erik lundegaard

Levittown Speaks

So NY Times reporter Michael Sokolove returned to his hometown of Levittown, Pa., on Election Day to find out how and why people were voting. Great piece. Read it in full.

Some might wonder how this differs from what Maureen Dowd does. The biggest difference is in the question itself: “Why are you doing what you're doing” vs. “How do you feel?” The latter is a lousy question even when it comes from a reporter and is directed at a championship-winning athlete, and it's positively abyssmal when it comes from two citizens partcipating in the same democratic process. It implies a separation (as between reporter and athlete) when there should be none. It also assumes that people within a generalized group (that is, African-Americans) fit the generalization (that is, support Obama), and Dowd's black bartender, a Libertarian, was one of 4 percent nationwide who did not fit this generalization. Oops.

Sokolove asks a real reporter's question (or a reporter's real question?) and gets great results. Why did this area, which went overwhelmingly for Hilary during the primaries, now go for Obama?

  • “McCain pointed a lot of fingers instead of giving answers,” Steve O’Connor, a plumber, told me.
  • “I don’t want a clone of George Bush,” Mark Maxwell, 47, a corporate chef, said. “With McCain, that’s exactly what we’d get.”
  • Said Lisa Winslow, a 20-year-old college student: “I’m not rich. I can’t afford to vote for McCain.”
  • Levittown is filled with a great many veterans of the Vietnam War, not all of whom served happily. “I didn’t want to be there when I was told to go,” said Frank Carr, 62, who recently retired from his shipping job in a corrugated box factory. “I know how the boys feel. I believe Obama is a man of his word.” When Mr. Obama says he is going to bring home the troops, “I believe him,” Mr. Carr said.

Sokolove then concludes smartly:

The people I met in Levittown were not on Mr. Obama’s e-mail list or among his donors, but they may be more likely than his younger supporters and more affluent ones to give him what he most desperately needs: time and patience. Like characters from the songs of one of Mr. Obama’s celebrity endorsers, Bruce Springsteen, many Levittowners have been weathered by life. They haven’t benefited from a lot of quick fixes. Others of his supporters say they’ll be patient, but I sensed these people really mean it. They were harder to sell, but they could end up being pretty loyal.

“How long did it take Bush to get us into this mess?” Mr. Carr, the Vietnam veteran, asked. “It’s a lot easier to screw things up than to make them better.”

Posted at 11:58 AM on Sun. Nov 09, 2008 in category Politics, Culture  
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