Put Your Politics On, Pennsylvania

Though generally a Democrat stronghold, Pennsylvania is nevertheless rife with single-issue voters— Pro Life, yo! Pro-guns, yo!— who, in effect, tend to invoke tragic results by voting against their own socio-economic interests. (In terms of stone cold economic reality, most of us do; see “Fractured Franchise“, Louis Menand’s article from the July 2007 issue of The New Yorker, for details.) I feel a very specific sense of urgency regarding tomorrow’s Pennsylvania primary, born chiefly from my position as a native flung 3,000 miles away into a land of milk and honey, where “talking politics” often feels like preaching to the choir. In fact, in writing this I now realize that I am only acquainted with two people in San Francisco who aren’t registered Democrats (if not Independents or the like). They are regarded with both abject horror and supreme awe by the rest of my social circle, most of whom are over-educated, under-employed transplants who hail from a wide variety of places and purviews.

In the political discussions I’ve been privy to while here, however, San Francisco seems to exert some great equalizing force on its left-leaning voters, myself and my friends included: it often feels like people forget— or rather, disavow— where they came from, often taking for granted that their own positions were often first formed in stark opposition to the offending viewpoints germane to those places. “Those places” still exist, as do those positions, even if they are rendered less visible here.

Pennsylvania is a markedly different state, largely speaking: Nobody there creams all over their copy of Capital when I tell them that my grandfather died in a coal mine. In the course of general discussion, that simple fact doesn’t signify a given political position— or rather, it doesn’t encourage the assumption of one, as it tends to here

Though I had always claimed that I would never live in Pennsylvania again, I nevertheless found myself there in 2004. While polling voters both by phone and door-to-door during the months and weeks leading up to the presidential election, I encountered an entire neighborhood— Lawrenceville, the traditionally Polish, working-class Pittsburgh nabe— comprised of people who, though largely proximate to one another in socio-economic status, varied wildly in their political views. Every screen door felt like a portal to the mundane, and yet I could never assume the position of the person on the other side. This constant uncertainty lent a very specific sense of urgency to those conversations, during that time and in that place— one that I haven’t felt since and doubt I’ll feel again (if only time and place could be replicated somehow, even for only a moment).

Tonight, Pennsylvania is on fire. And for the first time in my life, I wish I were there to feed it.

(P.S.: Vote Obama. Seriously now.)

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Filed under Forward Retreat, Politicks

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