On the anti-climatic morning of November 7, the polls have closed, concession and acceptance speeches were delivered, balloons fell, campaign signs and festive bunting unceremoniously already discarded, and a newly re-elected president returns to the Oval Office. And yet, I am still an undecided voter.
Oh, not to fear, I voted. When I informed my father — in a household of highly political, yet strongly independent voters — that I was so disappointed in both candidates that I might just stay home this year, his demeanor turned serious and perhaps even a little angry. “Your grandfather, as a disenfranchised Jewish immigrant from Poland, celebrated living in a democracy and having the right to vote in this country,” he told me, adding with a measure of Jewish guilt that “he (and I) would be disappointed if two generations later, you cast that privilege away.” So I contemplated choices, filled in bubbles, and mailed off an absentee ballot weeks ago to Western Massachusetts, a vote that if unlikely to have much say in a solidly Democratic state, would at least answer my late grandfather’s voice in my head.
As a registered independent, I have voted for Democrats and Republicans, although I consider myself something of a centrist liberal — perhaps a contradiction in terms, especially for a member of the (mostly) leftist academy. I identified with Obama’s policies but not his leadership, yet I was simultaneously attracted and repelled by Romney’s new vision. As I saw the election this year, voters such as myself confronted a difficult choice: Do you vote for man (and the choices sadly, were only men) of ideas or a man of action? A vote for principles or a vote for performance? A contest of theory or praxis? Further, while both men are representatives of their respective elites with little common touch, does one vote for the candidate with the better intuitive understanding of the economy (the lifeblood of our nation), or the incumbent with the better intuitive understanding of human beings (the soul of our country)? And if these United States remain divided regardless of that choice, does the decision matter at all?
I won’t tell you who I voted for, since I remain undecided about the presidency, but I am optimistic about the future of this country. The endless electoral coverage, as enervating and inane as it often can be, allows the average American to hear from his compatriots in parts of this large, hetereogenous, and dynamic nation that often exist in silence. Though they are different from me and each municipality faces its own backyard concerns (reminding me of the late Speaker of the House Tip O’Neil’s axiom that “all politics are local”), they are — for the most part — earnest, intelligent, thoughtful, resilient, non-dogmatic, committed, hard-working, and principled Americans. However, what has emerged from this election is that identity politics matter and that no party can remain the bastion of one ethnicity, faith, or creed.
Yet, in a similar vein, I learned from this election is that the Jewish vote just doesn’t matter. I wrote about this during the campaign, but last night’s returns underscore the idea that the Jewish population and “Jewish issues” are not — and should not — be at the center of a contest over the future of America. I also realized that until I become a (card/teudat-zehut-carrying) Israeli, I must be an American voter with my priorities oriented toward the right and wrong decisions for this country. Nonetheless, I know I will be watching the upcoming Israeli elections closely.
In the meantime, ask me again in four more years: we’ll see if I’m still an undecided voter then.