weak argument indeed. If anything, the world hates us now more than ever because of Bush. Most countries uniformly rallied behind the U.S. after 9-11. Bush drove away this sympathy and support, in particular in his actions to drive out the UN and member countries in Iraq's reconstruction at the time of his wrong "major operations have ended" speech.
Clearly, Kerry is the one who can bring back global unity necessary for shared intelligence, the number one tool to combat global terrorism.
I am so disgusted by these newspaper editorials, such as the one in New York Daily News yesterday, which provide several paragraphs detailing severe Bush mistakes these last four years, but in the final paragraph state: "Yet we still support Bush."
They go on to say his decisiveness and consistency are necessary "leadership qualities" needed to defeat terrorism. These editors fail to explain why these so-called Bush qualities, which have resulted in the litany of problems you've just describe, can somehow result in correct decisions in the future?!?
Bushies usually cannot provide a single, fact-based reason for supporting their man. They sometimes come up with the extreme type of bullsh-- exemplified by the misinformed, Rove-spun dupe David interviewed in Pennslyvania.
With no good reason to support their man outside of distortions, the Bushies resort to attacking Kerry. The real distortions lie in how Bushies misrepresent Kerry's service in Vietnam, his "undistinguished" record in the senate and his "conflicting" votes on Iraq and defense.
Here's an example of more Bush bullsh-- that goes beyond fair spin. Cheney said on Saturday that Kerry waited to conduct a poll before coming up with a response to Osama Bin Laden's new tape. This is a complete lie. Kerry made his speech immediately following the first disclosure of the tape on Friday afternoon. The poll Cheney referred to taken by Democracy Corps, a Democratic group was taken Friday night and Saturday.
I will leave with one final thought on those who think Kerry cannot be trusted over Bush.
Bush has failed to fulfill promises of his 2000 campaign to create jobs, increase the surplus to 5.4 trillion (instead we got a massive deficit), to not use the U.S. military for purposes of nation building. He then failed on his 2001 promise to capture Osama Bin Laden dead or alive. (He even went on to make an in-context comment that he wasn't that concerned about Osama).
Just why the hell should we trust anything Bush says now?

10:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"But for most of america, it is a vote for the not so great guy you know or the not so great guy you dont know" over all the issues.

I don't think this opinion is accurate at all.

12:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Referring to the first conservative response:

Are you suggesting David did something wrong by conversing with the two Hershey employees? Are you suggesting that the second employee's opinion of Iraq and Al Qaeda is accurate? If it's the latter, you're as stupid as the Hershey employee.

Or are you just trying to muck things up by going with the traditional conservative spin of elitist liberalism? Frankly, for every "limousine liberal" there are probably three "corporate jet conservatives," especially after the tax breaks provided by Bush.

3:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Frighteningly enough... I think I know the Hershey employee with the W '04 button. Just between me and you and the Internet... I think he's only Republican to counteract the fact that he displays every single stereotype associated with homosexual men. I'm not even kidding. If he were any more flaming, he would explode.

4:04 PM  

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