Until last week, recent events in the presidential race might have seemed too strange for fiction. A movie about a candidate battling age-related concerns, who would be the oldest president in history if elected, choosing the least experienced VP ever, and announcing the choice on his 72nd birthday? It would have been laughed off the screen. Thanks to John McCain's warped judgment, no one's laughing now.
Add in the fact that the McCain campaign rolled out Sarah Palin by focusing on her family and biography, managing to whitewash most of her extreme right-wing views, and you'd have more cause for disbelief. Yet the mass media was celebrity-struck. McCain played the Paris Hilton card against Barack Obama, accusing him of being too famous. Still, McCain wanted his own infotainment soap opera star to juice up his lackluster campaign, and in Palin he got one.
Palin has rallied the far right Republican base, drooling at the 1 in 3 actuarial chance that McCain will die in office if McCain/Palin win. Since she wants to ban abortions with no exceptions for rape or incest, what would a President Palin's Supreme Court picks look like?
But she's also got Democrats and independent voters mad as hell that McCain would gamble with the future of our country so recklessly.
So what to do? How can progressives channel our outrage over the prospect of an unqualified, dangerously far-right wing ideologue, rabidly partisan pitbull with lipstick like Sarah Palin a heartbeat away from the presidency?
Here's a simple solution. If there's an Obama campaign office near you, get down there and volunteer. Don't fool yourself into thinking one more volunteer won't make a difference. It will, and they need us. If your state is true blue or red and not in play this cycle at the presidential level, you can volunteer for a Democratic candidate for Congress. And it's not too late to donate or raise some money from friends for Obama. Log onto MyBarackObama.com to get started.
Four years ago, I worked for John Kerry in North Carolina. Based in Durham and Orange counties, the most liberal part of the state, I oversaw a voter registration effort that added more than a quarter of all the voters registered that year by the N.C. Democrats.
The most important factor was that we mobilized a huge number of local volunteers into a grassroots voter registration army. In 2004, Democrats were fired up to get rid of George W. Bush. Even folks normally detached from politics were energized by the unfolding disaster of Bush's first term in the White House, and the mess he'd gotten us into by invading Iraq.
By the voter registration deadline, more than 400 volunteers were working with us to register voters in both counties, with teams on the ground three shifts a day. From the Durham Democratic party office, we deployed volunteer voter registrars to high-traffic sites - grocery stores, bus stations, college campuses, libraries, concerts, festivals, and anywhere else we could think to register likely Democratic voters. As our volunteer ranks exploded, the number of voters we added to the rolls reached into the thousands.
The weekend before election day, U.S. Rep. David Price was on hand to watch the crowd of get-out-the-vote volunteers streaming into our headquarters, so big they filled the parking lot. "They trained 1,000 people in Durham," he was overheard saying later, in wonderment. It was the largest outpouring of support ever seen for a North Carolina election.
Yet even with all the volunteers we had, and all we accomplished in our office, we could have done a lot more. We did everything we could to get volunteers in the door, but there were still many nights in the campaign's final two months with work to be done, and not enough hands on deck to do it.
A big part of the reason Bush was able to add three million votes in 2004 to his popular vote totals from 2000 was because Karl Rove masterminded a sweeping Republican voter registration drive during those years. GOP activists all over the country signed up voters at conservative churches and events like state fairs, NASCAR races, and country music concerts.
During 2008, the Obama campaign has flipped the script. Our efforts in 2004 were funded by the N.C. Democratic Party. By contrast, Obama has directly invested in voter registration as part of his national strategy. Obama field organizers started registering voters during the primary season, and have picked up where they left off in every state being contested for the general election.
And it's working. News accounts have trickled out all year long about Democrats adding voters to the rolls since 2004, while Republican registrations have declined.
September is possibly the month in an election cycle when volunteer help is the most productive. Voter registration deadlines in most states (the ones without same-day registration) don't occur until early October. If you show up to volunteer now, you can bank votes for Obama. You can roll up your sleeves and transform your distaste for Sarah Palin and John McCain into on-the-ground activity that will help win this election.
Plus, you'll have a good time. I met my wife on the campaign trail in 2004. Campaign offices are social places. You'll meet dedicated, good-hearted people who share your views and have fun fighting for a common goal. Make time to do it. Turn the local Obama office into your hang-out spot for the next couple months.
Four years ago, after John Kerry failed to respond forcefully to a month of swiftboating attacks, we saw a marked decrease in volunteer enthusiasm in our office. The energy picked back up, but it was valuable time lost. At a moment when McCain is coming off his convention bounce in the polls, Republicans would love it if we lost hope again, sat back on our hands and did nothing.
The stakes are high. Go volunteer today.
Erik Ose is a veteran of Democratic campaigns in North Carolina and blogs at The Latest Outrage.