National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  February 20, 2004

Flirting with the candidates


Religion doesn’t get any better than this: My parents and I gather round to participate in the holy sacrament of the Iowa caucuses, via television. This is a night of wonders: John Kerry’s and John Edwards’ votes multiply like fish. Howard Dean and Richard Gephardt are, for all purposes, sent away empty. Then there’s St. Dennis Kucinich, hanging in there, a sign of contradiction. Now on to New Hampshire! South Carolina! New Mexico! Dad asks me for the 50th time if I met the deadline for my absentee ballot. Mine is a family of political junkies. If you do nothing else with your life, you vote.

“I don’t know about my man Wesley Clark,” I tell Dad. “Kerry’s looking pretty good.”

“Date Clark; marry Kerry,” he says, pouring himself another glass of wine. It’s going to be a long evening. We want to hear the candidates’ post-caucus speeches. We’ll call it a night when the pundits start to repeat themselves.

Call me fickle. First I vowed to vote for Dean. My dream was of a candidate in the Lincoln Bedroom with his wife, also a physician, devising solutions to the health care crisis until dawn. Then I switched to Clark. I imagined George Bush supporters voting for the general, if only because he looks like a white male Republican; that is, the electability factor.

Then some sweet soul came by my house and asked if I would put up a Kucinich sign. I almost caved. It’s hard, if you’ve been raised a Catholic, to turn away folks who keep the faith despite the evidence. But what would the neighbors think if I had Kucinich and Clark signs in my yard side by side?

My commitment to Clark held steady, except when I ran into Dean supporters. Their enthusiasm fueled my desire to be part of a movement larger than myself. Then I realized it was Dean supporters I wanted to vote for, not the man himself.

“I’m voting for Kerry,” I tell Dad.

“Well, I’ve been waiting for returns since election night of 1948,” he says. He reminds me that he was an errand boy for pipe-smoking politicos who gathered at the Albuquerque Hilton Hotel; glued to the radio, and calling Washington, they were awaiting the results of the race between Harry Truman and Thomas Dewey. Dad made runs to a nearby restaurant for chicken.

The Chicago Daily Tribune ran a big headline the next morning saying Dewey had won,” Dad recalls with glee.

“Just remember. It’s not over until the fat lady sings.”

Demetria Martinez is the author of three collections of poetry and a novel.

National Catholic Reporter, February 20, 2004

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