The Israeli Election Results: Good news for the settlers, good news for the status quo
On the Road with Obama and Romney, Part 1
I’d been traveling on the Greyhound bus for a full 24 hours, and I’d just left a nice apartment in New Orleans that I shared with a nice girl, because it wasn’t working and because I’d quite nearly run out of money. I’d spent half of my remaining $173 on a bus ticket home to Cincinnati, where I was about to show up as a grown 25-year-old with no home but the one my parents raised me in, and—lacking better options—I had accepted a frankly exploitive offer from VICE to file dispatches from a handful of states that I happen to know well (Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina) and that happen to be particularly important to the outcome of this election. To get the thing rolling VICE arranged for me to cover a Romney event at the little airport outside Dayton, Ohio. And, because I badly needed the money, I’d agreed to a sleepless night on the bus.
These are the politics of my personal discontent—which I thought might be worth sharing just because we’re so frequently reminded that the challenge in this election has been to win the hopes of the discontented voters, and because we’re so infrequently reminded that discontent, for all the ways we’ve found to count it up, has always been singular in its inward expression.
Because now it was becoming clear, at nine in the morning, that I was going to be late for the event. Three detectives from the Louisville Police Department, with two leashed Belgian Malamuts between them, were holding up the bus. Two of the detectives, with one of the dogs, had pulled our luggage out of the undercarriage and were inspecting it. One had come over to mingle with us in the smoking area, 25 yards away. He was sly: He came over with the dog and said “Hey, anyone want to pet him? He’s friendly,” but the dog wasn’t interested in being petted, and the detective seemed mostly interested in those of us who moved away when he came over. I had some pills—legally prescribed, but not prescribed to me—and I couldn’t remember what I’d done with them, and I wasn’t sure whether or not drug-sniffing dogs are trained to look for pills, and I was trying to look quickly through my bag. The dog came over. I glared at the detective.
Over by the bus they were searching an old black man, on his way home to Michigan from Clarksdale, Mississippi, where—he told us smokers at a stop in Bowling Green—he’d gone to bury his younger brother, the youngest of nine. He was protesting that he held a medical marijuana card given to him by the State of Michigan, and that they couldn’t arrest him even if they did find anything in his bags. The smokers watching discussed whether or not this was true. The detectives opened his suitcase.
The Malamut stuck his nose in my crotch and I asked the detective to move him away. He asked where I was headed. I said I was going to cover the election. He looked incredulous. He directed the dog to my bag.
The problem with a politics of discontent is that pure discontent is so personal that politics can’t really be expected to address it. But in this moment it occurred to me that the highest purpose of anyone running for president of this country ought to be to eliminate bullshit like this from the lives of his constituents. Not the dogs, so much, or these brutes with guns and crew cuts, because there’s no reason to expect they’re going anywhere. But none of us there would have been on the Greyhound at all, in the position of being forced to consent to this ridiculous search, if we had any other travel option. And it does seem at least possible to create a country where people are less likely to need to use this transport of last resort. Or, for that matter, where they’re less likely to shop at the retail outlets of last resort, or to rely on the emergency room, or on any of the other points of public interface of last resort where we’ve come to expect maltreatment and suspicion. Or even where—and this is hardly our biggest problem, just one I’m thinking about—where kids like me are less likely to fall back, as a last resort, on the security of our parents’ already-diminished retirement accounts. It seemed suddenly reasonable to ask for a country where people feel like they’re treated better. I suppose I’ll be voting with that country in mind.
The dog passed on. They didn’t find anything on the man with the medical marijuana card, the one who’d just buried his brother. The smokers around me murmured their surprise and pleasure, and we got back on the bus.
So now there I was, half an hour late for an event at the Dayton International Airport, and if I have a thesis on this campaign it’s that very few of the issues we’ve been told to watch have much at all to do with the discontent that’s driving this campaign. This thesis would be quickly, if only partially, confirmed.
At the edge of the field closest to the road there was a fat little man in a windbreaker selling stickers, five dollars apiece. I told him that seemed a little steep, for a sticker. I asked what it said. He handed me one. It read: “Don’t Re-Nig in 2012.”