Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Message From the Doors

No, not those Doors; Jim Morrison hasn't risen from the grave! The doors I'm talking about the ones I knocked on today, canvassing for Democratic candidates Joe Courtney (running for reelection in Connecticut's 2nd Congressional District), Chris Murphy (running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Joe Lieberman, who is retiring), Susan Eastwood (running for State Senate in the 35th District), and John Murphy (running for the 8th District in the Connecticut state house).

Canvassing and phonebanking — direct, real-time contact with voters — is hard work, but I love doing it. I think if more people got involved in campaigns, fewer people would be cynical about politics, in part because of the contact with voters, and in part because, at every level below presidential races, volunteers actually meet the elected officials and candidates they're working for, and they get to see that most of them (in my personal experience, all of them) are intelligent, hardworking people deeply committed to working for the good of their constituents (or those they hope will soon be constituents).

I get that there are differing philosophies about government and society, so "the good of their constituents" is up for debate... but that's why we have elections, and that's why election results ought to matter. Disagreement alone shouldn't be a cause for cynicism — it's the mark of a healthy, diverse culture — but when it turns out that the debate didn't matter, because the winning ideas aren't allowed to actually win, even the most hopeful among us are at risk for despair.

I was hearing a bit of that at the doors today: More than one voter told me they had supported President Obama in 2008, but they weren't planning to support any Democrats this year. Now, when they train you on canvassing, they tell you not to spend too much time at any one door: The point is to gather data and identify supporters, and the key is knocking on as many doors as you can get to. But I couldn't leave these doors without finding out why these voters had changed their minds.

It turned out they hadn't changed their minds: They still believed in the same things and wanted the same changes that they voted for 4 years ago, but they're disappointed... maybe even disgusted... that so little seems to have gotten done, and that things still seem so tough for so many people. I might (though I didn't today) argue with them over how much has gotten done, but on the surface, it's a reasonable response: These people haven't fixed things, so let's get some different people.

But under the surface, it's more complicated: These people haven't fixed things, in large part, because the different people stopped them... not just because they disagree, but because they refused to accept that they lost the argument fair and square. And even if you think that these people are aren't doing enough, aren't trying hard enough, it doesn't follow that what they're trying to do is wrong, or that doing the opposite would be better.

I know not everybody supports the president's policies or the progressive Democratic agenda. But if you do support them - if you still believe in the things that led you to vote for hope and change 4 years ago - please know that you can't achieve your ends by voting for Republicans, nor by not voting at all: The only possible way to fix the things that disappointed you about the last 4 years is to give the president 4 more years. He still believes in the things he believed in then; what he needs to give you the things you hope for is more time... and more Democrats to work with, both in the Congress and in state governments around the country. Voting for different people might feel good for a moment... but not only will it not accomplish the change you want, it will make it impossible.

I think I convinced at least one of the voters I talked to today, but this is what terrifies me: That we'll lose the argument this time not on the merits, but because people who actually agree with us have been driven to cynicism and despair. I won't stop worrying about that 'til after November 6. Talk about riding the storm out!

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