Night of the Living Dead Voters
by Michael I. Niman

Buffalo Beat, March 1, 2001 

In the final weeks leading up to last November=s presidential election, I=d receive regular email barbs from my aunt, condemning me for supporting Nader in the face of a threatening Bush win.  She was a Alessor of two evils@ Gore supporter C a Manhattan liberal in the odd position of supporting an evangelical Tennessee honkey.  But then the threat of a junior Nimrod Texan demon becoming President makes for strange political bedfellows.

     I held firm through election day, joining with over 18,000 other Erie County residents casting my presidential ballot for Ralph Nader.  And as we all are now painfully aware, Bush won, more or less.  Well, actually less than more, but with an on-side kickoff in overtime and a little help from the refs who forbade us to see the instant replays, young Bush took the trophy. 

     I=m an unrepentant Nader supporter but you can=t hang this one on me.  We certainly didn=t elect Bush.  If Al Gore couldn=t beat a rump like George W Bush there=s no one to blame but Al Gore.  It=s not like Gore was a dynamo of personality and popularism who swept the nation away with his charm.  But my aunt still blames Nader.  And she still blames me. 

   When Bush was inaugurated I got a cryptic email message from my aunt.  It simply read, AAre you happy now?@  The thought of a Texan in the White House, any Texan, probably even Molly Ivins, has New Yorkers horrified.  I played dumb.  Am I happy?  AOf course I=m happy,@ I replied, AIt=s winter and I live in Buffalo.@

     This response earned me a few weeks of email silence.

     Then this week I received another message.  ADo you still think there=s no difference between the Democrats and the Republicans?@  It was followed by a litany of Bush=s wilding, running the gambit from the Ashcroft nomination to his edicts on cutting funding for international family planning organizations who mention abortion. 

     An hour before I read her message I heard Gore=s former running mate, Joe Lieberman on NPR slamming Bush for being Aweak on defense@ by not increasing areas of the military budget as much as the Gore team would have.  Well this one was a no brainer.  I simply answered Ayes, there=s no great difference@ and quoted Lieberman.  I was feeling uncharacteristically gentle so I didn=t mention the eight Democratic senators who voted with the Republicans for Ashcroft=s nomination.

She wrote back, frightened and depressed about the American public C about the fact that so many people actually voted for Bush.  Now, after months of animosity we were finally back on the same page.  It is scary to think about. While one can argue that the Florida election was stolen (see, the fact remains that such a theft would only be possible in a somewhat close election.  If Gore had a stronger lead, no machinations on the part of Katherine Harris could have snatched victory from his grasp. The fact is, however, that in most states in this country Bush won clear majorities in uncontested elections.  He may have lost the popular vote and the nation=s confidence, but for all intents and purposes, the election was a dead heat.  Bush almost won, and in this case, given the mechanics of the electoral college, almost seems good enough.

     I still needed to understand how this could have happened.  So I called Fred, my token Republican friend.  I know he voted for Reagan twice and once for the elder Bush.  He=s a nice enough guy, except every four years on election day, he turns mean.  This year we all had high hopes for Fred.  I planted a Nader sign in his lawn.  Togther with friends we gave Fred hours of political therapy.  He seemed to be doing so well.

     Then on election day he lapsed out of recovery and into the Bush camp.  The day started innocently enough.  He took his young daughter with him to the polls to watch him vote.  Then as she watched in horror it happened.  His hand slowly passed over Nader, Haglin and Gore.  Then in one jerky motion he pulled the Bush lever.  His daughter screamed in agony and ran out of the booth.  She was still crying when she reached home, running to her mother.  ADaddy voted for Bush, he voted for Bush,@ she panted.  Fred=s wife gave me the bad news.

     When I asked Fred why he did it all he could do is giggle like a school boy who just stole a Ho Ho from the corner store.  APlease,@ I pleaded, AI need to understand why you do this C why do you vote against your family=s best interests?@

     His wife, a Gore supporter, explained, AHe just wants to vote for the winner.@

     Scary thought.  So many of the horrors of history have been preceded by just that sentiment.  Theorists call it the Abandwagon effect.@  When the media creates a perception of a winner, the masses follow, regardless of logic.  Right brain tramples left brain.  Nixon wins in 49 states.  We all like a winner.  It=s pretty much the same phenomenon that transformed the Hallwalls crowd into avid football fans when the Bills first went to the Superbowl. Now they=re donut fans.

     Go out at night.  Stroll your neighborhood.  If you live in a sidewalkless >burb, drive slowly.  Look around.  It=s Scary, that flickering blue glow coming from almost every house.  The streets are silent.  Next year=s voters are glued to their screens, seduced and terrorized by adverts and news anchors spewing a motherload of promises and fear. 

     In this light, this odd blue light, think about American elections.  People didn=t vote for Bush because they=re mean, selfish or dumb.  Their voting was simply Pavlovian C a programmed response to stimuli.

     Fred seems to be sobering up as his employer announces its new downsizing plan.  It=s time for his friends and family to once again forgive and accept him.  He=s got a long hangover ahead of him and he=ll need our support.  That goes for the nation as well.

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