In late September I went to the Republican National Convention, and it was pretty boring. It was cool to see all the celebsArnold, Rudy, the Veep. Still, it was a little boring. Both parties try to cast themselves as in touch with working people, yet at both there were countless limousines and VIP parties. I wanted to see some friends in the New York area so I found myself one night outside the Newark train station waiting for my friend to come from Westfield, New Jersey.
It was a boring wait. Then I met Kelton Goode.
I was asked for a dollar by some guy whom I initially thought was a bum. Appearances would turn out to be deceiving.
He admits he looks like a panhandler, and explains that his friend paid for him to come up here but got in a fight with his girlfriend and kicked him out with no money and now he’s trying to scrounge up the cash to get back to Tallahassee. After showing me his Florida and Military I.D., I decide my friend isn’t going to be here for another 30 minutes, I give him a couple of dollars, and offer to buy him a drink.
Kelton and I go into this Greek restaurant and begin to talk. Kelton, a native of Democratic northern New Jersey, has a story not unlike that of many other young black men, a staunchly Democratic voting bloc. He joined the navy after a year of college, and then his service was involuntarily extended after 9/11. He’s been all over the world, to the Persian Gulf and back, and he has one baby daughter, which he had with another woman in the service. He is trying to get his bachelors by taking distance-learning classes at Thomas Edison State.
Once Kelton finds out that I was just at the convention, he shocks me by telling me he is voting for George W. Bush. “This is the first time in my entire life that I’m voting for a Republican,” he says, “and it’s the same with the rest of my family.” Kelton does not exactly fit the stereotypical profile of a Bush voter. Al Gore won 9 out of 10 black votes and New Jersey by 16 points in 2000.
To explain himself, he looks at me seriously. “Listen man,” he says, “those towers meant a lot to a lot of little kids growing up in this area. I went there when I was a kid, and that someone would threaten us like that, well, we need someone committed to protecting the country, above all else. That’s it man, that’s all there is to it.” For Kelton, the horror of another attack on American soil is the single issue that outweighs all others.
Why does he see Bush as that guy? Bush’s actions seem to speak louder to him than the nuanced rhetoric of John Kerry. Kelton wants someone committed to protecting the country, his family, and his baby girl among all else, an issue hit on repeatedly at the Republican convention. John Kerry seems to Kelton as “unbelievable,” or insincere. This seaman apparently does not care about what service John Kerry did in the 1970s.
When I said goodbye to Kelton, I initially thought he was an aberration. But lately poll numbers are starting to indicate that he is not. A recent poll even showed Kerry tied with Bush in New Jersey. New Jersey has been hit by the economic downturn, and no person feels the pain of losing loved ones in Iraq more than military families. Still, the power of 9/11 and his wish to protect his loved ones has made a party-jumper out of Kelton Goode. He is voting for Bush not because of the Swift Boat ads, or because he is anti-taxation. He is voting for Bush because of the most personal reason possible: to safeguard his daughter and the rest of his family for years to come.
Is Kelton symbolic of a massive demographic shift? Assuming he made it back to Florida, I sure hope that he makes his voice heard, along with the rest of those like him.