Real Live Undecideds

by Daniel Foster

They say they don’t exist, but in the days I’ve spent weathering the storm in my hometown in New Jersey, I’ve met a couple. Most of the area is still without power, but there’s an Irish bar by the train tracks with a big honkin’ diesel generator, and it’s been lit up like a Christmas tree the last three nights, an oasis of light in a desert of darkness.

Of course, the joint is jumping. And since this storm seems to have brought my high school diaspora home, it’s also a kind of depot of friends and acquaintances past. I stopped in for a drink last night and chatted with two, we’ll call them Fred and Wilma. Small talk led to catching up, and catching up inevitably led to work, and work inevitably led to the election. Both Fred and Wilma are undecided, for different reasons. Wilma thinks both Romney and Obama are “a**holes”; Fred describes himself as the elusive “fiscal conservative, social liberal.”

Fred is a big fan of Romney’s fiscal profile, his promise to lower taxes and rein in spending and the debt. But he doesn’t like the “Fox News bull****” — the culture wars — that he sees as baggage for Romney’s platform. He wishes he could have the former without the latter. I talk a little bit about the real powers of the presidency, about how Romney is likely to have more leverage to enact his fiscal program than he is to enact his (purported) social program. Fred seems to buy this, at least provisionally. But he’s still undecided.

Wilma and I go off on a tangent about the work ethic of our generation, about how most of our town (ourselves excluded, of course) are the product of the upper-middle class, and we came out of college expecting big-time careers, four-bedroom houses on quarter acre lots, and mid-sized luxury sedans. We’re learning too slow that nothing’s going to be handed to us, that we have to work for it. I tell her she sounds a lot like a conservative.

Wilma scoffs. Romney is for the rich, not the hard-working. Just look at his tax plan. I try to clear up some misconceptions and go off on a standard spiel of mine about how we have to decide, as a society, whether it’s more important to tear down Paris Hiltons or encourage Conrad Hiltons — whether, that is, we are willing to accept some entitled little brats as a consequence of a the free enterprise system that let their ancestors build fortunes from nothing. I tell her I think the answer is obvious, and she agrees. The problem with Romney, she says, is he is more like Paris than Conrad. I go for the jugular. Did Wilma know that Romney gave away his inheritance because he felt he wanted to earn his own fortunes? She did not. It gives her pause. But she still doesn’t think a profit-maximizing businessman is necessarily the right kind of guy to lead the country.

Well what would she rather have: a businessman or a lawyer?

Neither, she says. She’d rather have a waitress. Someone who is an effective intermediary between the kitchen and customer, someone who can communicate well, who can help you pick the right beer and not get screwed over by the “specials”.

It’s a novel answer. I don’t buy it, but it’s novel.

Alas, both Fred and Wilma remained undecided after our chat.

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