The Doonesbury Factor
by Peter Shelton
Nov 06, 2008 | 844 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print

You have to admire Garry Trudeau, the creator and writer of “Doonesbury.” His early deadlines mean that his strips have to be drawn and submitted to the syndicate days or weeks before they appear in the newspapers. Trudeau’s motley pen-and-ink crew cannot comment immediately on the hottest news. Most of the time this is fine: George W. Bush (drawn for years now as a dilapidated, talking Roman helmet) is just as funny/pathetic a week after his latest gaffe.

But when a news event is as big as a presidential election, and the date is known and anticipated with such fervor, it’s got to be frustrating to lag (in print) behind what your audience already knows.

So, Trudeau is taking the unusual step this week (he actually drew the strip last week) of guessing/predicting/assuming that Barack Obama wins the presidency. Wednesday’s Doonesbury will feature American soldiers around a TV set in Iraq celebrating Obama’s victory with astonishment and relief.

I share Trudeau’s deadline problem. But I’m not brave enough (or I’m too superstitious) to write on Monday what I dearly hope will be true by publication on Thursday.

The forces of “unchange” are still buffeting me. For example: I was down at Obama headquarters in Montrose yesterday making calls. Asking if people had voted yet. Asking if they knew where their polling place was, and if they needed a ride to get there on Tuesday. As always, the computer-generated lists included a few people who were McCain supporters as well as the undecideds and Obama supporters.

One guy picked up the phone in Nucla and told me he was a friend of the family but that the voter I asked to speak with wasn’t home. “He’s probably got a broken nose about now. He had a cage fight last night in Vegas, and we haven’t heard from him yet today.”

This fellow was as friendly as could be. He’d just wandered into the house, in fact, hoping to take a nap. And no, I hadn’t waked him. Obama headquarters? “Well, I think I can tell you with some certainty that nobody in this house will be supporting Obama. No sir.”

Other calls buoyed my spirits. A sharp young mom told me that no, she and her husband had not voted early because they wanted their kids to see democracy in action, and they were going to walk down to the fire house all together on Tuesday and do the whole, traditional thing: having your name read off the rolls, standing in the booth with the red-white-and-blue curtain, dropping the ballot in the box. And, yes, they would both be voting Obama for President and Mark Udall for U.S. Senate.

The afternoon was a roller-coaster like that, up one minute and down the next. We live in a conservative place, the kind of rural, small-town place that the polls say favor John McCain. But our western slope valleys are changing, becoming more diverse. The bright, young volunteers at headquarters were proof of that. I listened (I actually stopped work to eavesdrop) while one of them engaged a 20-year-old local man on the phone.

The unseen man said he was a McCain supporter, but she wouldn’t let it go at that. She got him to say he hoped to go to college, or was already in college, and she laid out the particulars of an Obama plan to lower tuition costs and keep people like him out of debt.

She expertly countered the rumors this young man had heard about Obama wanting to take away people’s guns and pressed him to name other rumors he might have heard. She was brilliant, encouraging, soothing, forceful without being pushy or condescending. When I confessed my awe to her later she deflected my praise and said simply, “He’s twenty. He’s got so much to live for.”

My next contact slammed the phone down as soon as I said the words “Obama campaign in Montrose…” The roller-coaster again.

I’m going back tomorrow, all day for Election Day. I don’t know what I’ll be doing, and I’m not all that convinced that what I can do will make a difference. But I can’t not go.

I’ll be there in part just to be around that energetic intelligence, to feel optimistic, hopeful. But mostly I’ll be there in my shamanistic sports-fan mode: hardly breathing, crossing all available fingers and toes, concentrating hard to make it so. Helping – oh please, oh please – Garry Trudeau’s prediction to be right.
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