OK, so I did vote after all, my lofty apathy indifference of three weeks ago notwithstanding. It was my son that sent me off to the polling booth.
Danny Derbyshire has for years had his heart set on joining the Army. A high-school senior, he encountered a recruiter back in September, and the recruiter reeled him in without much difficulty. I’ve warned the lad that when the wooing stops and he’s just another grunt in uniform, there’ll be some psychological letdown, but he declares himself unbothered.
Danny took the AFQT (basically an IQ test: the cutoff for the Army is IQ 92) and the ASVAB (a vocational test to see which military specialty suits you). A smart kid—it’s genetic—Danny aced both tests and is in A-1 physical condition, so they basically told him he could pick his own specialty. He picked Airborne Rangers, the most dangerous specialty on the list. They jump out of planes to do Navy-SEAL-type super-hazardous missions.
I was thrilled. Mrs. D., however, had a conniption. The traditional prejudice of the Chinese is that “好鐵不打釘, 好兒不當兵”—“You don’t use good iron to make nails, a good son does not become a soldier.” My wife had just recently overcome this ancestral wisdom and reconciled herself to the lad having a military career, but she had taken comfort in the thought that he would enter some safe specialty—military intelligence, perhaps, sitting at a PC screen in a cube deciphering information from the field. That her son might actually be the field was too much for her.
We talked Mom most of the way down from her ledge, but she was still adamant that if Danny got killed on active service, she would divorce me. I consigned to that, Danny went off for an overnight stay at Fort Hamilton (more physicals, some kind of a preliminary oath), and he can now proceed straight from high-school graduation next summer to Fort Benning for boot camp. From there he goes to Ranger school, which has a sensational washout rate.
I am reliably informed by a Texas friend—in Texas everybody has a family member in the military—that Ranger school washouts get all the crap jobs in the Army. I passed this on to my son, but he was unfazed. “I’ll qualify.” As temperamentally hostile as I am to every form of facile optimism, I admired my son’s resolution.
(The only other conservative I know with a son in the military is Peter Brimelow of VDARE.com, whose son Alexander is currently serving with the US Marine Corps in Afghanistan. On the basis of this admittedly tiny sample, I’d suggest that if you want to meet a conservative with a military-minded kid, go to the dissident right. Bigfoot mainstream-conservative pundits send their kids to law school.)
Well, so, the election. Seventeen-year-old Danny is not into deep political analysis, but he has grasped some essentials. He was vexed that he cannot yet vote and urged me to cast a vote on his behalf. “For Mitt Romney. The other guy will cut the defense budget, and that will be bad for me.”
That left me with considerably mixed feelings. My own notion of an ideal US defense policy would involve repatriating the 56,000 troops in Germany, the 36,000 in Japan, the 28,000 in Korea, the 10,000 in Italy (Italy!), and so on, and stringing them out along our nation’s southern border with orders to shoot on sight. On a three-shift basis that would be about one soldier per 50 yards of border—quite sufficient to deter intruders.
Danny has different ideas. The kid is seventeen. He wants to kill people and break things, as we all did at that age—well, all of us non-elite worker bees. I sympathize.
And then there is that other fruit of my loins, Miss Nellie Derbyshire, who actually is old enough to vote for the first time. Though she is cagey about her intentions, I know an Obama voter when I see one. As futile as it may be in New York state—a foregone conclusion, election-wise—Nellie’s vote needs to be countered, if only for the sake of the nation’s popular-vote totals.
Off to the polling place, then. It is the local high school, and you know which door to go in by the big signs saying LUGAR DE VOTACION. Heaven forbid we should be directed to our civic duty by signs written in English! No doubt that would be racist.
I go in and register at the desk. To my pleased surprise, the senior-citizen volunteer at the desk who’s checking the voter rolls pronounces my name correctly. I comment on this. He tells me he was stationed in England with the US Air Force. I thank him for that, but add the quip about “Overpaid, oversexed, and over here.”
For that I get a spirited riposte: “What we said about the locals was, ‘Underpaid, undersexed, and under Eisenhower.’” God, I love these old warriors.
In the booth I marked up all the Republican/conservative spots on the ticket and fed it through the mark-scanner machine—sensationally new by the time-warped standards of voting technology. I was writing computer code for mark scanners in the early 1970s. Well, at least they’ve advanced somewhat from punched cards.
It was all for naught. As I write, shortly after midnight on Wednesday morning, it is clear that Barack Obama has won another term. It is bad for my son, who at best will end up in some office building in the Southwest directing drones from a PC and at worst will be peeling potatoes at Fort Baxter. But look, I did my best. Democracy? It’s wonderful, wonderful.