You wouldn't expect to hear a police officer in his bullet-proof vest, gun-in-holster, badge-wearing full uniform quoting the lyrics of a Rogers and Hammerstein's South Pacific song. "You've got to be taught to be afraid of people whose eyes are oddly made and people whose skin is a different shade - you've got to be carefully taught." Yet, this tall, "saxy lieutellan," Arizona Police Officer (he's asked to remain anonymous, so we'll just call him by the name of the character in South Pacific, "Lt. Joe Cable"), surprisingly finds life as a Democrat in the midst of Arizona's Republican atmosphere a reasonable response to today's candidates - but not for the reasons one might expect.
Our "Lt. Cable" says he needs to stay unnamed because he has applied for a promotion within his Department and he fears visibly proclaiming his political bent just might poison his chances. "In police work, it's better not to stand out," he says. "A good officer leads quietly, thoughtfully."
"We don't discuss politics at work," Lt. Cable explains. "It's paramount for police officers to maintain an aura of neutrality, which means discussions of politics are off-limits. Even in our private lives, we keep our politics close to the vest. Every police officer's primary function is to maintain or reestablish the status quo during any given situation. That's our role. As cops, we hold and preserve a conservative stance in dealing with the public because it serves to settle things. Even our private lives, we're a pretty conservative bunch. By default, then, most cops are conservative by nature and practice. Like the military, we pretty much tend to vote Republican."
So why is this one guy so unique and different? Why this particular cop? What makes him willing to risk everything and go against the tide, even if it is in the privacy of a voting booth?
As the Lieutenant explains, there are actually three reasons why he's decided to vote for Obama, opposite his colleagues. First, he thinks we're way overdue for a change in the way this country has been run, but he doesn't believe McCain and Palin are the way to go. "It doesn't help that Palin was found to have abused her power as Governor of Alaska -- especially over a police executive," he says. "When any one of our own is mistreated ... no matter where they might live ... officers gather in support of one another. And that certainly applies in this case where someone who we consider one of our executive officers was mistreated by his superior."
Secondly, Lt. Cable has a vested interest in how we view racial issues. "When you pull someone over for a traffic violation ... if they are a minority, frequently they'll complain about racial profiling," he says. "It's simply not true. If I'm looking at an unsafe lane change, I'm observing the violation and not the violator. I'm not looking through their windshield to determine the color of their skin or nationality. I'm just noticing the law." "I'd like to move past the notion of separateness and divisiveness," he continues. "People might have more of a feeling of racial equality if we added the tertiary factor of electing a modern black man who is himself not a divisive individual. That one thing alone might remove the stigma of people feeling picked on because of their skin color. When we're policing the right way, we do not profile -- we simply observe the law and maintain the peace."
Finally, Lt. Cable discussed the way each campaign has conducted itself from a standpoint of crowd control. To him, the Obama rallies seem organized and enthusiastic, but nevertheless, respectful. From a police view, there's vigilance for the occasional rabble-rouser, but there's not chaos or disruption. Detractors are tolerated, yet carefully monitored and controlled.
On the other hand, the McCain and Palin gatherings "seem to be trouble from the start." As the good Lieutenant puts it, "I'm responsible for my officers in the field. I believe policy is set at the top, so if I allow an anything-goes atmosphere, my officers are going to be confused. If, however, I set an example of proper conduct, everyone below me will know what's expected. What I hear from McCain and Palin is mean-spirited confusion and that translates to the crowd in those explosive responses we've heard like, 'terrorist' and 'kill him.' From a police viewpoint, that's a crowd control nightmare. You've got to wonder what McCain ... as a military man ... is thinking and why he would allow that kind of atmosphere."
"These guys are playing the ultimate 'bad cop' and it makes life miserable for those of us who are responsible then to clean up their mess."
Lt. Cable tips his head a bit in thought. "You know, if McCain encourages chaos at a simple rally, how's he going to behave if he's leading the nation through all its current crises? That's what I wonder. How will he manage disagreeable leaders of other countries if he can't even hold his temper here?"
Our anonymous Lieutenant ended by noting that the philosophy of separatism didn't work during the Civil War, and it still won't work today. "When you divide people ... when you call some people 'Joe Sixpacks' and others 'Elitists,' ... when you ridicule people because they may be different, you're only making things volatile. I want a thoughtful president ... not one who incites division."
Bottom line is, he wants his president disciplined ... like a cop! For him, the person who is most restrained, most attentive is Barack Obama.
Rogers and Hammerstein's South Pacific may have been a story set during World War II, but its lessons are still in the forefront today. It's still true that when you don't have knowledge you have misunderstanding. It's still true that "you've got to be taught before it's too late, before you are six or seven or eight, to hate all the people your relatives hate -- you've got to be carefully taught!"