November 05, 2004,
I predicted on Dennis Miller last week that Bush would win by five points. I wish I could say I never lost that rather giddy faith, but the truth is I was feeling pretty down by the time those alarming early exit polls came in. Even before that, though, I was getting worried, and trying to convince myself that maybe Kerry wouldn't be so disastrous.
A liberal friend who came over on Saturday to remove a virus from my computer said that he sincerely likes Kerry as much as he dislikes Bush. If such a fine and intelligent man feels that way, I thought, then maybe...
And even Dennis, chatting to the studio audience on the set last Thursday while leaning against his desk, said that if Kerry won he'd immediately support him as the new president. He looked rather weary at the idea, but it was clear he meant it.
So I wasn't feeling optimistic Tuesday morning when my father and I walked down to our polling place, a residential garage around the corner. But I wasn't sorry about the unusually long line, although previously I'd never had to wait more than a minute or two to cast a ballot in the 20-plus years I've been voting in Los Angeles.
If citizens are actually becoming more politically engaged, then great. I never take it for granted that I live in a country where free and fair elections can be taken for granted, and where the worst that generally happens on election day is a shouting match or a few snide remarks.
Still, things weren't looking good for Bush at that point. So I tried to keep in mind blogger Michael Totten's post that morning on Instapundit: "You have the right to vote. You do not have the right to see the man of your choice in the White House... People who vote for the other guy aren't stupid, brainwashed, or evil. They are your friends and family."
Good advice for anyone, although I think that Totten a liberal warhawk who voted for Bush meant it mostly for the other side.
The poll workers in my bohemian Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, always pleasant and cheerful, were unusually efficient this time, with an extra volunteer to work the line. We were in and out in less than 15 minutes, although I'd heard one guy at the local café that morning say he'd stood in line for almost an hour.
When government actually works, I like to be part of the process, so I've always gone to the polls the first Tuesday in November rather than insisting on an absentee ballot. I'm old enough to remember when absentee ballots were for actual absentees, or for physically frail people who find it difficult to leave the house. When did it become an unwritten rule that a citizen's buttocks should only rarely be expected to lose contact with the sofa upholstery?
As it happens, my father could have used an absentee ballot; he was barely able to move this week because of an unfortunate episode with a heavy car battery, which he carelessly lifted without making sure to safely distribute the weight. So I helped him hobble down the street even though of course I knew he was voting for Kerry. Then we pasted the "I Voted" sticker on the dog's collar and walked home.
At 75, I suppose he's just past the point of breaking with tradition. Watching the results from certain Florida counties with us over dinner at my house Tuesday, my friend Lewis Fein who writes a column for the right-wing Jewish World Review and is something of a misanthropic young crank said, "Bush could convert to Judaism, then complain about his colonoscopy over diet soda and knishes, and those old Jews still wouldn't vote for him."
But our government worked this time exactly like it's supposed to in a democracy: an efficient election day even with that huge turnout; a timely and gracious concession speech from the loser; and Michael Moore remains free to scream his campaign trail slogan "We're the majority, you're the minority" to anyone still willing to listen.
So now, a few words in praise of The Blob...
I've actually had pretty good luck recently with government encounters. I went to the post office to renew my 15-year-old daughter's passport, but didn't know I was supposed to bring her birth certificate and Social Security number. A helpful clerk gave me a note to come to the front of the line when I got them, then patiently answered my daughter's incessant questions about driver's license learner permits. He said the passport would come in four to six weeks, but we got it in three.
I was dreading the trip to the California Dept. of Motor Vehicles to renew my driver's license, which every ten years or so has to be done personally instead of by mail. I couldn't make a phone appointment for the late afternoon in Pasadena, which is what fit my schedule, so decided to brave the non-appointment line.
My heart sank when I saw that at 4 P.M. that line was snaking out the door, and the whole place was so crowded I couldn't even park in the lot. Still, I was inside the seated waiting area in 15 minutes. But I didn't sit long before I was called to the window, where the girl scolded me that "I'd been calling you three times!" I hadn't heard because I'd been engrossed in filling out the form, settled in for another wait.
"We're all excited here today because Monica Lewinsky just came in," she said. "I guess it's something to be famous, even if it's for that."
"Blonde?" she added skeptically, noting that I'd changed my hair color from brown. "It's supposed to be your natural color."
My hair has been pale platinum for more than a year now and I'm not going back. "Look, if I'm on the lam from the police or Interpol don't you think they'd rather have an accurate description of what I look like now?" I pointed out.
The girl shrugged, pointed me to the picture line, and I was pleased and surprised to find that I was out the door just half an hour after I first arrived. And the new license came in just ten days, although I was told to expect another four- to six-week wait. The only problem is the current picture, which makes me look ten years older than the previous one for some reason.
Then there was nothing left to do but fill out the donor card in my usual way ("Take anything that's left") and have my father witness it in his usual way, which means complaining mournfully and superstitiously about the very idea. He'll never sign a donor card himself, no matter how much I argue, protesting: "What are they going to do with a 75-year-old foot?"
I can't make him change his mind, of course, and he can't make me change mine, which is fine. But although in this country that's a tiny thing, perhaps it's worth remembering that in much of the world the notion that an unmarried woman can vote differently from her father and blithely ignore his superstitions is astonishing. I hope one day it won't be. And today I am feeling much more optimistic about this possibility.
Catherine Seipp is a writer in California who publishes the weblog Cathy's World. She is an NRO contributor.