There's a party going on across the street from the Crazy Stable. A democratic party, lower and upper case versions.
This is the line to vote. We've lived opposite this public school for 22 years, and there's never been a line to vote inside the polling place; this is the tail end of the line outside, wrapped around the corner from Caton Avenue at 8 a.m. Every year, big election or small, the ritual is the same: We sign in along with a few cranky old white people and some bored-looking middle-aged black folks, shuffle in and out of the booth, and go home depressed by the lackluster options. (Well, I do.)
But this year is different. The atmosphere out on the street was...ebullient. Soft, happy conversational chatter wafted over the crowd, as some read papers, while others texted or passed the time on their cell phone. No one betrayed a hint of impatience, and the folks emerging and dispersing were smiling broadly, borne along on a gust of good feeling. An older black lady, leaning heavily on a cane, exclaimed for anyone to hear, "We've come a long way, baby!"
And the line seemed to represent a bigger swath of our ridiculously diverse census tract: blacks across a broad spectrum of age and "type," from poor-looking to affluent-looking--and for once I heard American, not just Caribbean accents; young hipsterish-looking whites (where'd they come from?); the usual boho/yuppie white couples, toddlers on shoulders or in strollers; a guy with dreadlocks and a grizzled beard; a young woman in a wheelchair; everybody but Asians and Mexicans, many of whom may not qualify to vote yet anyway (around here, they are often the most raw recruits to the republic).
As if it weren't bad enough to be me today! If this were a movie, there would be a glorious multiracial montage, or maybe a steady and inspirational long, long tracking shot down the line, with surging and uplifting music--and then the camera would wheel to my front porch, scream in for a close-up of me, and the music would scramble into a harsh minor-chord dissonance.
There she is. The only college-educated girl in Brooklyn who hasn't spent the past week working a phone bank for Obama, sitting with her chin in her hands, facing an appalling choice: her conscience, or Everything Else.
Everything else: Black, yet smasher of stereotypes (especially the one where it's "real" to be ignorant). Stratospherically smart. Real writer. Sexy and articulate. Able to hold two opposing thoughts in the same brain at the same time. Opposed the Lie-Based War. Would make France like us again, which would make all my liberal friends mysteriously happy. Would leave a competent vice-president and not a telegenic nut job, were the Lord to call him home. Most important, well, look at those people across the street. It's a safe bet more than half of them have never set foot in a voting booth in their lives. It's almost too good to be true.
Oh, wait! It is too good to be true! On the one human rights issue that defines my core as a voter and a person, this nuanced, dazzling knight in shining armor falls off his horse. There's one group of Americans that Mr. Obama doesn't give a rat's ass about: the ones who aren't born yet. Even the ones who are weeks or hours from birth: protecting them from surgical homicide is an ethical commitment "above his pay grade." Not just pro-"choice," the man, to my utter bafflement, is inarguably pro-abortion. Not just "don't overturn Roe v. Wade." This guy has never met a limit on abortion he could live with (unlike the majority of Americans, who favor some limits. Like on killing kids who could survive outside the womb.)
Laws to protect babies born alive after botched abortions? Nope, not Obama. No, also, to parental notification and, most disturbing, to "conscience clauses" allowing doctors, nurses, and other health care personnel to opt out of performing these procedures if they can't delude themselves about what's really getting chopped up and suctioned out. (Hint: genetically 100% human and distinct from its host organism.)
I've got a long history as a single-issue voter, because this single issue is responsible for my very life. (Remind me to tell you sometime of how my mother's obstetrician suggested she abort me. Thanks, Doc-- but thanks to you, Mom, for not being selfish or ignorant enough to fancy that I wasn't alive yet.) Protecting the smallest and most vulnerable among us: How can this not be the foundational human rights issue of our time? Yet here is a guy who has shown less wiggle room on life issues, even for reasons of raw centrist pragmatism, than Hillary!
I have long said that abortion (and particularly, the partial-birth abortion ban) is to the Left what an assault-rifle ban is to the Right: the defense of the indefensible in the name of avoiding the "slippery slope." Wouldn't Obama, the man who made me cry as I watched all 40 minutes of his "conversation on race" speech on YouTube at midnight, be the guy to open this conversation, too? Wouldn't a biracial guy, more perhaps than others, feel the tentativeness of his own existence in a nation where surviving to your due date depends on nothing but one individual's "choice"?
Over the past few weeks, all my smart white-girl friends, just as smitten as I am with the Charismatic One (and just as put off by the scary old white guy and his wacky female sidekick) have bombarded me with reasons it's Okay to Vote Against My Conscience. Here are the top 10. (The unspoken 11th is, of course, that Obama is our fantasy college boyfriend--the one even your Irish/Jewish/Italian mother couldn't object to--but I'm wandering into the subconscious.)
10. Nobody in the White House ever does anything about abortion anyway. (Well, except for those Supreme Court nominations, but the current guys could all live to be 100, and then you'd have wasted your vote for Everything Else.)
9. It's about the war, not just abortion. Isn't peace pro-life?
8. It's about the economy, not just abortion.
7. It's about a historic turning point bringing hope to black America.
6. It's about a post-racial America where, finally, race doesn't matter--unless one cranky white bitch like you votes for McCain and makes Obama lose.
5. The abortion war is lost anyway; time to just hand out more contraception, do more sex ed, and get on with life.
4. Both liberals and conservatives tend to digress to the center once in office, so it won't be that bad, no matter what he's promised NARAL.
3. McCain doesn't really care about abortion anyway, it's just lip service to his right-wing base.
2. Oh, get over it.
1. And finally, the top reason that a rock-ribbed pro-lifer should vote for Obama:
Under Obama, life will be so good (vast and equitable social problems, thriving economy, healthy environment, equal opportunity) that no one will ever need or want to abort their child again. (I am not making this up; some version of this argument seems to have turned my entire liberal Roman Catholic parish into button-wearing zealots.)
So--the worst Election Day of my life. Of course, here in New York, it's all pretty much an exercise in abstract "conscience" anyway; no "Bradley Effect" is going to turn around the numbers I see across the street, especially since we still haven't gotten around to abolishing the Electoral College. I could skip it, have another cup of coffee, and spare myself this agonizing over whether Obama is the new John F. Kennedy or the Picture of Dorian Grey. Wow, that would suck, too. That's why I'm posting one of those Annoying Fetus Pictures. (You pro-choicers hate it when we do that; it's so...tasteless.) Because amid all the celebrating and history-making, something is slipping away, perhaps forever. Even with the best high-tech imaging tools ever, the smallest among us are vanishing. If being the Party Pooper is the price of bearing witness, then I will be the stubborn, exasperating bitch who bears witness.
BestFriend has no such torments. She just says, point-blank, "He's evil. That's why he's so attractive. Anyone who could give their unqualified support to partial-birth abortion, who is as smart as he is, is simply evil, and once he's in office, you'll see. It's going to be scary." I think that's extreme; Obama's history as a family man bespeaks a better character than McCain's, frankly.
So we made a bet. In 2012, if it turns out that Obama is actually Satan, I owe her dinner at the restaurant of her choice, a la carte. If he turns out merely to be a supremely gifted politician with a barn-door-sized ethical blind spot, dinner's on her. And who knows? Maybe once his pay grade improves, Barack and I can start that conversation.
And may Our Lord bless, guide, protect and enlighten President-Elect Barack Obama. To begin to understand what his election means to my community, go here. And to my commenters and first-time visitors from the Dawn Patrol and elsewhere, thank you for your encouragement and good wishes...and Don L, I honestly can't fathom what you mean about Obama perpetuating the politics of victimhood. As my daughter might say, It's so, like, the opposite of that. Many of his planks I might quibble with, and on pro-life, anguish over--but Obama represents a historic break with the tired old Noh plays of American race politics. He's no black conservative (too good to be true?), but neither is he a Jesse Jackson; he has rendered the Jesse's and the Sharptons and their tired rants obsolete in a staggeringly short time. (Setting him up for a position of moral leadership on abortion, and that's the sad vacuum I mourn.) Got it?