Here in one of the blue states, I’m still wondering: who voted for Bush? Not many people in New Haven, which voted around 85% for Kerry. Not even my neighbours, blue-collar mortgage-paying Catholic Polish grandparents who were, as it turns out, deeply offended by the Republican talk of “moral values”: “Morals are for the family to take care of,” they protested, “not the government!”
And not, as far as I could tell, most of my students. They were all madly keen to vote, since most of them are in their first semester of university and had just hit voting age. A few of them couldn't vote -- some because, like me, they’re not Americans; others because their voting papers hadn’t arrived in the mail in time.
The day before the election, I polled them in a highly unscientific fashion about what issues they were voting on. (Don't worry, the sanctity of the classroom was not violated: they answered anonymously, to preserve their privacy, and the exercise had an explicit pedagogical purpose).
Sixteen Ivy Leaguers isn’t, of course, a representative sample of anything other than itself – you’d think. But these intelligent, fascinating young people are from all over the country and from all over the socioeconomic and cultural map. So it was an intriguing exercise.
Despite their varied backgrounds, most appeared to be voting for Kerry. Why? In equal measures because he was the anti-Bush and because he seemed like a competent and intelligent fellow. On their list of issues, international respect was a major theme; they didn’t want America to look stupid or mean, so they wanted a President who seemed to be neither.
Many were concerned about abortion and marriage: they were in favour of access to both (it’s a demographic thing: younger people have no trouble identifying a need for safe abortion, and can't see what the fuss is about gay marriage, because, duh, what kind of dinosaur thinks gay people are lower-class citizens?).
Fiscal responsibility, the looming deficit, and the increasing numbers of people without health insurance were important too. Oddly enough, terrorism didn’t make it onto the list at all. We also had a hard time remembering the signature issues from the last election, but managed to come up with “lockbox” and “fuzzy math” (how far we’ve come). It all led to a lively and impassioned discussion.
The day after the election, by contrast, no-one felt like talking. They were catatonically silent. It didn’t help that Kerry was giving his concession speech while we were meant to be discussing how to construct a winning argument.
I did my best to persuade them that it's not the end of the world, even if it seems that way: they will get to vote for president again in four years, by which time they’ll be twenty-two, and fresh out of college. A lifetime away, to their eyes, but it’ll roll around soon enough. In the meantime, we get on with things, as my wise old Dad counseled me the day after the election.
It’s taken me a while to get there, but sweeping up a yard full of leaves the other day, I came over all Ecclesiastes about it. To everything there is, undeniably, a season. There's a season for struggling to identify everything that's popping up; a season for getting the weeds under control; a season for planting a bean pyramid for Busytot to hide in and gorge himself on fresh green beans.
And now it's late fall, turning to winter: a season for tidying the yard, deadheading the perennials, and hunkering down to await the spring. And, now that the skeleton of the garden is visible, a season for taking the longer view.
I was raking and bagging the fallen leaves, when my other neighbour, Sophie, came out to do some yard work of her own. She and her sister are both in their eighties and both as thin and tough as twigs of witchhazel. They were born in the big white house where every evening they watch the Holy Rosary on television at a volume that can be heard from the street.
Her sister, who is poorly, doesn’t get out at all these days, but Sophie was painstakingly raking great shoals of dead leaves into tidy piles (I’ve offered to help, but it’s a point of pride for her to do it herself). She creaked her way over to the fence for a chat -- which took her a good minute or two -- and shook her fist at the three giant oaks in the next yard over, which were shedding leaves as fast as we could rake them.
“I shoulda pulled those things out when they were seedlings! Why didn’t I just do it?” she said, and pointed out that there were two or three spindly baby oaks, barely a foot high, lurking under my hedge. “If you don’t get to those now, one day they’ll be eighty feet tall. And you'll be raking up the leaves! I won’t be around to see it," she added, ominously (and somewhat redundantly), "but don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
I don't think she was telling me to slip some Round-up in the Republican drinking fountain -- that's altogether too Ukrainian an approach (she's Polish, not Russian). But it did make me wonder about what we might be planting, now, that will grow up both to shade us and shed leaves on us. Suddenly the next four years seemed like four minutes; not a second to lose.