Friday, October 29, 2004
Election Day is fast approaching, and many citizens are of course anxious about the outcome of the presidential race. I don’t have anything to say about that. I mean, I feel duty-bound to vote, and I actually enjoy the process. I like standing in line with my fellow Americans before the secular communion of democracy. I love the voting machines and the kindly poll workers. I always feel politically refreshed after voting. I’d recommend it to anyone.
But today, amid all the last-minute horse race hubbub, I’d like simply to clear a little space for an observation—one that transcends party politics. Here it is: the concerns of Indiana are being ignored once again. Indiana has no spot on the national stage. As I turn to this painful topic, I can feel my Michiana identity ripping apart at the seams. The national elections have inserted an unseemly hyphen in the heart of Mich-iana, opening a gap that can hardly be sutured, and I find myself hopelessly marooned on the “iana” side. Michigan, by virtue of its alleged condition of undecidedness, has risen to the sublime realm of national importance designated by the term “swing state.” Indiana, however, is so firmly decided that it has become a political irrelevancy.
This split is apparent in the daily news reports. CNN keeps a presidential “Candidate Tracker” at cnn.com, and it traces the following campaign stops in the month of October: a John Kerry rally in Warren, Michigan; a George Bush rally in Farmington Hills, Michigan; Dick Cheney rallies in Traverse City and Grand Rapids, Dick Cheney coffee gatherings in Clio and Berrien Springs, a Dick Cheney town hall meeting in Kalamazoo; John Edwards rallies in Detroit and Saginaw, and John Edwards fund-raisers in Detroit and Royal Oak. Meanwhile, Indiana, whose citizens and coffee-drinkers are as friendly as anyone in Michigan, has received precisely zero visits.
This means that on November the 2nd, citizens just north of the border will be blissfully whistling on their way to polling stations, secure in the knowledge that their vote matters—and not just on election day but also afterwards. The candidates have courted Michigan voters. They have tasted their apples. They have sought their opinions on the economy, health care, and the war. They’ve promised jobs and other prizes to Michigan residents. In the world of presidential politics, Michigan belongs to the United States, but Indiana might as well belong to Canada. Yes, here in Indianada, we like to think of ourselves as Americans, but we only pretend to participate in the national political process.
I’d like to believe that the country will come to its senses and mothball the Electoral College and make presidential elections truly national affairs in which candidates must work to win every vote. But I’m not hopeful. So here’s my plan: next time around, let’s learn to swing. I don’t mean that we should stop being a “red” state underneath; but if a pollster calls you, say that you’re undecided, especially if you actually plan to vote Republican. Do your part to inflate the “blue” content of our state. That will put Indiana in play. Then we can sit back and watch the advertising dollars stream into our media outlets. We can feel respected when the candidates drop by and plead for our votes and listen to our concerns, promising us this and that, praising our soybeans and kissing our corn harvest queens. What I’m advocating is a strategy for gaming the system. If someday, however, we became a genuine swing state, I bet we could teach even Florida a thing or two about how to squeeze a ripe orange.