Who are novelists voting for?

All about fiction.
Oct. 11 2004 6:51 PM

Roll Call

Who are novelists voting for?

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Click here to read more from Slate's "Book Blitz."

Front row: Updike,Tan, Franzen, Oates. Back row: Danticat, Card, Moody.
Front row: Updike,Tan, Franzen, Oates. Back row: Danticat, Card, Moody.

Slate asked a variety of prominent American novelists, ranging from Edwidge Danticat to John Updike, for a frank response to the following question: Which presidential candidate are you voting for, and why? Thirty-one novelists participated, with four for Bush, 24 for Kerry, and three in a category of their own. Authors cited a range of reasons, from a vote for Kerry "because I have a brain and so does he" (Amy Tan), to a vote for Bush because "we're at war, and electing a president who is committed to losing it seems to be the most foolish thing we could do" (Orson Scott Card). Here are their answers.

I'm voting for John Kerry, who seems like a decent fellow—perhaps capable of rising to the occasion. There is so much damage to fix, I don't know who can do it. In a different sort of election, I might have voted for a Green Party candidate, or some such, but I think the current time period represents a state of true desperation. And living in Swing-State Ohio, I feel like my vote really counts for something.

Like many people, I'm casting a vote for Anyone but Bush. Back in 2000, Bush seemed like a joke—a smirking, callow, old-money twit with a fake Texas accent. Now, four years later, he seems truly, frighteningly dangerous and completely without scruples. I'm alarmed by his administration's attacks on civil liberties, by the deliberate lies that brought us into a poorly planned war, by the gleeful disregard for the environment, by the social policies—the tax cuts, which so nakedly benefit the very few to the detriment of almost everybody else; the ugly, merciless No Child Left Behind educational policy; the reckless budget deficit … I have found myself recoiling from the newspaper, and I dread where another four years of his administration would lead us. I find myself particularly repelled by Bush's professed "Christianity," even as his administration repudiates every value that Christ represents. He's probably not the Antichrist, but he comes as close as I've seen in my lifetime.

I'm voting for Kerry, because I have a brain and so does he.

By Bush logic, I should vote for him, since he gave me a hefty tax cut. In fact, the greatest increase in our deficit comes—not from the Iraq war—but the tax savings to the upper income brackets, on average more than $50,000 a year. To those who say Kerry is elitist, I counter there is no worse elitism than giving the rich more riches, while draining the rest of the country of monies that should go to schools, health care, the disabled, and support for the arts. Kerry would remove most of the tax cuts to the rich and give more back to the rest of the country.

What's more, the current president has done more to damage our civil rights, our environment, our standing in the world, our work toward the collective good, our sense of security. He has used orange alert fear to instill obedience, has redefined patriotism as a willingness to sacrifice constitutional law. How can I not vote for a candidate like Kerry, who respects the Constitution, who respects the need for health care, and who is strong and rational enough to defend our country but without arm pumping and high fives when the bombs fall on another country?

I look forward to voting for John Kerry, a man of exemplary intelligence who was brave in war and then brave in protest of war. I don't look for him to reverse our course in Iraq overnight, nor to provide quick fixes for global or national problems, but there are certain things I am sure he will not do: He won't try to pack the Supreme Court and other judiciary with anti-choice judges; he won't push for an anti-gay-marriage constitutional amendment; he won't try to perform voodoo economics with tax cuts and a raging deficit. The present president has his virtues and his good intentions, but I'm not sure the United States can afford four more years of his administration.

Kerry, because I want to be proud of the way I'm represented, within the country and to the world.

John Kerry.

I actually voted for Nader in 2000, because I live in New York state, and it was clear that Gore was going to take the state, which freed me up to vote my conscience. My conscience, at the time, dictated that American party politics were inherently corrupt, because of, e.g., our inability to pass meaningful campaign-finance reform. In 2000, it seemed to me, the Democratic Party was only marginally less corrupt than the Republican Party. It also seemed to me that Gore completely abandoned his core Democratic base in the general election. I liked Gore on some of the issues, but I thought he ran a shoddy, misguided campaign.

However, everything changed over the next four years. It became self-evident, I think, that the Bush presidency is the most corrupt in modern history. Under the cynical disguise of evangelical Christian moralizing (and don't even get me started on Bush's moronic theology), Bush conducted (and continues to conduct) a fire sale, in which he auctioned off the entire nation to the highest corporate bidder, piece by piece. Well, that's not entirely true. Sometimes he didn't even bother to take bids. And this is not to mention a war based on outright mendacity, in which tens of thousands of innocent civilians have been killed.

Since it's now abundantly clear that Nader's reform message has been deracinated by his narcissistic Republican-financed campaign, I'm voting for the one guy who seems to be able to send Bush back to his pest-control cronies in the state of Texas. Hopefully, George can keep himself busy for a few decades clearing brush.

Like virtually everyone I know, I'm voting for Kerry. And probably for exactly the same reasons. To enumerate these reasons, to repeat yet another time the fundamental litany of liberal principles that need to be reclaimed and revitalized, seems to be redundant and unnecessary. Our culture has become politicized to a degree that verges upon hysteria. And since I live in New Jersey, a state in which an "honest politician" is someone who hasn't yet been arrested, I have come to have modest, that's to say realistic expectations about public life.

I'm a Democrat voting for Bush, even though on economic issues, from taxes to government regulation, I'm not happy with the Republican positions. But we're at war, and electing a president who is committed to losing it seems to be the most foolish thing we could do. Personal honesty is also important to me, and Kerry is obviously not in the running on that point, given that he can't keep track of the facts in his own autobiography.

I'm voting for Kerry. Because I'm not in the U.S. much of the time, I am apt to see current events as presented in the foreign press, and they differ a lot from the way things are spun here. From there, it is painful to see our country dragged through the mud because it has a leader who appears foolish, rash, and arrogant. Even the English, our supposed allies, sneer. Guns, the auto, torture, and war. One can't disagree with the things others say about Bush, but up till now, the rest of the world tends not to blame the American people (we didn't elect him).

After the election, who knows? I understand that lots of people don't care what the rest of the world thinks, but they ought to.

And, our world reputation aside, I find Mr. Bush embarrassing.

Kerry, of course. He's the candidate whose defeat Osama Bin Laden (if he's alive) is praying for. I trust him not to pour additional gasoline on the fires that Bush has set overseas. Also, since he's a Democrat, I trust him to exercise a modicum of fiscal sanity and to show a little compassion for the unlucky. Also, his wife is hot hot hot. She'd be a first lady for the ages.

I'm voting for John Kerry because I'm tired of feeling like an alien in my own country, tired of being at the mercy of an administration that, even as it tries to get itself re-elected, exhibits on a daily basis a stunning level of arrogance, ignorance, and dishonesty. Kerry believes in a government by the people and for the people—all of the people, not just the fortunate few.

For a president who preaches democracy, Bush has an appalling lack of trust in its main tenet. My heart aches for the lost children in this pointless and unsolicited war. I can't talk politics any more with my Republican friends; they keep insisting it's all a game. They don't see that when Bush won, it was all of us who lost.

Kerry.

Why? If we ask ourselves the trillion-dollar deficit question, are we better off than we were four years ago, the choice seems to me very clear. The war in Iraq, and earlier in Afghanistan, has united more terrorist factions than ever before, so we are not safer than we were before Sept. 11. We have bankrupted our children's future, neglected the environment. Our educational system has left more children behind than we can count. Our civil liberties are being eroded. We can't keep going like this for another four years. We need a new start, new leadership.

John Kerry. Why? Because in every regard vis-à-vis the policies of this country I support John Kerry instead of George Bush. I would be voting for Kerry as a protest vote against the Iraq war alone, but even without that horrid mess, Bush and his handlers are heading us in the wrong directions in energy policy, the environment, civil liberties, tax issues, health care, education, judicial appointments—the list is endless. Cheney is also right when he said at the Republican Convention that this is a historic moment—I've never felt so keenly motivated as I am now, to help make sure the country doesn't re-endow what could prove to be a truly disastrous Bush legacy.

I am voting for John Kerry. Would George Bush steal the election if he thought he could get away with it? The evidence is that he has (disenfranchising black voters in Florida in 2000) and wants to again (attempting the same trick already this year). That such a man, an amoral prevaricator and ruthless opportunist, actually has supporters in his bid to wreck American democracy appalls me. I think that the coming election will result in a constitutional crisis of unprecedented danger. I consider a vote for Bush a vote for tyranny.

Are there really any novelists voting for Bush? I am tempted, since my vote is almost always bad luck, its recipients almost always losing.

Mark me on the Bush side of the ledger, a lonely side for this survey, I'm certain. Most novelists live in their imagination, which is a fine place to be until the bad guys come knock knock knocking. I don't agree with Bush on shoveling free meds to granny and grandpa, or his antipathy to fuel conservation along with opening up the arctic reserve, but this is small stuff. I'll be voting for Bush because his approach to stopping the people who want to kill my children is the right one, i.e., kill them first. Kerry will dance the Albright two-step with Kim Jong-il, consult with Sandy Berger's socks, and kowtow to the U.N. apparatchiks who have done such a fine job of protecting the Cambodians, Rwandans, and the Sudanese. No thanks. No contest.

I'm voting for John Kerry. Not just because the Bush administration has plunged us into an opportunistic war that has needlessly killed thousands, wrecked the economy, widened the chasm between rich and poor, savaged the environment, tried to mess with our Constitution, swatted away the international community, and caused me to wonder whether I really am an American, if being American means having to embrace a man like George W. Bush as my proxy, the avatar of my wishes and beliefs in the wider world—not, finally, for any of those reasons, but because I believe that John Kerry might be a great president. I hope to God he wins.

I'll vote for John Kerry. His election won't reverse our nation's rush to establish a fascist plutocracy, it's too late for that. But it may slow the process enough to let us over the next few decades build a viable alternative to the two nearly interchangeable parties that together in the last few decades have essentially stolen the republic. It's the only way we can avoid the necessity down the road of a Second American Revolution—a thing I'd dearly love to see, but I clearly won't live that long.

Anyone who reads my work knows that I favor de-escalation rather than inflammation of violence, the discouragement rather than the display of avarice and careful contemplation over rash action. For these reasons and more I am voting for Mr. Kerry and Mr. Edwards.

I am a registered Democrat. I disagree with George W. Bush on gay marriage, stem-cell research, a woman's right to choose, and, to a lesser extent, a host of other issues, but I am supporting him unreservedly for president. We are in a protracted war with Islamofascism and I do not trust John Kerry to lead us in that war for one minute. Also, I think my party has been hijacked by a cult of know-nothing isolationism out of the 1930s. But if they win, I hope the hell I'm wrong.

I'm planning to vote for John Kerry, four times. Once for me, and once each for Jerry Smith, Jerry Smith, and Jerry Smith, three African-Americans in Florida who, unfortunately for them, have the same name as Jerry Smith, an ex-felon, and therefore won't be allowed to vote. So I'm going to level the playing field a bit.

No, just kidding. I am going to vote for John Kerry because I am deeply disappointed in the vision of America being advanced by the Bush administration. Let's think of this in terms of Huck Finn. Huck is generous, concerned about the suffering of others, generally pleased with life, and interested in it. Tom Sawyer, on the other hand, is obsessed with a highly conceptualized view of the world, and imposing this view on others (the Sunday school picnic, Huck, Jim), regardless of how this imposition might actually affect them. Huck is bold, curious, flexible. Tom is, at heart, afraid of the world, suspicious, ego-driven, incurious, and rigid. Our nation is engaged in a struggle to decide if it is going to be the United States of Tom or the United States of Huck. Is John Kerry, then, Huck? No, but he is more Huck-like than our current president, who, in an attempt to answer a complicated question ("What to do about terrorism?") with a simple answer ("Exterminate the brutes, or some of the brutes, or some other guys who basically seem similar to the brutes, or who are, at the very least, pretty brute-like themselves") has led us into one of the bigger and more tragic Sunday school picnics in recent memory.

I'm voting for Kerry. In my opinion, too much about Bush is dead wrong—from the reasons we went to war with Iraq to his take on a woman's right to choose to the No Child Left Behind Act to the disservice he's done to our environment. The way he interweaves church and state frightens me, too—I think the founding fathers of this country went to great lengths to keep that from happening. And I think that globally, people think much worse of our country than they did four years ago. Under his leadership, I think this country has not just fallen into recession ... but regression.

Richard Nixon, because I found him so fascinating the first time around I'd be curious to see what he could do from the beyond … ?

I'll be voting for President Bush. His response to the 9/11 attacks has been both strong and measured, and he has extended a once-unimaginable degree of freedom (however tentative) to Afghanistan and Iraq. I am unimpressed by the frantic vilification that has come his way from even mainstream elements of the Democratic Party. The rhetorical assault is reminiscent of—though it far exceeds—the overheated opposition to Ronald Reagan's re-election in 1984. Back then the intellectual establishment told us how repression and apocalypse would be just around the corner if the American "cowboy" were kept in the White House for another four years. Well (as Reagan might say, his head cocked to one side), I remember a rather different result from RR's second term. And I'm hopeful about another four years under George W. Bush.

Kerry.

I've been living in Italy for the past year so news of the election filters in through the occasional guest from the States and the lifeline that is the International Herald Tribune. Here's what I've heard and read about: the intimidation of elderly black voters, a successful attack on a decorated war veteran's bravery engineered by a team of cowards, and the mounting possibility that the American electorate, particularly the struggling working class, can in the end be duped by culture wars and evangelical hokum.

Being away from the United States for an extended period of time, even while surrounded by the beauty of Rome, a writer starts to miss out on our country's brilliant diversity, the rhythms of spoken American English, the back-and-forth of a crowded diner early in the morning. But living here in the shadows of a medieval theocracy on one side of the Tiber and the remains of a long-fallen empire on the other, one looks up the latest Gallup Poll numbers in the Tribune and wonders if the dark ages are imminent for our country as well. Even the Italians, who to be fair have elected their own homegrown monster Berlusconi, shake their heads and wonder what's become of us.

I'm not convinced that the political opinions of a novelist are any more significant than anyone else's, but as a citizen, a libertarian leftist, and a yellow dog Democrat, I'm pleased to say that I'm voting for John Kerry. Give me an hour and I can tell you all the reasons why, starting with John Ashcroft, who has defaced the Constitution; and Colin Powell, who lied to my face about weapons of mass destruction; and Bush himself, who's simply a disgrace. Moreover, I like and respect both Kerry and Edwards (as I didn't like Gore or Lieberman).

I should add, too, that the Republicans I know can't stand Bush, either, and I'm predicting that, barring an October surprise, Kerry will win.

John Kerry: If he doesn't win, I'll have to be Canadian for the next four years.

I'm voting for John Kerry. This will be my first foray into the voting booth, actually—for the most part I find politics alienating, difficult to process. I'll save the bulk of my anti-Bush rant for late-night bar chatter, and simply say that a cousin of mine spent a year fighting with the Army in Iraq. He was a harder man when he returned, tweaked, difficult to relate to. His stories were crushing—did you know that there are giant spiders that creep up on sleeping soliders at night? That this is the sort of thing that causes nightmares, even more than random mortar fire?—and didn't exactly bring hope that anyone understands what's going on over there. Does Bush care about any of this, the nuanced ways his global policies affect individuals—how this, really, in the end, is what politics is all about? Yeah, I believe he does, but I don't think he's got the gumption to talk about it—or, for that matter, anything—honestly. For all his swaggering bravado, the guy has no real backbone, no confidence in anything but his squinty little grin, which is frightening.

But why Kerry, aside from his status as Democratic Other Guy, which, frankly, would be enough for me this year? Well, I like his stoicism—he seems smart, and serious, and sort of boring, and exactly like the kind of man I can't relate to, which is what I want from a leader. I don't understand why we're so keen on having someone who seems cool and perfectly personable—I have friends for that, late-night TV, strangers in parks. Really, though, the clincher came when I stumbled across some excerpts of Kerry's Vietnam journals. I couldn't help but think: the writing, the writing, the writing. It was hard and real and surprisingly beautiful, which, for me, was something I could believe in.

I will vote for John Kerry, the political scene is distressing just now—vacuous speeches on both sides. G. Bush seems triumphant, but it's a long, long way to November!

I'm voting for Kerry. I've just discovered that, through some unsurprising accident of the Board of Elections, I'm actually registered to vote in two different counties. So I'm considering voting for him twice. I really think it's not alarmist to say that if Bush is reelected to another four years, it may be the end of life as we know it. Certainly it will be the end of life for many species, including huge numbers of the species Homo sapiens. Nothing has ever caused me such sustained anger, fear, and sadness as the current administration, and the future they're driving us all toward.

More than any other election in recent memory, this one reminds me of Henry Adams' observation that politics is the systematic organization of hatreds.

The left-wing political road rage directed at George W. Bush for being dumb and lying about the war reminds me of nothing so much as the right-wing obsessive invective directed at Bill Clinton for being smart and lying about sex. Rush Limbaugh versus Michael Moore, and let the man nursing the most unrequited rage win. The DRAMA and spectacle of the election will be fascinating to watch, but novelists, even more than actors, should be political agnostics.

I'm voting for Kerry.

He isn't afraid of America. He understands that you can love your country and criticize it, too. In fact criticism, in the sense that it is articulated thought, is a form of love, at least when it comes to your country. (This logic may work less well with individuals.) I recently came across a copy of The New Soldier, a book that documents the Vietnam veteran antiwar movement, and, though he looked a lot less cool, a lot less tough, than most of the other guys pictured, his remarks were compelling. He seems to have sublimated most of that anger, which, though it's frustrating sometimes on the campaign trail, may be a positive development, because beyond a certain point of anger, you stop thinking, and being angry is the only comfortable point from which you can act.

The Bush-Cheney gang are the angriest guys in the country; fear is their weapon against thought, in whose light they do not look plausible as government. Bullying and slander is their modus operandi.

I saw the face of the Republican Party the other day at the Saratoga racetrack. It was the last day of the races, and a small woman with a big hat walked through the crowd carrying a handmade sign, written in script: "Little Old Ladies in White Tennis Shoes For Kerry," it said at the top and beneath it, "The best bet of the day." She moved through the crowd, a big smile, holding the sign over her head. I watched as she passed an old-young guy, mid-30s, already well-paunched, gold watch, smoking a cigar. He looked at her, at the sign, and then bent forward and spat out a nasty remark in her ear. I was too far away to hear it. But the way he shook his head after he passed her, his body language, maybe just the watch, I was sure it was nasty. She, however, didn't flinch—which in a way I took to be the best political news of the week.