The letters started in August. Instead of asking about unfaithful husbands and drug-addicted boyfriends, people started asking, Should I commit election fraud to ensure Bush's defeat? Should I leave the country if he is reelected? Why am I so utterly out-of-my-head about politics? Am I insane?
I didn't have answers to these questions. I needed time to think. But the election is now nearly upon us. So last week I put out a call for letters.
What resulted was an avalanche of great letters from Salon readers.
I coded the request for letters with the subject line "Politics Is Freaking Me Out" so that I could sort them easily. Refrain after refrain appeared as we scrolled through our e-mail: Politics Is Freaking Me Out! Politics Is Freaking Me Out! Politics Is Freaking Me Out! At Salon, politics has been freaking us out for nearly four years. So it was heartening to hear from you.
So here are my responses to two letters that represent my thoughts on why this presidency, this war and this election are freaking us out.
This year's election is taking a toll on many people. I currently reside in a state that is definitely going to the candidate I like and my parents reside in a swing state. I am still pretty young and during the last election I was living at home so I voted in that swing state.
This year, I wonder, is it ethical to not vote in my decided state but reregister in my parents' district? I know it is fraudulent, but ethically I feel like shouldn't I do everything possible to ensure that the candidate I actually respect gets elected?
I do not think you should do everything possible to ensure that the candidate you actually respect gets elected. Rather, I think you should do everything possible to ensure that our republic remains a republic governed by laws and not by expediency. I do not think you should violate the law and your own ethics. I think instead you should hold yourself to the highest ethical and legal standards.
To this end, you could vote absentee in your state and then travel to a swing state and work on get-out-the-vote efforts. That would be legal, inspiring and fun, and it would multiply your effectiveness. Instead of discrediting your own constituency for the gain of only one vote, you could help several voters reach the polls and thus multiply your effectiveness legally.
If you cannot travel to a swing state, you can call voters in swing states on the phone. This also is a way to work for your candidate without violating election law.
If accusations of election fraud do arise in the wake of the 2004 election, you will want to have acted in exemplary fashion. Our side ought to have clean hands.
As the election draws near, I am finding myself growing more and more anxious. I believe our democracy is in serious trouble, that we are headed toward an even more totalitarian government, and that the current administration will stop at nothing to maintain power. Having studied rhetoric in college, I can't help but note that Condoleezza Rice is using identical language to describe Iran as was used to describe Iraq before the administration started its "hard sell" on war there. Having gone to school with many Iranians I find the idea of invading their country even more horrifying than I found the invasion of Iraq.
My problem is, I am beginning to feel hopeless. "Cowed" might be a better word. As the resistance grows, so does the repression, exemplified by the latest FBI preemptive interviews. (Why isn't anyone saying: Preempting what?)
I have many obligations and emotional ties to this country, but I am seriously considering emigrating. How does one know when it is time to leave a country? How did our ancestors know when it was time to leave "the old country"?
Wondering When to Pack Up and Leave
I carried this question around with me for several weeks before suddenly, with great passion, I realized what I believe: No, of course you should not leave. This is your country. This is our country. Why should we have to leave because things are not to our liking?
If this country has been hijacked by right-wing zealots, we can vote them out.
To leave now, it seems to me, would be premature. It might relieve you of a certain chronic angst. It might make it easier in certain ways. But it would be wrenching personally; the costs would be high. And there is much work to be done here. What more can one do from France or England to organize Americans to resist their own government? To leave would not impede this country's imperial quest or enlighten its leadership. It would not strengthen the resistance at home.
If we feel this country has been lost, let's find it again. If we feel threatened, let's vanquish the threat. In whatever sense we feel that this country is no longer recognizable, let's refashion it. Let's re-create what we have lost. If the media have become enslaved, let's create new, free media, and support the few independent media that survive. If the country has taken reckless foreign adventures, let's rein it in.
When people start disappearing, that's when you pack your suitcase and bury the silver. The paradox, of course, is that only when you are prevented from leaving does it finally seem like it's time to leave. Oh, well.
As to the sense many have that we have awakened a latent fascism, I think elements of fascism have become visible in our national character and in our leaders, but I do not think we are on the road to a fascist or totalitarian form of government. What we have seen in the last three years is a clumsy and incompetent reaction to an unprecedented threat. Our stupid little men in Washington are not up to the job. We have got the wrong government for our times. We need a new one. We can get one.
Now, some would say that the battle is lost already, that the manufacturing of consent is so finely tuned that we are all slaves without a shot being fired. So why stick around? Why stick around? Because we own this thing. It is ours.
Until they start taking people away in the night, I say fight the bastards. After they start taking people away in the night, I say fight the bastards. Why? Because it's our friggin' spacious skies and amber waves of grain.