Dear Ohio: Make ‘Em Look You in the Eye

by on June 26, 2019 · 0 comments

in California, Election

By Joni Halpern

Since 1896, Ohio voters have picked the winning candidate in all but two presidential elections – 1944 and 1960 – giving rise to the state’s renown as a “bellwether” to which candidates cannot afford to turn a deaf ear.  If Ohioans are going to be so influential, maybe we could help inform their future choices by sharing some concerns from the Golden State.

Dear Ohio,

I’ve been thinking about you as we see the candidates revving up for the 2020 election.  Since you are the bellwether election state, I was hoping we could continue our earlier conversation about who we are and what we want for this country.

I was reading the other day that some candidates think Ohio may not be as important in predicting election outcomes as once you were thought to be.  There are some who say the efficient manipulation of social media will eventually supplant your importance as a predictor.  Now we can all be divided into little precincts that can be attacked by pulses of information passed along social media, regardless of whether the information is true.  Maybe we won’t need you to size up candidates in face-to-face meetings while you hobnob in coffee shops or attend town meetings.

But I think you should stick with it.  I think you should demand that people who want your vote should show their faces in person.  You ought to hear their voices, see their demeanor, watch how they handle themselves when they’re tired, down in the polls, or caught on a thorny issue.  In those encounters, a candidate can’t edit out what you see, can’t promote only the good part, can’t filter out the way they treated their staff or a contentious voter.

It’s true we can’t know everything from a face-to-face encounter.  There are people so unfazed by conscience that they can tell a brazen lie without even twitching a muscle, and when the lie is something we would like to hear, we are his or her prey.  But still, a candidate who will go out among us, who will shake our hands and talk to us, though they have orchestrated their appearance to the max, will still tell us things about themselves we would benefit from knowing.

I tell my kids, “People are always trying to tell us who they are.  We just don’t want to listen.”  People will tell you by their conduct, their gestures, their interactions with others, their behavior when their resources are low, their slips when they think they are not being watched, who they really are.

On social media, we get those little moments, one by one, but they are distorted by their singularity.  When we see a person and listen to them in person, we can add to our sensory knowledge of them.  We can feel their reality.  We can see them more as a whole person, at least for that encounter.

No one who runs for any office in the land knows more about each of us than each of us knows about ourselves.  They cannot tell us who we are, what we need, how we suffer, why we suffer, what our blessings are, or what we have to deal with when we leave their presence.  But in the short time they share with us, they can tell us who they are and what they see as the blessings and burdens of other Americans to whom they have listened in their campaign journey.

If we see these campaigners in person, we can weigh their presence against all we know about ourselves.  We can see if the things they say about our countrymen resonate in the timbre of our own souls as Americans.  And we can take back to our homes the imagery and feeling the campaigner has stirred to see how it sets in our own reality.

Insist on personal appearances from our candidates, Dear Ohio.  If you give up your bellwether function to social media, we will dissolve America into tiny precincts to whom fractured images of broken people can be sold as the relic fragments of saints.

Someone may have told you, Dear Ohio, that we in California look down on you.  On the contrary, we are depending on you to choose wisely this time.

Joni Halpern is a Point Loma resident, an attorney for low-income families, a former contributor to the San Diego Free Press, and an award-winning journalist.


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