My brother-in-law, a recently retired Navy Captain, is an interesting guy. Every time I see him, we inevitably have a few drinks and start up into politics. He and I respect each other’s opinions, and we share a similar sense of humor, thanks to our shared Midwestern roots, but in no way, shape, or form do we see eye to eye on, well, practically anything. Especially in politics. I am a registered Democrat because I don’t put much value in anything the Republican Party has done in my lifetime. My brother-in-law, however, is a swing voter. The way he tells it, he has a gut-check attitude about voting.
And what a gut-check. My brother-in-law is a swing voter with a winning streak. He’s voted for the winning President every four years since he started voting in 1984.
I asked him to summarize every vote, and his reason or reasons for it, to get a sense of how he thinks. Here are his answers:
1984 Ronald Reagan: “Reagan was going to kick the Russians right in the jimmies, so voting for him was a no-brainer.”
1988 George H.W. Bush: “Bush 41’s election was about a continuation of Reagan policies. We were enjoying a peaceful, prosperous time, and Michael Dukakis seemed to have an incoherent campaign. Again, this was an easy pick.”
1992 Bill Clinton: “Clinton is just a very charismatic person, and I thought he did well versus Bush 41 in the debates. I thought Clinton was younger, had more energy, and his ideas made sense.”
1996 Clinton: “The country was doing well. Bob Dole and Jack Kemp were not a compelling ticket to me. Bob Dole was stiff and Jack Kemp was a non-entity.”
2000 George W. Bush: “I think I just liked him more than Al Gore. “Saturday Night Live” did a better job of ridiculing Gore than Bush (As much as I like Will Ferrell, I don’t think his George Bush was very good). Bush, even though he stumbled during interviews, seemed more down to earth and trustable. I think Cheney was a shrewd choice for VP, as well.”
2004 Bush: “We were at war, and I felt that Bush/Cheney would do a better job than Kerry in carrying out the war. I know that many people don’t agree with our decision to go to war. I do. We were attacked, and to do nothing would enable more attacks in the future.”
2008 Barack Obama: “I was firmly behind McCain until he picked Sarah Palin for VP. McCain is a war hero, pro-defense, with a good sense of humor, But oh, my God, how could he pander to the far right with somebody clearly not competent like Palin? So, I would say that I picked Obama because there was no other choice.”
So. Based on this and other conversations I’ve had with him, I would say my brother-in-law judges our leaders — clearly — as a military guy who wants to America to remain strong economically and militarily. He also wants a charismatic leader, but also one he can relate to. Beyond that, he’s not guided by any real ideology as much as a belief in his own, Wisconsin-bred, common sensical, center-right sensibility. The culture war doesn’t seem to register with him. Whole swaths of issues concerning race, class, and gender, at least as they relate to politics and his political decisions, do not seem to concern him very much.
I respect him, but we really couldn’t agree less.
Still, knowing a genuine swing voter who is now 7 for 7 on every Presidential election since 1984 (7 out of 7! Imagine!), I simply had to follow up and ask more questions. Rather than stick my own opinions into this, I thought I’d just quote him verbatim, and let you decide what to make of it.
Q: What do you think of Barack Obama? Barack Obama is one of the best speakers I have ever seen. I like his sense of humor, timing and the fact that he is a sports fan. I like his wife and I think he has a nice family. Michelle Obama is graceful, attractive and involved in a lot of things. They have a nice family. I voted for him primarily because John McCain picked Sara Palin as a VP candidate. He may get my vote again only because he will be seen as he lesser of two evils.
Q: And Mitt Romney? I don’t like much about Mitt Romney other than he picked Ryan as a running mate. I don’t think he connects to me or Joe Six-Pack. He is a millionaire, however, and may be better suited to make business/budget decisions than Obama. Ryan will help. He seems to have a nice family; I like that.
[However], I don’t feel comfortable with a Mormon as a President.
Q: You are from Wisconsin. What do you know of Paul Ryan? Is it a positive or a negative impression, overall? Do you think Ryan’s nomination changes the race? Ryan’s nomination changes the race significantly. I love him because he’s from Wisconsin. He has my values. He hunts, he fishes, and he probably loves the Green Bay Packers. He’s handsome. He’s got cred amongst the staunchly right side of the GOP. Paul Ryan is considered to be a very right-wing conservative (versus moderate, whatever that means). I pity the rhetoric we’re going to have to endure.
I applaud Paul Ryan’s initiative in proposing a change in the way we do the budget. Obama promised changed and delivered in the wrong direction. This will probably be the most highly charged issue of the campaign.
Q) What are the most important thing to you about this election? Most important things to me: 1. Fixing the budget deficit. 2. Maintaining a viable and credible defense. 3. Maintaining the benefits that I paid for (Social Security, my pension) 4. Being able to get out from underneath my house.
Q) How is this different than previous elections? Usually I compare how I feel about the Presidential candidates. If I did that, I would pick Obama over Romney in a heartbeat. But I think I am comparing Obama more to Ryan than I am to Romney. If Ryan is so goddamned popular, then why didn’t the GOP groom him as the Presidential candidate? (Ryan probably didn’t have the resources that Romney did). So, good on Romney for picking a popular VP.
Q) I want to follow up with you through the next few weeks, especially after the RNC Convention, the DNC Convention, and the debates, but what is your “gut-check” opinion right now, today, about the race? Barring something unforeseen between now and November…the safe money is on Obama.