Voters speak their minds

In a non-pandemic year, July is a good month to talk with voters.  The parades and booths of the Fourth are followed by a succession of rodeos, city celebrations, and county fairs. And, even without a special event, as the sun sets and the air cools, people find places to visit and things to do outside.  And, generally, Idahoans are cordial enough to answer a serious question or two about their beliefs.

This year is different. Those wanting to talk with voters must call or engage them online.

That can be confusing to voters not used to getting calls until September or October. I imagine many are thinking, I know there’s an election in November, but why are you bothering me now?

Well, because I can’t hand out sun visors or miniature flags at the park or fair grounds or rodeo. I can’t even register potential voters at Little League games.

Not everyone is prepared for an unexpected caller asking if there’s a political issue they are concerned about. Some, however, are glad to have someone listen.  I now know that it can cost $20,000 or more to file immigration papers; the lawyer gets nearly half and the government the rest. I’ve heard that the housing crisis is so bad that many people are living in campers instead of homes, and most campgrounds anywhere near possible jobs are full.

Many speak of the coronavirus problem. They fear for their parents and grandparents and themselves. A health worker said that her care facility may be changed to an all-COVID community. The questions were there, unstated. Should I quit instead?  Or get a place away from my family?

Others are struggling to decide whether to send their kids back to school in the fall. They couldn’t afford daycare even if they could find one with openings, and they have to go to work. But will schools with crowded busses, classes and lunchrooms be able to stay open?

And a lot are angry that something this serious has become a political football. Masks or no masks? Danger or fraud? Who should they believe?

In fact, the failure of Americans to work together was mentioned nearly as often as major issues like education, health care, and jobs. “Chaotic,” said one.  “Frustrating to see everybody fighting,” and “So much negativity,” said others.

“People can’t seem to get their act together and work together in this country.”

“Somebody needs to cover the current news, not just the riots.”

 And many, it seems, are ready to give up on both parties.

It hurts to hear. Few republics have existed longer than ours. Feudalism—with its caste system and laborers tied to lands owned by the wealthy—dominated for nearly 1000 years and still crops up when governments are weak.

On the phone I try to steer the conversation to an issue the person does care about, something important and close enough that he or she trusts their own experience.

But I’m really thinking, do you realize that those feeding the conflicts want you to feel just this way? Politics is dirty; ignore it. No one is worth voting for; stay home.

Unfortunately, political consultants for both parties believe voters are less skeptical of negative statements and retain them longer. Al Gore’s call to action against global warming was totally buried under accusations that he was stiff, boring, and not “one of us.”

Now we can’t agree to cooperate to protect one another’s lives.

Will history conclude that republics can’t work?  Or simply that we didn’t deserve ours?

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