San Diego As the election looms on the horizon, abortion swirls in the cool fall air at San Diego State University, now enshrouding the entire spectacle, now skittering about the edges, now fading from sight, only to emerge again. It is the first cause of Rachel's allegiance: "I'm voting for Gore because he's for women's rights -- the right to choose. I watch the news a lot. I read magazines, and I'll admit they're [fashion] magazines -- Glamour endorses Gore, and it's the first presidential candidate ever that Glamour has endorsed. Not that I do things because of what my [fashion] magazines say, but just their article on it: Bush wants to put a lot of restrictions on women's rights and things like that, and that's really important to me."
Rachel also opposes "religion in schools," something she fears Bush will promote. "Just from the limited knowledge I have; I know that's more his stance. He'd be bringing religion into school and stuff like that. I don't think religion belongs in school -- it's separation of church and state. I just think everyone's entitled to do their own thing."
Kenneth, lounging on the steps overlooking the campus's central corridor, admits that "I really haven't had time to follow [the campaign]. I mean, I could take the time, but I just really haven't done it." However, like Rachel, he regards abortion as primary. "I'm voting Democrat. I just don't like Bush's policies on the abortion issue. I think that it should be a right and a woman should have that privilege." He does offer a caveat. "I am against it as a form of birth control. If you felt you could have sex, and you know you're taking a risk of it getting you pregnant, then own up to the responsibility of it, you know?
"But if it's for health reasons, or for some reason you wouldn't be able to support the baby economically, or something like that [where having the baby] would do more harm than good, then I'm all for [abortion]."
His friend mentions victims of rape who become pregnant. "Those are extenuating circumstances. If the woman doesn't want to have that child...then I can see that as happening. But I've also heard discussions from people who were actually products of rape, and they said that they have every right to be in this world, just like anybody else. That's a woman's issue, but I mean, I think that choice should be open to discussion."
Jeff, sitting on a bench with Daniel near the war memorial, also mentions abortion right out of the gate but volleys from the other side of the political net, picking up where Kenneth left off on the "right to be in this world." "I'm a Republican and, actually, I've got a major piece with the whole abortion-pill thing. I see Gore sayin', 'Yeah, a woman should have every single right to her body.' I can see why he's saying that, but I also think that they shouldn't...they make bad decisions about it -- killing babies. That's the whole thing with me going for Bush.
"A lot of my teachers are talking about [the election], and I get a lot of information from them, but they've already got their own opinions, and a lot of them are for Gore. Again, they want women to have all the rights. That's fine and everything; I think they should have some rights, but there's another person's right, too. Some people just don't see it that way."
Daniel joins Jeff by declaring his party allegiance. "I'm just voting for Bush because I'm a Republican, and I don't like Al Gore. I don't like what he stands for; I don't like what the Democrats stand for -- what [Jeff] was saying about the whole abortion thing. And I like what Bush was saying about taxes."
Andrea is the first girl I meet who supports Bush, so this time it's I who brings up abortion. Does she fear for her right to choose? Andrea is unruffled. "I think the whole abortion issue has been beat to death. Okay, Bush may be a little more conservative on that, but I don't think we should be so hung up about their stance on that. I really could not imagine -- no matter how conservative the President is -- that anything like that could be overturned. I know he's going to appoint some judges who could change that thing, but I really don't think this country would stand for abortion to be illegal. I'm pro-choice, and I think Bush is, too. He hasn't been real strong about pro-life. I mean, granted, he takes that stance -- probably to get more of the right-wing Christian Coalition vote -- but he's playing the politics game."
Andrea, a political science major, instead favors other Bush policies -- "flat tax, pro-death penalty...how he puts his trust in people. I'm a big advocate of giving the people more rights. I don't like having the government involved in everything, being the surrogate parent for our kids, making all these programs, making all these bans. I think that people should be able to live how they want to live," she concludes, echoing Rachel from the opposite end of the spectrum.
Andrea likes the notion of people investing their own money instead of leaving it in the hands of Social Security, and she's comfortable with the idea that the wealthy will be rewarded for investing well and having a lot of money. "They pay, what, one-third of the taxes and get one-fifth back? If the wealthy are rewarded, then yeah, dammit -- they worked hard, they should be rewarded." However, she also has faith that Bush's tax plan "will benefit the middle and lower class too, because it's going to take a certain percentage out, instead of more than it should."
Erin, lunching with her friend Jessica, is not so sanguine as Andrea. After Jessica says that she's voting for Bush because "I believe in smaller government, less intervention in people's lives," particularly in regard to health care and government HMOs, she mentions that she differs with Bush "on the pro-choice issue." Erin interjects, "That's the sole reason I wouldn't vote for him. If he were the best candidate in the world, and he wanted to outlaw abortion, I couldn't vote for him." She fears the power of the justices Bush might appoint and concludes, "Even if he wasn't able to do it, I just don't think it's right to enable him to try."
Jessica responds, "That is one thing that makes me nervous, but I'm not going to vote for somebody who's going to do a whole range of things based on one issue. I'd like to think the chance of abortion ever being outlawed is pretty slim, though I suppose it could happen. A lot of times -- and I don't know if this is the case with Bush or not -- Republican candidates want to gather the pro-life vote. It's such a safe thing in the Republican Party, because so many pro-life people do vote based on just that one issue. Sometimes, candidates maximize their pro-life stance more than they might really [believe]."
And it is that "whole range of issues" that really concerns Jessica. "I can just foresee Gore doing a lot more damage...in the next four or eight years with governmental controls. Even if Bush goes in and doesn't do anything, I would rather have that than a whole bunch of government imposition that I disagree with." She stresses that she would rather have voted for McCain, who said what he thought and seemed less a career politician.
For her part, Erin thinks "Bush is an idiot" who, during the debates, "looked so nervous, like he had no clue what he was going to say, struggling to pull out impressive words and phrases." She likes Gore's education platform, believing that public schools need a great deal of help and that vouchers will not provide a solution to our education woes.
When I ask if her friends are voting, she mentions that one of her family friends "has been doing a lot of research about Bush and is sending me pro-Gore e-mails with all this bad information about Bush. I'm forwarding them to all of my friends, so hopefully that's helped influence them one way or another."
David, though he is voting for Gore, echoes Jessica's thought on abortion's status. "That's a major factor as far as women go; it's not a major factor for me. Being pro-life is definitely an issue, but running the United States efficiently is a different issue, in my mind." Gore is getting his vote because "I don't feel safe with Bush in the White House. Gore's already had experience; he's been there already. I watched part of the debate, and in my perspective, Gore seemed more professional, smarter...Gore gave an answer, Bush gave a smile. That's how I viewed it."
David's friend Logan is casting his lot with Bush. Like Jeff and Daniel, he begins by mentioning his party. "I don't know too much, to be honest, but my parents are conservatives, so I'm just following what they believe in. I'm not just a sheep, following my parents -- I read the paper, watch the news, CNN, CNBC, Crossfire -- but I believe in them, too. Basically, it's Bush all the way; always vote Republican. And he's a better man. They're all crooked; they all do what they can to get into office, but I think he's a little bit better person."
In particular, Logan dislikes Gore's tax policy -- "Why bust your ass and give it back?" -- and the likelihood that Gore will further decrease military spending. "I don't think that's too good for our country. I want to be able to go to sleep at night. Maybe Reagan overdid it a little bit, but shit, we need to have some kind of defense. And we're losing good people in the military because there's no funding." Is there a serious military threat to the U.S.? "Yeah. China, the dark horse." He agrees with the notion that Bush has to "kind of act like he cares about [abortion], because if he didn't, he'd lose a lot of people."
A fellow who wishes to remain anonymous hammers home the Republican line. "I'm going to vote for Bush because my family's been with the Republican Party for as long as I can remember." He grants that he's "kind of in the dark on the elections this year" and that "there's this image thing that I put too much emphasis on," which colors his impression of Gore. "I think the man looks too much like a robot." He brings up abortion, citing his pro-choice status, and says that he's "not too high on either candidate. I liked George Bush, Sr.'s war efforts, and that's kind of influencing my vote for his son. It's going to come down to me staying with the Republican Party."
Valita, Tonisha, and Alex, on the other hand, join Kenneth in identifying themselves first and foremost as voting Democrat, rather than as voting for Al Gore. Valita likes what the current administration "has done for education thus far, and I don't want it to stop as far as access, heavy emphasis placed on making sure that children are learning. What Bush is talking about [in Texas], he didn't start. A woman started it before him, and he just picked up on it and got the rewards. So, he really hasn't done anything for education." As for her own schooling, "There's been more financial aid available, and then, if you have to take out loans, there's more ways to have it absorbed." She also feels that Bush "has no international ties. And I think the Middle East remembers his father very well, and if he gets in office, they're not going to talk to him."
R�ul, who identifies himself as undecided, counters that, "as far as the Clinton Administration, when you look at all the bombings that we've done recently for stupid reasons, that puts us in a questionable position. I think Gore is compelled to be tied to Clinton. He's in a position where you don't want to denounce all the things the president's done, but at the same time, you want to try to separate yourself from him to show that you're your own person. It's kind of tough."
Valita, warming to this notion, agrees that while she's "benefiting thus far" from Clinton's administration, she is not happy with his bombing policies. She mentions the pharmaceutical plant that was supposed to have been manufacturing chemical weapons. "They knew exactly what was going on in there. They knew what it was and they bombed it."
Adds R�ul, "Or what about when he went into Africa trying to propose a NAFTA-type program, which I'm sure would only exploit the workers."
Valita responds, "But then we have to understand that America does nothing unless they have an economic interest. That's the only reason why they're ever in any country doing anything."
"But you can't be upset about that," counters Tonisha, "because that's the only way the country is going to keep on surviving."
"That's capitalism," sighs R�ul.
Valita concludes, "The capitalist thing is not cool, but that's how we are. That's how we built the nation. The way you build something is the way the end result is going to be. If you start off wrong, you're going to end wrong."
Jahsun, who has joined us, hits the low note on what has become a descending scale. "There is no difference. Realistically, whoever controls this country is not necessarily always going to be the president. It's going to be the partisan communities and the people who have the money. Am I going to vote? I really don't know. You can talk about voter apathy, but realistically, I'm a thinking person. Am I voting for thinking people? I believe my ancestors died for me to have the right to vote, but did they die for me not to have a choice? To choose the lesser of two evils? Would you call that a choice, or would you call that coercion? Would you call that a choice, or would you call that duress?"