Commitment Issues

In which the LA Times is decidedly mocking of Undecideds

Is there anything in this world more baffling than an undecided voter? Lacking, as a group, the noble self-sufficiency of independent voters, or, for that matter, the dynamic unpredictability of swing voters, The Undecideds—like a washed-up, ’60s girl group, or the collective villains of a Stephen King novel—are, quite simply, indecisive dimwits. Their minds have yet to be made up not because they’re too open, but because they’re too feeble.

Per today’s Los Angeles Times, at least.

In an article dripping with condescension—from its headline (“What’s up with still-undecided voters?”) to its kicker (Amanda Taylor, an undecided, 32-year-old teacher, “plans to stay up Monday night, searching for that elusive piece of information that will lead to the undecided voter’s Holy Grail — certitude”)—the Times essentially argues that…undecided voters are slow in politics because they’re slow in everything else.

Meet Gloria Raymond, An Undecided from Tallahassee, who explains her political procrastination thusly:

“I’m waiting for one of them to shoot himself in the leg,” she said, meaning the foot, which she would also like to see Democrat Obama or Republican McCain put in his mouth.

Thanks for clearing up her meaning, LA Times, in a totally straightforward and non-condescending way!

The paper needs to engage in such clarification, however, if only to translate Undecidedese into Regular Person English for its readers. The mind of An Undecided, you see, works differently from yours or mine. “Presidential elections don’t always rise to the level of monumental decisions,” the piece’s author, Faye Fiore, notes, “but with two wars, a crippled economy and an energy crisis, this one does, and the undecided mind swings back and forth, amassing evidence, unwilling – unable? – to rush it.”

Got that? If the point of an election is making, you know, a decision between the candidates, then An Undecided is a loser in the game, the kid on the soccer field who, rather than dribbling the ball toward the goal of his choice, gets distracted by butterflies or clouds or his shoes.

And just as the crowd reaction to this type of laissez-faire footballing is to scream at its perpetrator in baffled frustration from the sidelines, so the Times hurls an exasperated Aaaahhh! Just run already! to its unwilling-or-unable-to-decide sources. In the form, that is, of thinly veiled mockery.

Undecideds, for example, “have been spotlighted on cable news shows, pandered to by the candidates and skewered on comedy television (‘chronically insecure … attention-seekers … people who get their heads stuck in jars while eating pickles’).” And though, “this year, they look to be significant again,” a recent SUNY-Buffalo study found that “the last time wafflers made a difference was 1960.”

And good thing, apparently. Here’s more from Raymond, who’s a seventy-two-year-old retired waitress:

“I have cats, but I love dogs, and I’ve been thinking about it like five years already if I should adopt a dog. It’s a lot of responsibility and at my age I’m afraid to do it, but if I found a dog that’s 10 years old so he doesn’t live too much longer after me,” she said. “And I want to buy another car because my car is old, but I keep thinking, if I just fix it …”

Ha! Get it? She can’t decide about a dog, either! Or even about a car! Undecided in life = undecided in politics!

Now, meet Joyce Noland, sixty-six, of Wilmington, Ohio, who “thinks McCain and Obama are “both good men,” and can’t decide which one she likes more.”

“I’m leaning McCain, but I think Obama is like a breath of fresh air,” she said, having voted twice for George W. Bush. She thinks Obama’s running mate, Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, is “a blowhard.”

“But no matter what happens,” Fiore notes, “she plans to wake up happy on Wednesday.”

We never hear why. But, apparently, we don’t need to. If we believe what we’ve just read, the indecision of The Undecideds is a punchline all its own.

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Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.