Smart Bombing the Body Politic
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It's the eve of a major election, and the Urban Man spent this afternoon making calls from here on the West Coast to places deep in the hinterland--you know, places where a vote actually counts: Ohio, Pennsylvania, Minnesota.
That's how it works these days. You volunteer with a political action committee and they feed you phone numbers, one after another over a web interface, right to the comfort of your laptop.
When I make a call, I always imagine the phone ringing on the wall of someone's busy kitchen. Then, lo, an actual citizen picks up, and I say: "Hello ma'am, I'm calling from the coast, where once again, my vote doesn't seem to matter on national issues. Tomorrow, all my hopes rest on your sturdy Midwestern shoulders."
Well, perhaps I phrase it a little differently--but I do allow a certain grim desperation to creep into my voice.
Unfortunately, most people I reach are already sick of activists. They say, "For heaven's sake, I get four of these calls a day. Stop bothering me!"
And I want to say, "I'm sorry, ma'am, but please realize that you now live in the Age of the Smart Bomb. Nobody tries to change the mind of a whole nation anymore: it's all about selective attacks. In distant lands, we fly large helicopters over scattered neighborhoods, and peering down through our laser sights, we try to separate the bad houses from the good houses. Then we target the bad houses with smart bombs.
"Over here we do the same thing, only in reverse. We fly phone banks over carefully-chosen Congressional districts and target the good houses with flyers and focused TV ads and many important messages. It's called ‘motivating the base.' Of course, as a volunteer smart bomber, I can understand how folks in both kinds of neighborhoods might feel a bit... harried."
One woman doesn't hang up right away. Instead, she foolishly hopes to stop the calls by refusing to say which side she's on. After I ask a few leading questions, she says, "You know, I finally understand why some people just decide not to vote."
Now I have a decision to make. Should I encourage her to vote no matter what? Should I remind her of her polling place? I mean, maybe she's from one of the bad houses.
At first, I consult my better self. I think: "Surely we share much in common, no matter which party she supports. Surely, we both believe in patriotism, free enterprise, and limitations on the power of government. Surely, we're both convinced that families should have values, that the constitution is a fine document, religion a good thing, and baseball a noble game."
No, wait... maybe I crossed some line there. Let's see: Constitution, limited government, religion, values, democracy, baseball. Maybe something there doesn't quite fit.
Well, anyway, if I really and truly believed in the American system, wouldn't I encourage this woman to vote, regardless?
Then I recall that I'm supposed to be smart bombing. I remember that politics no longer concern our common ground, only our differences.
So I apologize for bothering her. I hang up gently. But next to this Minnesota woman's glowing phone number on the web interface of my preferred political action committee, I push the magic button labeled, "Undecided." And of course, at that moment, I record her name in some vast political database as the most valuable kind of voter of all: an undecided voter in a swing state--ensuring, of course, that in the next election cycle she will be smart-bombed with true shock and awe.
Should you vote tomorrow? Well, I suppose that depends whether you're on our side. Which side is that? I'm pretty sure we're the guys for democracy, freedom, values, baseball, religion, the Constitution--and yes, of course, the will of the people.
Copyright © 2006 Marc Porter Zasada. All rights reserved.
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