An Ode to the Fence

There are swing voters out there, “undecideds,” and “Independents,” that comprise a highly coveted bloc of voters that garners tremendous national attention.

Four years ago, this group was was covered by The Daily Show, hilariously. Last night, this group and the media attention they command at this point in a national election was covered by Bill Maher, rudely.

The underlying assumption: undecideds are at best, uninformed and wishy-washy when it comes to choosing between two candidates. Maybe. But Andrew Sullivan noted Joseph C. McMurray’s conclusion about voting while uninformed, hopefully.

The nature of Undecideds or Independents could simply reflect the failures of our two-party system. Maybe Independents could one day, when circumstances are ripe, introduce a third party, dramatically. But would more parties make political decision-making any easier? There are, after all, Independents who do vote with a particular party repeatedly, and there are Undecideds who are party-affiliated, paradoxically.

What about country’s political personality? When I see, read, or hear people engage in political discourse, it seems we like to be completely vindicated, rather than compromise, or adapt even slightly to another way of thinking. We don’t like to be told we’re wrong. But we love to tell others that they’re wrong.

That must have a less than positive effect on those who are more conflicted and less willing to point a finger. I’m not trying to put this group on a pedestal (I’m talking to you, Bill Maher). We’re all on the same plane of existence. But I do think there’s something to learn from this group.

Consider my sister and brother and me. We grew up watching the news, discussing world and national events openly, disagreeing vehemently, or agreeing enthusiastically, with our Dad. Other families took their kids to soccer practice, or football games. We played political rugby at the dinner table. It was stressful, but I remember (most of) it fondly. We know why we think what we think, and we are well practiced in how to defend it when under attack. We are not, as a result, undecided about much, for better or worse.

Now consider those who are on the fence in election season. What was it like in their homes, growing up? Were they encouraged or allowed to examine beliefs, or were they told what to believe? Were family-sanctioned political beliefs tied to the family’s values and faith? If they were, perhaps they never felt a need or desire to examine or question them. As a result, was conflict–even internal, never-voiced conflict that might have been felt on occasion–so foreign that it seemed better to listen and not enter the fray?

These “fence-sitters?” I think they do care, Bill Maher. I think they know plenty about issues that are important to them. I think they pay attention to exactly what they want to pay attention to–which is what each of us does.

Maybe they just don’t want to fight. They don’t want to yell, or be yelled at. They don’t want to be told what to do, what to think, or how to vote. They are just like party-affiliated, fully decided voters.

They’re just quieter.

Maybe all of us loud-mouths should be more thoughtful.



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