Suburban Soliloquy #77

Primary Election Day

It was Primary Election Day in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. This was not the big election. We were setting up the pieces for the game that will be played out in November, when many of us will be trying to re-defeat President Bush. The horror, for me, is not being able to imagine a solution for the ongoing war in Iraq, Bush's war, a war many of us never wanted to see started for the very reasons that presently plague us. In my opinion, Bush squandered an opportunity when he turned his focus away from Afghanistan and towards Iraq. What world support we had, even among other Muslim nations, has been discarded by this spurious war with Iraq. I believe as a result of our invasion of Iraq the forces of terrorism are growing. The present administration has trapped our soldiers in an intractable campaign.

In contrast to life as it is presently lived in Fallujah, the suburbs of Philadelphia were enjoying a quiet spring day. On this particularly Tuesday, after driving Ms Keogh to work, I snuck back to bed for a few more hours sleep with the cat tucked against my side. When I awoke the second time, I dressed at a leisurely pace, checked my little cheat sheet of the candidates I intended to vote for, and, sporting sunglasses and my straw fedora, stepped into a bright, warm afternoon. It was a gorgeous day, a sky of blue satin and a few torn shreds of clouds. The maples were bedecked with tiny pale-green leaves. A few crab apple trees were still in bloom, but other fruit trees had abandoned their bright petals to fill the gutters of the street. The air was fragrant. Kids were riding bikes. In the schoolyard they were tossing balls and shooting hoops. School was closed for the election.

The short walk brought me to my old alma mater, Samuel Everitt Elementary School, where I had labored through fifth and sixth grade. Inside the school they had set up the old voting machines, clunky battleships with shower curtains. First I identified myself and signed the register, but these were neighbors and several knew my name. Shamefully, I didn't know who they were. I was handed a ticket announcing me as a "Valid Democrat" and so the machine was set with the Republican choices locked out. Being the Primary, I was only allowed to decide on who would be the candidates within the Democratic Party. This is unfortunate because the important choice rested with the Republicans. Joe Hoeffel was the only Democrat running for the Senate seat. However, the Republicans were deciding between two potential candidates, Pat Toomey and the incumbent Senator Arlen Specter. A fearful prospect for me was that Pat Toomey might win, a man more sharply to the right than the moderate Specter. Pat Toomey would shove his particular religious beliefs into law, such as denying women the choice of abortion and denying gays the rights enjoyed by other citizens.

Then there was the issue that everybody got a whack at regardless of political affiliation, the referendum for building a new high school. All about the community I've seen signs posted on green lawns reading "Vote No for the New Neshaminy High School". Voting yes would mean our property taxes would increase.

Some argued that the fifty-year-old Neshaminy High School, my other alma mater from tenth grade to twelfth, was in pitiful disrepair and unworthy of refurbishing. Pamphlets had arrived to my door during the last month with arguments for and against the new school. The arguments were all presented in terms of conflicting costs and taxes. I could cynically imagine the construction of a new school as merely a clever way for developers to make themselves richer; however, if a new school was needed, I would not want to deny anything in the service of the education of our community's children. Not knowing whom to believe on the issue of the new school, I telephoned the Neshaminy Federation of Teachers, the local teacher's union, and asked for the general consensus among them. They felt the new school was necessary.

So I stepped into the booth and grabbed the thick lever. With a hard yank to the right, I mechanically forced closed the pair of curtains behind me. In the privacy of the booth, I made my choices, latching the little knobs with my fingertips and shoving them down. When I yanked the big lever back to the left, the curtains split apart and the knobs all sprang into their former positions, thus rendering my ballot a secret to all but the machine.

Later that evening, en route to retrieve Ms Keogh from her job, I passed Guns and Things, the "friendliest gun shop in Pennsylvania." They had two of those "Vote No for the New Neshaminy High School" signs on their narrow front lawn. It gave me confidence that I had made the appropriate decision, yet the referendum for the new school lost. On the other hand, I've heard that the vote was not binding; the politicians will do what they want. Further good news was that Arlen Specter won the Republican candidacy by a very narrow margin.

The Primary Elections proved to be a pleasant day, except for the disturbing notion that far away from this comfort and freedom, my vote is trying to influence the present fate of that land between the rivers, the cradle of civilization, to alter the sickening quagmire made by Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz. Still, even if the opposing party succeeds in removing the Bush administration from power, how will the new administration resolve Iraq, where either staying or withdrawing from Iraq is likely to result in a bloodbath?

Bruce Bentzman

This essay is number 77 in a series of regular reports from the life and times of Mr Bentzman. If you've any comments or suggestions, the writer would be pleased to hear from you.
Mr Bentzman's collection of poems, "Atheist Grace" is available from Amazon, as are "The Short Stories of B.H.Bentzman"