where the writers are
An Open Letter to the Undecided: You're Better Than This and You Know It

To Whom It May Concern,

With so little time remaining before election day, and with so many things running through my mind--things that I'm hoping might, if presented correctly, somehow influence your vote--I hardly know where to begin. I guess I could speak to you about one or another public policy issue--perhaps health care, or education--and try to convince you that Barack Obama is the better choice. But I'm not going to do that. Not because I doubt that it's true, but because there's something more important to think about. It's about you, and who you are, and what you want to stand for and associate with come election day.

I won't try and change your mind about issues. My own ideological commitments are decidedly to the left, far more so than Barack Obama by the way (which is why I actually find it funny when folks suggest he's some far-out radical or socialist). I actually wish Obama were more bold in his progressivism, but many years ago I learned that when it came to presidential elections, I'd likely have to settle for voting for the candidate who I felt was better, even if they were far from my own ideal. I could spend the other 364 days fighting for what I believed in, without apology or compromise. Election day, for me, has always come to be about harm reduction: a political equivalent of the hippocratic oath. And that's OK.

I'm asking you now to make that same leap: to relinquish the need to be totally behind the person you vote for, and instead to make the best out of a situation that you may see as less than ideal, but which nonetheless posits a very serious choice in terms of which direction this nation travels, less so in terms of policy than in terms of tone, demeanor, and its overall political culture.

Because this election isn't just about taxes, or the war in Iraq, or energy policy, though it is all of those things. Honest and decent people can disagree about those subjects, as with any political issue. But this election is about the public face of the United States of America in the early twenty-first century. And when it comes to such a matter as this, the difference between an Obama and McCain vote couldn't be clearer.

If you don't believe me, I implore you to take a look at the numerous video clips of McCain and Palin's hardcore supporters (links embedded at the end of this letter) as they scream words of anger and hatred at Obama supporters who are merely standing with signs announcing their preference outside one or another McCain rally. These mobs, and that is what they are, are not merely people who disagree about issues with Senator Obama--which would be fine--but rather, they are persons who seem incapable of even seeing the humanity of their opponent, or his supporters. They are people whose vitriol and venom know few if any bounds. They are people who call him names that are only thinly-veiled racial slurs, who threaten him with violence, and who suggest that he is a "baby killer" whose election would destroy America. These are dangerous people, and what's important here, is that they are not like you.

If you agreed with this kind of rhetoric, I suspect you wouldn't be undecided, or perhaps merely leaning towards McCain. You would be a full-blown acolyte. That you are not suggests that you are trying to avoid the trap of overblown emotionalism. For that, I thank you. And for that reason I am asking you to consider that if you vote for McCain, you will not merely be voting for policies that you may prefer, but you will also be empowering some of these very forces visible in the videos. You will be casting your lot with them, making common cause with persons whose anger and rage threatens to tear the country apart at a time when we desperately need to come together to solve common problems. These forces, if victorious, would think their triumph a signal event, one that would give them a green light to ramp up the volume of their hatred even louder. 

Although most McCain supporters are not like the thugs attending these rallies, surely it must give you pause to think that you could vote as they vote, that you might contribute to the election of a man whose base includes such persons as these. People who have verbally abused Obama campaigners canvassing door-to-door or on the phone, who suggest that we should "Bomb Obama," and who have spread vicious rumors about the candidate with no basis in fact. And through it all, Obama himself has sucked it up, smiled through it and tried to take the higher ground. 

And so we return to that notion of the public face of our nation, which is on the line in two days. Do you want this nation to elect a man whose victory would be dependent on the kind of persons as you can see in these videos? People whose sole commodity is fear, contrasted with Obama supporters whose mantra of hope--however simplistic you may think it, and however vague it may indeed be--at least appeals to the better angels of our natures, and to the positive, constructive impulses that have animated the nation's people in their better moments.

Perhaps you think it unfair to link John McCain to the yahoos attending many of his events. Perhaps you feel that his status (self-proclaimed at least) as a maverick, would mean that, if elected, he would clearly distance himself from fringe wingnuts such as these. But you know what a real maverick would have done by now? A real maverick would already have distanced himself, clearly and repeatedly, from these folks. And John McCain has not. These videos have been bouncing around for weeks, and with the exception of one tepid comment about how both sides need to tone down the hostile rhetoric--which seemed to imply an equivalence between Obama supporters and the folks on those tapes that simply doesn't exist--McCain and Palin have said nothing. Rather, McCain said he was "proud" of the people at his rallies, including, apparently the kinds of people we can all witness spewing their bigotry for the world to see.

A real maverick would have said the following: "My friends, I want your vote, and I sincerely believe that I am the best man for this job. But if you are supporting me because you are afraid of having a black president, or because you believe my opponent to be a terrorist, or a Muslim (and you believe Muslims are evil and unqualified to hold office), or because you believe the long-since discredited rumors about him that have been bouncing around the internet, or if you wish him harm, either now or in the future, I am asking you not to vote for me. More than that, I am telling you not to. I am asking you to stay home on election day, because I don't want the support of people like you. If the only way I can win the presidency is on the backs of bigots, I'd rather not win." 

Now THAT would have been a maverick move. It would have been a bold move, one filled with courage and honor and character. It would have cemented McCain's place in history as a man of principle. But he never said this, or anything remotely like it. He knows he can't win without the support of two groups: the crazies, and the undecideds. The first of these he feels confident he can hold. The second of these? Well, that's for you to decide. But for my money, I think you are not only smarter, but fundamentally more decent than that. On election day, please show the nation and the world that my faith in you was not misplaced.


Tim Wise



16 Comment count
Comment Bubble Tip

A real maverick.

Hon. Sen. McCain not only did not expend much energy denouncing the more extreme haters, his reaction to their increasingly numerous statements at his town halls was to discontinue questions from the audience at his events.

Comment Bubble Tip

Or A Real Cynic

James: That's fair enough, but it is almost political truism now that McCain has drifted further to the right even during the regular election when he should be going back to the left! Even The Economist, hardly my rag, has been sharply criticizing him for this.

But to simply say that he won't answer ANY questions thanks to his supporters is not only wrongly punishing those supporters who are not vicious loudmouths, but is no solution. Because while he won't listen to their views, he will accept their votes.

In fact, a cynic (and some realists) would note that that smells VERY fishy: He keeps the crazies quiet, so as not to threaten his maverick standing, but nonetheless has them vote for him! This seems more like a gag order than being a maverick. It is in fact a political move, calculated and obscene.

As Tim noted: Being a maverick, being courageous, would require him to say something like, "I believe I am the best candidate for this country presently running. I disagree with my opponent, vehemently, on everything from the war to the economy. I believe his policies will be disastrous and that my policies will turn this country back around. I believe he is unexperienced. But to honestly call this man a socialist, or to hate him because his name sounds like a Muslim or Arabic name, or to refuse to vote for him because of his race, is repugnant. I agree with Dr. King that one should judge by the content of one's character, not by special quotas, affirmative action or by bigotry."

Yes, doing so would lose him some votes. Yes, doing so would be controversial. But that's what a maverick should do, right? Can't have your cake and eat it too.

Comment Bubble Tip

Stick To Words

I'm not undecided (and neither can I vote in the US election). Until Palin was chosen, I would have been content with either candidate as president. And this has little to do with Palin's views, though they are opposite to mine.

In fact, I applauded McCain for this bold move. I appreciated it. However, the choice of someone solely to boost appeal, with no regard of what that choice might do to the country, is appalling. I would not wish someone so short-sighted to (again) be in the White House.

However, although I agree with many of the sentiments in this blog, the inclusion of those videos defeats the intent. They show ignorant, frightened and envious people saying negative and hateful things - but this is not new nor news. The undercutting with those cartoon folk is juvenile. In the last one the questions are 'leading'. This is what I expect from the Right.

Comment Bubble Tip


Dale: The point of the videos, and innumerable others, and innumerable comments you can hear across the dountry, is that there are people who spew racist vitriol, or threaten to bomb Obama. Obama has received hundreds of threats, some taken seriously, on his life thanks to his race.. This is unacceptable. Yes, these were "ignorant, frightened and envious" people. But a campaign that attracts them, that breeds them, that refuses to speak out against their views, cannot be said to be separate from them, even if they are not entirely responsible either.

Comment Bubble Tip

I don't get it...

Personally, I don't see how anyone can make an intellectual choice that would put Sarah Palin in high office.  To me, that is one of the most unconscientious things a voter could do.  It borders on immoral, because it's like giving car keys to a drunk driver.  I don't want to sound like a snob, but I would really like to know the quantitative IQ-differential between people voting for McCain vs Obama.  I keep trying to convince myself that McCain supporters are single-issue voters, because I don't see how anyone can look at their erractic campaign, incompetent vp selection, racist mud-slinging, etc and still come away with a vote of confidence for McCain. 

In a time where we need a unified global community to guard against terrorism, how can people vote for a man with virtually no support outside of the US?  McCain admittedly says that he doesn't know much about the economy.  How does a McCain voter find reassurance in that statement, especially when we're going through an economic crisis?  Our continued support for the inept and unqualifed seems like we're going through battered wife syndrome.  I believe if America votes in McCain-Palin, we deserve to look like Haiti, Darfur, etc.  We deserve to resemble any destitute nation with corrupt leadership, because when the exam came we failed because we fell for rhetoric and not substance, again.

Comment Bubble Tip

Wait A Second

Well, while I don't want to let people off the hook for their actions, one also has to wonder exactly what the direct causal linkage there are in elections between action and outcome. Even someone like myself who believes that elections are important can admit that it's not exactly clear what one's vote will do in any circumstance given the emptiness of American elections.

The biggest problem, Dunnz, is that a massive portion of the society does not vote period. It may be somewhat unfair to take them to task for McCain, even though their votes could hypothetically have stopped him. This is especially because of numerous, quite legitimate bars to voting: Extra time to register, taking time out of one's work day to vote, etc. Putting aside quite legitimate attitudinal concerns about voting efficacy in a society with such massive incumbency success rate.

And, of course, the "congruency" between our institutions, policies and legislative outcomes and peoples' preferences are awful. People have wanted socialized health care for decades, but only now can it even become DISCUSSABLE. So clearly legislators elected by a plurality don't really care that much aboutwhat their voters actually think.

And those voting for the Republicans routinely express contempt at the policies being proposed.

This all points to a very empty electoral system with very constrained outcomes. It might be possible to blame the voters even still because there are still real possibilities. But I think it's more insightful to blame the bastards who set this outcome up. What is not questionable is that there is no direct path between a vote and an outcome, good or bad.

Also: We are unlikely to ever end up as Haiti or Darfur. Elites live here, and they tend to like the area they live in to not be squalid and violent.

Comment Bubble Tip

Attention Seeking Posers

I do not believe in the 'undecided voter' in this election.

 And neither do they.

Comment Bubble Tip

The Republican Party has fallen

Once upon a time, the Republican Party stood for something great, namely the emancipation of an entire population from slavery. Now it's become the party of Michael Savage, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, religious fundamentalists, and the bigoted jackasses in those videos. If Lincoln were alive today, I imagine, he would scratch his head and wonder what the fuck happened to his GOP.

 Come to think of it, what the fuck has happened to the GOP? How did it turn 180 degrees from the party of emancipation to the party of bigots?

That said, while I am definitely voting for Obama, I am disappointed with some of his later remarks with regards to race. Does he really believe that antiracism is 90% over (assuming a percentage could even be accurately quanitified), or is he just pandering to conservative white voters unschooled on the nature of contemporary racism? I hope it is the latter, but if so, it would make him dishonest enough to lose some respect from me.

Comment Bubble Tip


Agreed. Ughhh...I'd rather Obama just stay neutral than talk about race relations. Even putting a percentage on such a thing as fighting against bigotry is irritating and some what offensive. It makes it seem as though we (white anti-racists) and minorities are just bitching over nothing, and quite frankly I ALREADY have a difficult enough time convincing other whites that racism is real, and we still have to combat it. I don't need Obama arrogantly claiming that the fight is mostly over.

It's disgusting to watch someone basically have to "tap dance" on the basis of race, to get into office, and I hope my daughters NEVER have to resort to such a thing. Given the comments that he has made in regard to race, however, I don't think every statement he has made is indicative of his true beliefs, but the fact that he has to pander and throw blacks under the bus is so disheartening, and though I know he had to do it to get to where he is now it just solidifies in my mind that we have a long way to go.  

 I do believe that I read somewhere that he stated that he thought there should be "class-based affirmative action" though, because he didn't want his privileged daughters to get an unfair advantage over a poor white person.  I'm not too educated on affirmative action, I'll admit, but if women and minorities are disproportionately affected by poverty..wouldn't "class based affirmative action" basically be race based and gender based affirmative action repackaged...especially if he supports race base and gender based affirmative action as well? I just don't see how poor white men would benefit from this as much as some of the whites who would prefer class-based affirmative action, think they would.

Anyway, Obama is in the position where he will, most likley, forever have to pander to white folks so we wont view him as another "Jesse or Al Sharpton"...so we'll probably never get the raw uncut version of how Obama feels about race in America. He can't AFFORD to be that honest.

Comment Bubble Tip


"I'm not too educated on affirmative action, I'll admit, but if women and minorities are disproportionately affected by poverty..wouldn't "class based affirmative action" basically be race based and gender based affirmative action repackaged...especially if he supports race base and gender based affirmative action as well?"

Let's take the issue of college admissions.

Affirmative action systems usually amount to some bonus points for admission standards, though I believe those are becoming unconstitutional after the Michigan decisions. What is totally constitutional is an informal way of doing so.

But let's say we have a 5 point bonus for being a woman, a Latina/o or black.

This means that Oprah's kids get a 5 point bonus and poor white trash have the normal point spread.

Yes, I would argue that Oprah's kids deserve the 5 point bonus, because race and racism will implicate them on the campus and before they apply, if not as much.

But I would also argue that the poor deserve those points as well.

The issue, of course, is that class-based does not eclipse the need for race-or-gender based, so that as Tim has pointed out repeatedly, we need both.

You express skepticism that such points would help whites as much as they think. I agree: These points are rarely much. People make a big fuss about kids getting into college who without some standard wouldn't have, but a) this happens all the TIME with white students too and b) that doesn't mean the kid in question was a straight D student. What it means is that, in competition with other students, the kid barely slipped over an admissions bar that he was only a few points away from. Poor whites of merit could clearly benefit from this too, even though it would not let every poor white into a UC.

Comment Bubble Tip

Friends, Romans, Countrymen

 A little amplification ( by Timmy):

“Although most McCain supporters are not like the thugs attending these rallies, surely it must give you pause to think that you could vote as they vote...  ( look, if a few thugs are voting McCain, you're only voting as they vote, and not as the vast decent majority who are also voting  McCain, don't you see? ).

 "...that you might contribute to the election of a man whose base includes such persons as these…”( I have scrutinised the entire Obama base; incredibly, it's devoid of such characters ). 

“Do you want this nation to elect a man whose victory would be dependent on the kind of persons as you can see in these videos?...” ( a McCain victory will only occur as a result of the thug minority vote, and not the decent majority---simple logic).

Comment Bubble Tip


"( look, if a few thugs are voting McCain, you're only voting as they vote, and not as the vast decent majority who are also voting  McCain, don't you see? )."

Not Tim's argument. It's not that voting McCain automatically makes one LIKE the thugs. Rather:

a) A candidate that would so easily tolerate such thugs is not worth our time

b) It begs some questions that someone is in league with thugs

"( I have scrutinised the entire Obama base; incredibly, it's devoid of such characters ). "

Magnitude analysis is clearly not your strong suit.

Clearly not every Obama supporter is a tribute to kind, sober tolerance at all times and in all places. But Obama supporters are not plausibly accused of the same things McCain supporters are at the same rate and magnitude.

"( a McCain victory will only occur as a result of the thug minority vote, and not the decent majority---simple logic)."

Yes. That is, if the thugs stayed home, McCain would have lost by an even larger margin.

Comment Bubble Tip


How ANYONE can be undecided -- at this point -- given the glaringly obvious difference in vision, intellect, maturity, tone, tact, planning, presentation, and general thoroughness between the Obama/Biden and McCain/Palin campaigns, is really, really hard to believe. 


Comment Bubble Tip

See My Reply

See my reply in the white privilege post.

Comment Bubble Tip

You nailed it - it's the face of a nation.

It comes down to a very simple question, in the end.  Do you want a man, and a woman, who would stand behind increasingly hateful, and at times comically over-the-top mud-slinging advertisements to represent us to the world, or would you rather have a well-spoken, earnest man who at least tried to avoid the negative downward spiral this campaign has achieved?

 It's not that the people in those linked clips are in any way representative of conservatives, no one believes that, I don't think.  It's that the Republican National Committee, and John McCain, and in particluar Sarah Palin - seem ready and willing to stir up that hornets nest of hatred as hot and wild as it can get if it will help them to win.  Win at all cost.

I'm getting up in years.  I'll be fifty next year.  I've seen a lot of hatred in my day, and I can tell Mr. McCain this - you'll stir them up to the danger point, and you cannot control them.  Once power built on hate starts to expand, you either expand with it or get swallowed in your own foolish flames.  You can't use that hatred to get in power and then pretend it never happened.

So for me it was a simple matter, despite any and all issues.  One side was willing to cater to hate, bigotry, and intolerance.  One sid was unwilling to separate church and state.  I won't vote for that side.  I want a leader I can respect.

My vote is in, and aynone following my blog has no doubt which way that vote leaned.  I'm proably more independent - maybe even libertarian - than I am democratic, but I know when a campaign has gond down the road into darkness, and I won't follow.