10/14/2008 11:49 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Journal: Otherness in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

Sara Lazarus is an OffTheBus grassroots correspondent. Each week she contributes a campaign journal documenting her life out on the trail.

I had driven well over an hour from my home in New Jersey to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to canvass for Obama. Perhaps the most revealing conversation occurred not while going door to door, but over breakfast at a Perkins restaurant, with the personable young woman waiting on my friend Beth and me.

Shelly was in her 30's, energetic and attractive. Excited by the the recent debates, we asked her if she'd watched. "No," she said, she'd "been too busy." So we plunged into the all-important question, who was she voting for in November? Her face clouded over, and she said, "I don't really like either of them. I don't like McCain, but I don't like your guy either." It was then we realized she'd probably overheard our private conversation earlier and already knew our preference. What we didn't realize until much later, was that this was the first of many times she couldn't bring herself to say Obama's name! "...your guy!" Uh oh.

This single mom, deeply concerned about money, health insurance, and education, was someone who should be solidly in the Obama camp. But she also sent her daughter to private, probably parochial, school, because "They didn't let her pray in public school, and they didn't even say the Pledge of Allegiance." Hmm, closer to McCain/Palin.

She truly seemed conflicted, because she thought McCain was "old" and "forgetful." But, "I don't trust the other guy."

"...the other guy." There it was again, this inability to say his name. Did she not remember it? Could she not pronounce it? Was it because it's a foreign, Muslim-sounding name? Was it racism? Or was it dismissive, as in McCain's "...that one..."

I guess we'll never know in Shelly's case. But what has become apparent in quite a few of my conversations canvassing, and with certain neighbors here in "liberal" New Jersey, is that she is reflective of a general mistrust in many parts of the country for Obama, I suspect for his "otherness." It might be his diverse background, it might be his cool intellectualism, it might be all the fear-raising smears that have been leveled against him. But maybe, just maybe it's all symbolized in his name. And if you can't give voice to someone's name, how can you vote for him? "What's in a name?" asked William Shakespeare. Perhaps Shelly's vote, and that of many others.

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