Peter Shelton

Sucking the air out of America

Posted in Watch columns by pshelton on November 8, 2012

Saturday was my last day canvassing for President Obama in Montrose. Sunday is the beginning of my workweek, and even if I had been available during the last two days before the election, I don’t know if I’d have had the psychic energy to get out there again.

This campaign, national and local, has sucked the air out of the sky above America. The hatred. The lies. The money spent on jet fuel, on television and Interweb ads, on political “events,” robo-calls and billboards. The angry, ugly bumper stickers.

Madison Avenue profits must be doing nicely, thank you. Ditto for political consultants and professional fundraisers, pollsters and pundits (a few of the them, anyway). Everybody else is left with a massive headache and the feeling that the system by which we choose our representatives has careened off a cliff.

Yes, the Supremes decided, narrowly, that money is speech. But this obscene amount of cash supporting this kind of say-anything ambition has all but strangled rational discourse. The conversations we should be having are not even on the next table.

Already they’re talking about 2016: Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Hillary Clinton. Lost in the fashionable bashing of all things “socialist,” especially French socialism, is this: in France, presidential election campaigns last five weeks, and political advertisements are aired free of charge on an equal basis for all candidates. They vote on a Sunday, a day off. Then they get on with the business of providing health care for all their citizens.

Saturday was a good day. I talked to some nice people through their screen doors. And I think I may have helped a couple of them sort out their voting options. One young couple was going to vote by mail, but their baby spilled food all over their mail-in ballots. They’ll have to go down to the polling place on Tuesday and vote the old-fashioned way.

Another woman promised me she’d get out and vote, but she had her polling place wrong; she thought it was City Hall, when it was actually the Pavilion.

Everybody was polite, unlike a few weeks ago when the canvassing lists were less refined, and included some Republicans and Independents. Some of them were polite. Some were not. One man told me to get off his property, now, and that he wouldn’t vote for that sonofabitch if he were the last man on earth.

This time was better. But still there was a kind of war-weary darkness, an exhaustion, even on this brightest of fall days. Is it really darker? Is there really more at stake than ever before? Or am I just more thin-skinned? Or more suggestible?

I was back in the car, driving to another neighborhood, when I passed a new-ish house I’d admired before, one with clean modern lines and poured concrete walls. The owner/builder, a young guy in dungarees, happened to be outside futzing with something, so I stopped in the middle of the road, window down, and said, “Nice house.”

The compliment brought on a friendly smile, and he strolled over to chat. Turned out we had a lot in common. I told him about my foam-insulated, concrete house. He recognized the name of the Montrose archer (forearms of steel) who did the hard trowelling on our concrete floors. That archer’s father was working currently on foundations for new buildings up on Chimney Peak Ranch. The new owners there are keeping a lot of local craftsmen busy, including this young man. He was glad to have the work, he said, though he had hoped, and still does hope, when the economy comes back, to build more super-efficient houses like his own, which he started, unfortunately “at just the wrong time,” in 2007.

I turned off the engine. The conversation meandered effortlessly around internal and external window coverings (to keep the summer sun at bay), French volets, shade trees, irrigation water, the huge cottonwoods surrounding old valley farmhouses. He told me about an idea he had for hinged volets made of SIPS panels.

I really should have been moving along, getting back to the business of contacting Democratic voters. But it was so pleasant sitting there talking. I recalled an interview I’d read years before, with Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard. The pioneering climber and surfer (and fantastically successful entrepreneur) wrestled with questions about “green” business, about his own house built almost entirely from recycled materials, about the ethical conundrums facing a businessman who would, given his druthers, save the planet – and make a profit.

After a while, Chouinard hit a wall; he’d had it with the interviewer’s questions, most of which had no answers.

“Sometimes,” he said at last, “you just have to say ‘Fuck it,’ and go surfing.”

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