Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Since I neglected to change my registration, I had to trek up to my parents' house in the suburbs to vote. The polling place was a middle school that had been derelict during my childhood--a demographic trough, apparently--but that has since been reclaimed to service a newly booming population. We arrived just as classes were changing; apparently this is just one of many schools where the traditional class-changing bell has been replaced by an electronic tone, which mostly sounded like a cell phone ringing. I was shocked to recognize a very distinctive middle-school odor, like that of a distant locker room, which obviously couldn't have been seeping out of the pores of the gutted and renovated building but could only be attributed to sweaty adolescent hormones. I felt very tall.

I suppose at some point they'll really do away with punch-card balloting, but until they do there's something uniquely satisfying about using the little plastic tool to punch decisively through the unseen ballot beneath. Plus it gave me the opportunity to check carefully for hanging chads; I did indeed discover one and removed it with great care, lest my vote for the O'Malley vacancy on the Cook County Circuit Court go awry. I was disappointed, however, not to be offered one of those little "I Voted" lapel stickers; I only saw one person wearing one all day, and he was a TV reporter, so it was probably made in the prop studio.

The U.S. Senate race in Illinois is probably one of the most important of the 2004 season; Republican Sen. Peter Fitzgerald chose not to seek a second term, leaving the seat wide open in a period of Democratic resurgence in Illinois. I was pleased to see Barack Obama, a state senator and U of Chicago law professor, trouncing the competition in the Democratic primary; Obama seems smart and effective on the right issues (including civil rights and death-penalty reform in Illinois), and by all accounts has something like rock-star charm in person. In a crowded field with some serious mudslinging it was pretty impressive that Obama's only obvious weakness seemed to be his name, which, of course, led an overzealous Republican activist to put up a website featuring an image of "Obama" bin Laden--thankfully taken down after a quick public outcry.

It was somewhat agonizing to have my major source of information on the campaign be the Chicago Tribune, which I read every morning despite its profoundly conservative slant--though it's less a gleeful, swaggering neoconservatism than the embittered, middle-aged Midwestern type that masquerades as "common sense" and still thinks political correctness is the source of all evil. The Trib spent most of the weeks leading up to the election wringing its hands about how the campaign had "devolved" into mudslinging, while at the same time being the primary force behind such smear tactics; it broke and then relentlessly pounded away at a story about multimillionaire Democrat Blair Hull's messy divorce, suggesting that Hull--one of whose major credentials had been as a women's-rights activist--was a violent abuser of women. But Hull, who sank more than $20 million of his own money into the campaign (the latest in a recent string of people who've tried to buy Senate seats), humiliated himself with an awful counteroffensive, which included parading his two grown daughters in front of TV cameras to defend him, but also included defensive full-page ads that accused his ex-wife of being motivated by greed and insisted (as if this proved anything) that they had just been to see a movie together last week.

Hull had been the front-runner, but the controversy (and the Trib) pretty much took care of that, and Hull's response to the whole thing showed that he obviously didn't get it. Meanwhile, the best the Republicans can offer up is a guy whose major achievement is being the ex-husband of Seven of Nine.

No comments: