By Nick Arvin, the author of the novel Articles of War (THE NEW YORK TIMES, 19/10/08):
The clock-radio ignites, and your mind rises from dreams to the sounds of a woman saying, in the tone of the hostess at an intervention, “We can’t afford John McCain.” You kill the radio and shamble through your routine of bathroom, breakfast cereal, shirt, pants and shoes while the television gives you ads announcing things like, “Obama worked with terrorist Bill Ayers.”
As you drive through your suburban neighborhood, some blocks are nearly devoid of yard signs but others bristle with them; it’s as if, once an outpost is established, the neighbors all feel obliged to declare themselves.
Creeping with the rush-hour traffic, you listen to more radio ads, and the vehicle in front of you carries an oval magnet with the slogan, “Veterans for McCain,” which sits uneasily in your mind beside the circular “Veterans for Obama” sticker you saw the day before, like a Venn diagram with no overlap.
At the office you open an Internet window to check The Denver Post and The Rocky Mountain News, and sidebar ads tag you with “McCain-Palin: Country First.”
When you go out for lunch, a movie-screen-sized Barack Obama spans the backside of the three-story Ghost Building, fixing his gaze at a point 30 or 40 feet above the khakis and shirtsleeves types strolling Champa Street. At Starbucks, oppositional candidate stickers have been stuck above the door handle and incompletely torn away.
After work you head to the gym and pass a billboard that asserts, “Martin Luther King Jr. was a Republican,” which someone has revised to read “Obamacan.” Confusingly, it’s placed in a Hispanic neighborhood.
As you work out, flat screens suspended from the ceiling display more ads, all of which seem to feature a lot of dark colors. Outside, a woman walks by with her dachshund wrapped in a doggie sweater that reads, “Woof for Obama.”
Driving home, you debate yourself. This is the result of calculating attempts to exploit the quirks of the Electoral College. Or is this simply what democracy is? This is what happens when you live in a state small enough population-wise, swingy enough and with a sufficiently concentrated media market that dumping dollars can have a lot of apparent leverage. Or is this what it looks like when a nation of voters fully and enthusiastically engages in the democratic process?
In the mail at home a piece of glossy cardboard promises that McCain-Palin will help middle-class families by expanding stem-cell research and addressing climate change. You turn on the TV and Barack Obama talks directly to the camera for a full minute. You’ve grown so accustomed to baleful, baritone voiceovers that the absence of one feels like a trick to fool you into paying attention.
You step outside as the sunset is puddling into the Rockies, and you spend a moment contemplating your neighbor’s McCain-Palin sign. Kids play on the sidewalk. The 6-year-old girl who lives across the street wobbles around on a bike with a “Vote Democrat” sticker wrapped around the frame. You ask, “Your daddy put that on there?”
“I did,” she says. “Daddy tried to take it off, but I wouldn’t let him.”
Her brother comes up and asks, “Are you going to vote?”
“We’re going to vote at school, but it won’t really count,” the girl says. “You’re lucky you get a vote that counts.”
You tell her that you have friends in California and New York who have told you the same thing.
Sister and brother nod at you in the twilight. And when your neighbor pulls up with a fresh load of yard signs, the children cheer wildly.