Maybe The Blind Should Lead The Blind
On the evening of September 21, Teresa Lhotka bore witness to one of the more entertaining political parables of the current election season. It was curriculum night at Oak Point Intermediate School in Eden Prairie, and Lhotka, along with about 30 other parents, was listening to a homeroom teacher talk about their children's latest civics lesson.
The teacher, whom Lhotka declines to name for fear of causing him unnecessary grief, explained that he had provided the sixth-graders with a series of policy statements from Bush and Kerry. Without identifying either candidate, the teacher then instructed the kids to weigh the statements and cast their votes accordingly.
It wasn't even close: twenty-six votes for Kerry, four for Bush. In predominantly conservative, Bush-loving suburb Eden Prairie, a Bush landslide might have made sense. The president took 58 percent of the vote there in the 2000 election. But a Kerry rout? That took explaining.
According to Lhotka, the teacher allowed that a few of the kids booed after they learned the outcome of their blind poll. From this response, Lhotka inferred that the booers probably came from Bush-supporting households and were upset at having voted for "the wrong guy."
What most intrigued Lhotka, however, was the reaction of her fellow parents. At first, she had a distinct sense that the Bush backers among them were wondering where they had gone wrong. "When the teacher said the students had voted for Kerry, I heard an intake of breath from a couple of people and this one lady's eyes got real wide," Lhotka recalls. After the teacher offered some mild assurances--essentially, suggesting that one shouldn't read too much into the results--the subject was dropped. As Lhotka later wrote, "we moved on to talk about other things, and everyone was happy."
A month earlier, Lhotka had started a blog (anomalousdata.com). So she wrote a summary of the experience, which she posted under the heading, "It's okay. Don't think about it too much and it will be okay."
By the standards of anomalousdata.com, which Lhotka had used chiefly as a means of maintaining a dialogue with far-flung family and friends, the post was a blockbuster. Other sites linked to hers, traffic spiked eightfold, and readers left 34 comments.
Of course, partisan barbs were flying in short order. One poster asked whether Lhotka intended for her "contempt for Bush supporters to be so obvious." Another poster took swipes at the teacher ("a raging lib") and Kerry ("an honorary north Vietnamese war hero"). That, in turn prompted yet another poster to declare: "Looks like the rightwing asshole posse just rode into town."
For Lhotka, the dialogue reinforced the lessons she had gleaned from curriculum night. Voters--young and old alike--have trouble separating the messenger from the message. "People of all persuasions have blinders on," she adds, "and they become uncomfortable when the blinders come off."
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