A portrait of indecision
October 13, 2004
It’s past midnight on a Tuesday in a smoky, two-car garage in Carson City. In between calling and checking, community college students Jay Demarco, 19, Derek Zastre, 18, and Phillip O’Sullivan, 20, sit around the green baize of a poker table and ante up on the upcoming election.
It’s their first, and they’re still waiting for the flop to make their final decision – not just whether to vote for Bush or Kerry, but whether they’re going vote at all.
Look closely: These three men might be the ones who cast the deciding votes for the next president of the most powerful nation to ever exist.
Locating the exotic, prized animal known as the undecided or “swing-voter” in Election 2004 is like finding hay in a needle stack. There are soft Democrats and soft Republicans, hard Green Party supporters and those who play their cards very close to their chest. But the purely undecided voter is being courted and wooed like a Hollywood blonde in an old black- and-white movie.
The three young men have been watching and waiting. What they see so far are two Yale graduates generalizing and posturing over the small circumstances, while many of the larger issues go ignored.
“Politics has been reduced to some kind of a Hollywood science,” says Demarco. “It’s all campaign-speak and affectation.”
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The three agree, whether it’s MTV’s “Rock the Vote” or the Youth Vote Coalition, they can smell a campaign aimed at their “demographic” in their sleep – and they don’t like it.
“No one wants to be talked down to,” says O’Sullivan. “They expect us to vote one way or another because we’re young. But age isn’t a voting block to me.”
Both O’Sullivan and Demarco saw Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” and say they were affected, but that doesn’t guarantee a vote for Kerry.
“Half that movie made Bush look like a bigger threat than Saddam,” says Demarco. But, he said, it was still just a movie. He lacks the time and resources to verify everything he hears as fact. Especially disturbing to Demarco are the endless barrage of campaign commercials.
“The television ads are ridiculous. Here’s Kerry saying he will fight against the nuclear storage dump at Yucca Mountain, and two seconds later there’s a Bush commercial saying John Kerry signed something called the ‘Screw Nevada’ bill.”
“What we do know,” says Zastre, “Is we’re pretty sure Social Security won’t be around for us, even though we pay for it.”
“All we’ll have left in 40 years is a fat military and a trillion-dollar debt,” O’Sullivan says.
Speaking of the military, a chair sits empty where their friend Dakota Snow would be sitting. He’s somewhere in Oklahoma.
“He joined the Army,” says Demarco. “A lot of our friends are joining some branch of the service. The bonuses are pretty big, but it seems like you’re guaranteed a trip to Iraq.”
“I’ve got a teacher who tries to get us to vote a certain way,” says Zastre, raising his bet.
Demarco checks. “I don’t like Bush because of what he’s done in the last four years. But at the same time, I’ve got no idea what Kerry will do, either. We’ll still be at war either way.”
“Sometimes I think I could never vote Bush, ’cause, well, I want to live,” laughs O’Sullivan.
Aside from the sports section, none of the guys reads the paper very regularly. So where do they get their information?
“‘The Daily Show,'” says Demarco. “Sometimes I’ll read an article on the Internet, and once in a while I’ll watch CNN’s ‘Headline News,’ but you just can’t trust everything you hear.”
The products of a generation that often values irony above stark reality and conspiracy above the simple explanation, the three become borderline cynical the more they talk. They think a lot of people in the system are just following a foot chart on how they should vote, be it from their preacher or teacher.
“And remember when they flew the bin Laden family out of the country right after the attacks?” remembers Demarco.
“I have a bad feeling about Kerry,” O’Sullivan says.
“I just don’t know,” says Zastre.
For right now, they’re keeping their cards hidden. At least until November.