"You don’t have to know how to sing, you just have to be a man.”
It’s early Sunday afternoon, and Pastor Paul Hobson Sadler Sr., wearing an iridescent black vestment and owlish glasses, is bringing the two-hour service at Mount Zion Congregational Church to a close, eliciting chuckles as he makes the hard sell for a men’s choir rehearsal on Tuesday night. The worship space of Mount Zion, with plush red seats and words of scripture projected onto the front walls of the altar, dates to the 1960s, but the institution has been a fixture in the University Circle neighborhood of Cleveland for 140 years, surviving a bombing during the 1950s back when, as one member of the almost all-black congregation told me, “they didn’t want us here.”
United States Senator Sherrod Brown is wearing Velcro strap sneakers. They are distinctly geriatric in flavor, black and sturdy-looking, the sort that might be found in the “Mall Walking” section of the shoe wall at FootLocker. Brown is wearing them with a suit. On stage. At a big Teamsters rally a couple of weeks before Election Day.
Say what you will about Brown—and plenty has been said about the liberal bête noire of national conservatives during this election cycle—but the man certainly has his own distinct brand of business casual. And in his fierce race to maintain his Senate seat against Republican State Treasurer Josh Mandel, it just might be Brown’s brand of who-gives-a-hoot sartorial schlump and off-the-cuff crankiness that is winning Ohio voters over.
Soren Norris is pretty sure he’s just been spouse-blocked.
Norris, a canvasser for Working America, the AFL-CIO’s community affiliate, is walking away from a door that’s been slammed in his face by a rotund man in a polo shirt and khakis at the mention of Ohio’s incumbent Democratic senator, Sherrod Brown. He explains the phenomenon, common enough in this politically divided state to have been given a name by political professionals. “It’s when you want to talk to one, and the other one won’t let you talk to them. She might have been in the back. Who knows?” Norris shrugs off the encounter and is soon off to the next house on his list. He and his team of canvassers need to knock on 3,500 doors in Cuyahoga Falls, a city 45 minutes south of Cleveland, tonight—T-minus 25 days until Election Day in Ohio.
It’s no secret that every four years, in the full flush of autumn glory, this state becomes the prettiest girl at the Electoral College party. Pundits hang on her every anecdotal word, and pollsters won’t stop calling. For both candidates, Ohio’s the closest thing there is to a must-win. Obama for America has spent $54 million on ad buys here, and the Romney campaign has spent $55 million. You can’t turn on the television without seeing Barack Obama’s ears or Mitt Romney’s hair; the radio is awash in spots parodying the candidates to sell cars. For many Ohioans at this point, political ads have become white noise, making grassroots get-out-the vote efforts all the more crucial in the race’s final days.
Yesterday, the Nuns On the Bus—the summer’s most devout media darlings, who gained notoriety for their two-week, nine-state bus tour to protest Congressman Paul Ryan’s proposed budget plan—got a rude surprise in Marietta, Ohio.
In the midst of a five-day bus tour of the state to protest proposed cuts to social services, the sisters were greeted by a group of Romney-Ryan supporters toting signs with slogans proclaiming, “Bums on the Bus: You Are Not Catholic,” and “Romney/Ryan, Yes; Fake Nuns, No,” ostensibly taking issue with the nuns’ focus on affordable healthcare and income inequality instead of pro-life issues.
On Saturday, Ghulam Ahmad Bilour, Pakistan’s railways minister, held a press conference and declared that he would pay $100,000 of his own money to anyone who could capture the maker of a now-infamous YouTube movie trailer that depicts the Prophet Muhammad killing innocent men and juggling underage girls in his desert tent. The clip has careened around the Internet, inspiring violent protests and attacks in some Muslim-majority countries and cities. But it has also inspired bewilderment in the West—how could a trailer so farcically bad be construed by millions of Muslims as representative of the feelings of the majority of Americans toward Islam? Don’t they understand that the video doesn’t speak for the U.S. government? Can’t they lighten up? Don’t they understand freedom of speech?
The short answer is, no, not in the same way that we in the West do.
North American democracy is built upon the ideas of Enlightenment Europe; the sanctity of secularism in government and the free flow of ideas, whether we agree with them or not, is what defines our particular brand. But Western republics can’t expect to see reflections of themselves when they stare, Narcissus-like, into the roiling pool of Middle Eastern governments, still in the infancy of their democracies—at least not yet.