Thursday, November 8, 2012

Flannelman Seems a Mite Confused

When I was a sophomore in high school, there was a guy in my English class named Jeff Little. Jeff Little often wore flannel shirts and was thus dubbed “Flannelman” by the class clown, Chris Ziegler (whom, I now realize, I hero-worshipped for his ability to make everyone laugh). One day, during our study of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, we were discussing things that men and women just naturally do differently. Our teacher, Ms. Furia, asked us each to look at our fingernails. In general, the boys all held up our hands, palms facing us, our fingers bent halfway into a fist. The girls, on the other hand, held their hands with palms out and fingers extended. As Ms. Furia explained the difference, I happened to notice Jeff Little suddenly drop his hands to his side and glance around embarrassedly. Chris Ziegler obviously caught it, too, and deadpanned loudly enough for all to hear, “Flannelman seems a mite confused.” Of course, this was met with raucous laughter and colored the rest of the discussion.

This morning, I feel to empathize with Flannelman. As anyone who isn’t living under a rock knows, the sitting President of the United States of America, Barack Obama, was elected to a second term on Tuesday. (I say “narrowly” because he received a mere 50% of the vote, with narrow electoral wins in quite a few states.) Many of us, the 48% of Americans who support his main challenger, Governor Mitt Romney, were crushed by this reality. Yet now, as the Monday-morning quarterbacks now discuss what went wrong, I am left a mite confused, even a bit apathetic, unsure of just where I fit in.

Mitt Romney, of course, is a Republican, the antithesis of Barack Obama’s Democrat. This morning, I read a piece from an ultraconservative web site, Tea Party Nation, which maintains that Romney lost not because the nation is too Liberal, but because Romney is. The author, one Judson Phillips, claims that Romney lost because he is a moderate, just like John McCain in 2008, George W. Bush in 2000 (who lost the popular vote), Bob Dole in 1996, and George H. W. Bush in 1992. (Phillips maintains that the earlier Bush was only elected because he was Reagan’s Vice President, and couldn’t cut it, on his own.) Phillips does not deign to explain why Tea Party–sponsored candidates, most notably Indiana senatorial candidate Richard Mourdock, easily won the Republican Primary but crashed and burned in the actual election, thus giving the Tea Party full credit for the Democrats’ increased control of the Senate.

All this comes back to one thing, for me: a sense of futility that I think is shared by many, many Americans. Like Romney (and decidedly unlike Obama), I am a moderate. I believe there is good in both the Republican and the Democratic Parties, and I have never clicked the “straight party” button while in the proverbial voting booth. I tend think this moderation is a sign of intelligence, a sign of understanding that few things in this world are pure black or white. Just as Flannelman—who, as far as I know, remains your average American, heterosexual male—could look at his hand by extending his fingers, so, I believe, most Americans need not be confined by extremist political ideologies.

Are moderates the silent majority? Are we being dragged, kicking and screaming, by two outspoken extremes? And most importantly, is there any way around it, in a system that requires a candidate to receive a majority vote? As did Flannelman, I feel a mite confused.

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