Campaign Journal: Negative Campaign Tactics Backfiring?

Lori Jewett is an OffTheBus grassroots correspondent. Each week she contributes a campaign journal documenting her life out on the trail.

"He's a terrorist," the driver shouted, blowing past me in her shiny SUV. It was the first, but it wouldn't be the only time that day I heard similar sentiments. Holding my Obama sign, guiding rally-goers into the parking lot for the Biden rally, I was occasionally assaulted by anti-Obama rhetoric. One man in a pick-up truck, pulled up to the yield sign and smiled at me broadly. As I smiled back, dripping with sarcasm he said, "Sorry, I don't do socialism." "Neither do I," I told him. "We're not talking about socialism . . .maybe you should LOOK UP THE MEANING OF THE WORD," I shouted as he drove off. Of course, then I remembered that I wasn't supposed to yell or be rude while wearing my Obama volunteer badge. Whoops.

What can I say? Remarks like that make me a little bit angry. Hearing comments like that also make me feel a little less proud to be an American and I'm not afraid to admit it. Oh now, don't go taking that too literally (or telling certain Congresswomen that I said that). I'd hate to be called unpatriotic or anti-American. It's just that remarks like this leave me wondering if we shouldn't move education reform up a little higher on the list of priorities, if you know what I mean. Seriously, I can't help but wonder how people can be so gullible and so ill-informed, not to mention so hate-filled.

So, as I stewed over the few negative comments that I heard on rally day, the many horns honking in support and thumbs up that I witnessed faded into the background. I started feeling discouraged and worried that Sarah Palin's fear-inspiring, rally lies were having a far more powerful effect than I thought possible. Were people really buying that crap? Were the voters really that gullible? Say it ain't so Joe.

I had heard that Palin's speeches (think comments like "pallin' around with terrorists" and the like) were really revving up the crowd and that people were responding in very unbecoming ways. I'd read the stories of people shouting "terrorist" and "kill him" at the mention of Obama's name. I'd watched video clips of ignorant remarks made by Palin supporters. But somehow, witnessing it myself, hearing it with my own ears in my own community, really drove it home. Sometimes you just need to experience something for yourself before you can fully grasp it.

It's no real surprise that as I sat down this past week to make calls to undecided voters, I did so with great trepidation. My palms were definitely a little sweatier than usual. What was I going to hear from these people? Were they going to shout "terrorist" and then slam the phone in my ear? Would they pepper me with questions about Bill Ayers? How ugly was it going to get?

Well, it turns out that Michael Jackson was right about something after all. "One bad apple don't spoil the whole bunch, girl." I'd let a few bad apples poison my impression of the general public and all for naught. The voters I've spoken to over the past week have done nothing short of reaffirm my faith in my fellow Americans; no small feat after witnessing comment after comment and story after story of small-mindedness, prejudice and well, let's just call a spade a spade - stupidity.

What did the voters tell me that helped to redeem scores of Americans in my eyes? Voter after voter told me, rather emphatically, that they were supporting Obama. They raved about his intelligence, his thoughtfulness, his compassion, his temperament and his smart ideas. Without prompting, they insisted on pointing out his strengths and contrasting his abilities and his personality with those of the opposing ticket. They confided in me that they believed Sarah Palin to be "as dumb as a rock," "unqualified" and downright "scary." They said that McCain had "the wrong ideas" and was too "headstrong" and too "irritable." One woman, after voicing her opinion of both Sarah Palin and George W. Bush, told me that she works with the mentally retarded. She then said that while she "is all for the mentally challenged" she does not "want them in the White House." Ouch!

These supposedly undecided voters waxed poetic about Obama being the "right person for the job" and being someone that they thought was "best qualified to handle the problems we have right now." Often, the people I had called apologized for bending my ear and then went on to bend it for a few more minutes, commanding me to listen to more glowing remarks about the Democratic candidate. These voters, most of whom are likely white (based on the demographics in my area), are not just politely saying that they'll vote for Obama. They are declaring their support unequivocally. So much for the Bradley effect.

Am I still feeling worried and dejected? Not so much. This election cycle has forced me to recognize that racism, narrow-mindedness and the fear of anyone who is different are, sadly, still alive and well in this country. But my conversations with voters have also confirmed for me that the keepers of those antiquated fears and beliefs are an ever-shrinking minority. The vast majority of American voters are able to see past skin color, religious affiliations (real or imagined) and smear tactics and, instead, thoughtfully and intelligently evaluate the issues and the candidates.

My fears that the despicable, negative campaign tactics of John McCain and Sarah Palin would somehow derail the Obama/Biden train, while not fully eradicated, have been substantially alleviated. Two of the women voters I spoke to this week had this to say (in eerily, almost-identical phrasing but paraphrased here by me): "I don't care who supposedly did what, with whom, when. . . what I want to know is what are you going to do for me now?"

As we near the end of this painful election cycle, it seems that all of the negative campaigning I had so feared was poisoning the minds of the average American voters is amounting to nothing more than a little bit of dirt here and there on the tracks. As for the Obama/Biden train? Looks like it's full steam ahead.

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