The Long View 2004-06-11: Voting; Reagan's Wake; The Two Swords

Shoup Voting Machine

Shoup Voting Machine

In 2004, the work of Fr. Richard John Neuhaus to try to bring politically minded Catholics and Evangelicals into a partnership for political change was new and fresh. The subsequent implosion of the Bush administration didn't do Neuhaus's memory or his ideals any favors, but I admire what he was trying to do.

Voting; Reagan's Wake; The Two Swords

Last Tuesday, June 8, was the day for primary elections in New Jersey. Although I was voting as a Republican, and none of the Republican candidacies were contested here in Hudson County, I went to vote anyway. I was eager to see the new electronic voting machines, about which there has been much speculation. Few of my fellow citizens allowed their curiosity to get the better of them in this way: turnout in this county was under 18%.

All my life I had voted either by absentee ballot or on one of the old Shoupe machines. Those are the ones where you turn a little black lever by the name of your candidate and an "X" snaps into place, and you open and close the curtains to the voting booth by throwing a big red lever. I think the only thing electrical is the lighting.

The new machines (from the Sequoia company, I believe) present the voter with a somewhat loose plastic sheet, on which the names of the candidates are printed; holes have been punched in the sheet by each name. The sheet fits over a panel with buttons and lights on it. You press on a name, and an "X" lights up through a corresponding hole.

One cannot help but notice how much less sophisticated these machines are than commercial devices, such as ATMs and self-service check-out stations at grocery stores. No doubt simplicity was an end in itself for the designers. On the whole, the new machines were well received. I did not care for them, though.

Whether because of a design feature or because the poll workers had not read all the instructions yet, the curtains to the booth did not open when I was finished. The lighting inside the booth was inadequate.

More important, the electronic machines are minimally interactive. They are silent: they do not make the satisfying "clunks" and "pings" that the Shoupe machines did. Even the panel that lights up to tell you when you are finished is small and hard to find. There is no paper receipt, of course. It's as if you were never there.

* * *

The death of President Reagan is getting an amazing amount of news coverage. Even more surprising, some of it is worth watching. Wednesday (June 9) evening's television broadcast of the cortege moving through Washington to the Capitol really was awesome. Washington was once ironically known as "the city of magnificent distances," because of those long, uselessly broad avenues that connected nothing in particular. For once, they looked as imposing in use as they did in L'Enfant's city plan. The humid, late afternoon haze made the spectacle look like a 19-century Luminist painter's interpretation of a myth. Unfortunately, the cortege eventually arrived at the Capitol, and politicians began to talk, thereby marring the effect.

I had forgotten that, several years ago, I reviewed an Alternative History -- Time Travel story about Ronald Reagan, Peter Delacorte's Time on My Hands: A Novel with Pictures. It's a negligible novel, by a liberal bigot, but provides some perspective that is important today. The book was published in 1997, and it was part of the effort during the Clinton years to rewrite the Reagan presidency to fit the Main Sequence of progressive history. Today, Reagan's Wake is good evidence that the effort has failed.

* * *

I was slow to notice the long piece in Christianity Today entitled Bush Calls for 'Culture Change', which is a transcript of a meeting that President Bush had at the White House with religion writers and editors on May 26. This group was pretty much the embodiment of the "Evangelicals and Catholics Together" initiative that Chuck Colson and Fr. Richard John Neuhaus launched in the 1990s. That article is the longest on-the-record interview I can remember the president giving in some time.

Actually, the Christianity Today piece came to my attention only because it was the basis for a an article in the Italian magazine, Chiesa, about President Bush's recent meeting with John Paul II. The article's title suggests a perspective different from that of most of the media coverage in the US: Bush Brought a Gift for the Pope: The Alliance Between Catholics and Evangelicals. The piece, by Sandro Magister, has this to say:

The June 4 meeting in the Vatican between George W. Bush and John Paul II brought together noticeably the positions of the two sides: even in the matter of Iraq, over which there was a serious division a year ago. The speech given by the pope is evidence of this...But there is also underway a noticeable drawing together between Bush and Catholics in the United States. In the surveys for the November presidential elections, a majority of Catholics favor the reconfirmation of the incumbent president. And this in spite of the fact that he is a Methodist, while his opponent, the Democrat John Kerry, is a Catholic.

The article perhaps overstates the "six-degrees-of-separation from Fr. Neuhaus" aspect of the matter. Also, when you talk about "Catholic" in this context, the term should be taken to refer to a minority of politically engaged laypeople and some of the younger episcopate. Still, this is some evidence that the Vatican has gotten the memo about who its friends are. At any rate, John Paul II got the memo. What the next pope will do with it remains to be seen.

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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