George Packer has a lengthy piece in this week's New Yorker on Ohio's "disaffected" working class voters. Packer is such a good reporter, and has so many good anecdotes, that the article is much more engaging than one would expect. (It's much better than Peter Boyer's extremely dull story--from only a week ago(!)--that was about Virginia but covered very, very similar ground). What interested me about Packer's reporting is that it leaves the reader with no "appropriate" response.
Anyone who has spent a lot of time traveling through Ohio (or, presumably, anywhere) prior to an election is used to hearing an unbelievable amount of nonsense fom "average" voters. Misinformation, confusion, and misanthropy are the orders of the day. The most prominent voter in Packer's piece is a sympathetic and struggling woman from Columbus who tells Packer blatantly incorrect and nonsensical things about the candidates' proposals. And then, of course, there are the assorted bigots and dopes, who either desperately want to believe Obama is a radical Muslim, or show no desire to spend the ten minutes it would take them to learn that he is not one. Packer is pretty nuanced in describing all of this (and his portrait of a well-meaning, naive Obama organizer is spot-on). But as a commentator or simply as a reader, the story leaves you feeling uncomfortable and depressed and angry. What, exactly, is the conclusion that we are supposed to come to about all of this? Well, one conclusion certainly springs to mind, but cannot be uttered in polite society. Doing so is just too elitist, too condescending, too simplistic. It is as if all the nonsense we are forced to consume about small town values (I like the phrase 'small town porn') and average Americans (and, as a corollary, undecided voters--who are these people?) has prohibited any honest accounting of the sheer incomprehension that characterizes so much of our democratic decision-making.