COMMENTARY | My family visited a restaurant this weekend, one we’ve been going to for years. We always have the same server, a young woman who worked full time while going to school to become a teacher. A single mom, she was driving hours daily just to use her degree in a daycare for very little pay, while still waitressing on the weekends to make ends meet. Finally, she threw in the towel, got a job in marketing and recently bought her first house.
With the election looming, the topic of politics arose. Jane (not her real name) came to the table as we were talking about the Republican party platform and had some questions. She pulled up a chair.
It turns out that Jane is among that elusive group called “undecided voters.” With candidates so far apart in plans and ideology, it’s difficult to imagine someone caught in indecision between them, but nonetheless, they exist, and could well decide the election.
Reasons for remaining undecided a few months out of an election can vary, but in Jane’s case, the issue was simple: She didn’t know enough about the candidates.
She’d been told stuff, not just by us, but by other customers with different viewpoints, information so irreconcilable, so disparate, she could not resolve what she’d been told, and had no idea where to start.
She hesitated for a moment, then said she’d heard the “other side” too, and it was so hard to know what to believe.
I asked her what she meant by the “other side.”
She told me that someone had come in and showed her a video. He told her that man in the video used to be one of President Barack Obama’s biggest advisers, and now he’s switched to support Republicans.
“He was really angry,” she said.
“What did he look like?” I asked her, an inkling brewing in the back of my mind.
“He was white, with glasses.”
“Was he all, kind of, one color, his hair, face, everything?”
“Yes,” she said.
“Did he kind of look like a lump?”
She nodded. I pulled out my phone (thank goodness for smartphones) and found a picture.
“Is this him?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said. “That’s him.”
It was Karl Rove.
We explained to her that Karl Rove is a Republican strategist, that he’s never been an Obama adviser. I can’t know whether the man who showed her the video actually knew it, or believed that Rove once worked for Obama. I can’t say where anyone would get that idea, or more importantly, would keep that idea, when the truth is a simple Google bar away.
So this is where our democracy rests, with people who want to vote in their interests, but may not know how to begin to figure out who will support those interests, or how.
People for whom every media outlet has the same credibility, the same likelihood of telling the truth.
In a way, media outlets are to blame for Jane’s confusion, as they no longer seek the truth but spin a “narrative,” that weasely word that allows every version of reality, no matter how remote, the same foothold.
When you cannot find a raft of reliable information, there is no gulf between the parties; it is a vast ocean, rough, impossible to navigate under the darkness of deliberate deception. The Janes may well decide the fate of our nation, even if, when faced by the enormity of choice without informed choice, they choose to stay home on Election Day.