In Santa Fe County, though, there were not enough provisional or contested ballots for Hillary Clinton to ever claim the capital; Santa Fe belongs to Barack Obama. I don't think I've ever received a greater barrage of giddy notes and e-mails from ordinarily rational people than I have in the last couple weeks, all gushing about Obama: "He's so handsome! And, he's in favor of change!"
After registering on Obama's Web site in order to receive press credentials from his campaign, the deluge coming from friends and family was joined by the onslaught of e-mail from the campaign itself. Of course, that's over now. I haven't gotten an e-mail from Barack or Michelle in days, and I'm starting to think they've moved on.
Not that I don't sympathize with the frenzied Obama love. He is a dynamic candidate and, in contrast to all the other contenders, he's positively super-human. Complete sentences and sound social principles all at once? It's kinda dreamy. Plus-not that I think it really matters-it's no ding on my own manhood to admit we haven't had a president, or even a candidate, who looked that lean and mean in a well-tailored suit since the 1960s. Still, there was something about the sheer mania at Obama's "Stand for Change" rally, held at the Santa Fe Community College a few days before Super Tuesday, that bothered me.
This was the scene: After walking past the quarter-mile-long line of people, many of whom would never be admitted to the packed gymnasium, I hid my pocket knife under some bark in one of the ubiquitous landscaping planters and went through security at the press entrance, where there was a line of exactly one. The press was assembled, largely, on a mezzanine area overlooking the gymnasium. There was a contingent of locals and then a throng of weary campaign-trail journalists, the latter being among the most jaded creatures on the planet. The louder the cheers, the heavier the eye-rolling from the traveling journos-it's a bitter, ugly and self-absorbed scene that goes some distance in explaining the generally lackluster political reporting in this country.
Down on the floor, the crowd was wild-eyed; folks might have been waiting for a gladiator match or for some macabre chef to start tossing honey-roasted baby carcasses into the crowd-it was that charged and weird. Front and center, prominent veterans of past campaigns, like photographer Lisa Law, were constantly whipping up the fervor level and a camera crew panned the faces of Obama's delirious, and possibly feral, supporters.
Although it wasn't an exciting, special occasion speech like the one he gave on MLK Day, Obama had good things to say. With a multi-culti backdrop of "politically active" youth behind him, he explained that we had to "overcome fear and doubt and cynicism," and that "our children need to learn art, music, science and poetry." These things, greeted with-no kidding-ululating from the crowd, and a host of other generic war-on-terror, economic reform and green energy platforms, apparently constitute some of the "change" that was being stood for. But this, for me, was irony. Seriously, a room full of Santa Feans standing for change? On balance, there's nothing we despise more.
Apparently it's easy to stand up for distant, national, abstract change, but it's hard to summon the will-or the tolerance-to make a difference locally. Obviously, policies coming out of the White House do affect us-just ask a teacher about No Child Left Behind or a Department of Transportation worker about all the funds diverted to Iraq-but our City Council makes decisions that affect life in Santa Fe on an almost weekly basis. I feel confident in saying that a local Council election has never elicited even a lone ululation, let alone carnivorous adoration of a candidate. It may shock some avid Obama supporters to learn that Santa Fe is actually holding municipal elections on March 5, nearly eight months before those supporters may even conceivably vote for Obama once more. Admittedly, there are no candidates who excite the imagination to quite the same degree, but we have only ourselves to blame for that.
There are fewer people challenging for Council seats than there have been in the last several election cycles, and press coverage thus far has indicated that the differences between incumbents and challengers are academic, if that. Many of the challengers, like Obama, have called for change, but those challengers, like Obama, are sometimes vague on exactly what change would be implemented and how.
But if Obama's candidacy has infused Santa Feans with an appetite for the political process, and maybe even a taste for change, local elections are the place to see action and involvement manifest. If one candidate forum is most likely to address solid issues of potential change from a brass-tacks perspective, it's the Thursday, Feb. 21 forum hosted by Santa Fe Alliance, Creative Santa Fe and Green Business Network. Thoughtful observations and pointed questions at such an event offer a chance to prove that we're not just celebrity-obsessed, flash-in-the pan citizens of convenience, but active voters with a voice in our community as well as our country. Stomp and shout for Obama all you like, but walk that talk on the home front as well; democracy starts on the ground at your feet.
City Council Candidate Forum
Santa Fe Community College, Jemez Room
6 pm Thursday, Feb. 21