I'm going to stray from teaching for today's post to talk politics.
As you probably know, a Democrat beat a Republican in a special election yesterday to replace retired Congressman Dennis Hastert. This race held my interest for two reasons: First, I was bombarded by the negative campaign ads from the two candidates in the last few weeks, even though I live outside the district. During local newscasts, there were times when all four commercials during breaks were for the two candidates. "Can you trust Oberweis?" a voice asked, and a cow answered, "Noooooo!" The second, and more personal, reason was that my first job after college was as a reporter in that district, so I'd like to think I have some insight into just how Republican Illinois can be.
This happened 15 years ago, before the concept of "red" and "blue" America, but really not all that long ago, and this was only 40 miles outside of Chicago.
I was working on a story about local World War II veterans and decided to interview some old, retired state senator. I drove over to his place. He came out of his house and we shook hands, and then he walked over to my car, ran his hand over it, and said, "So, you drive one of them slick foreign jobs."
"It's a Honda Civic," I said. "And, actually, it was built in the U.S."
I'm not sure if he heard me. Or trusted me.
But after that, I opened my eyes. And saw, in every parking lot, that just about every car was American. There were no GM plants or anything like that in the area, but people were very anti-foreign cars. A few months later, I decided to move, and I got a job in Vermont. There, most of the cars were foreign, mostly Volvos (because of how safe they are when hitting a moose in the road, I guess). And there was an openly Socialist U.S. Congressman in office and Howard Dean was the governor. It felt more like home.
I sometimes tell my students this story to warn them that America is very different once you leave the general openness and diversity of the big city. The same is probably true once you leave the intelligent and engaged confines of the Internet; which is to say, I still have my doubts about this presidential election.