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The Undecided Voter

September 11, 2008

Saint Paul, MN – According to Judy Hodge from Dallas, Texas, the most fitting parallel to the relationship between a citizen and the President is that between a costumer and a travel agent. “When you sign up for a cruise, you expect that your agent will put you on a flight that gets you on time to the port of boarding. Then you expect a nice ship where the staff takes good care of you and to have a vast choice of things to do during your vacation, from massages to the gym to the swimming pool,” Ms. Hodge told me at the Excel Energy Center – the site for the Republican National Convention – last week.

Judy Hodge is a middle-aged woman who attended the Republican National Convention in Saint Paul as a guest, accompanying her 81 year-old mother-in-law Pauline – who was attending her third convention as a delegate and has been active in Republican politics since 1952. Ms. Hodge says she is an independent, confesses to have voted for fellow Texan George W. Bush both in 2000 and in 2004, but swears that she is still undecided for this year’s election. As for as her mother-in-law, Pauline Hodge has finally accepted the nomination of John McCain, although for a long time she was a supporter of Rudy Giuliani. “My mother-in-law loves Rudy,” Ms. Hodge told me, “at the Republican Convention in New York in 2004, Rudy was so nice to her. He met my mother-in-law and kissed her hand. And this year we bumped into him again and he recognized her.”

The enthusiasm with which Judy Hodge recalls this episode is indicative of the way she relates to politics. What really matters to her is the personal story of a politician, how he behaves in private and, possibly, the personal relationship that he entertains with his supporters. “I look at the person, I try to listen and I want to understand who these candidates really are,” Ms. Hodge said, “I’m not interested in big talks and policy proposals; those are only part of the campaign rhetoric.”

Ms. Hodge likes George and Laura Bush because she knows them personally. First Lady Laura and Ms. Hodge attended the same college in Texas, and Mrs. Bush was only a couple of years ahead of Ms. Hodge. At the time when Ms. Bush was still working as a librarian, “you should have seen her: she was a perfect woman, for grace, intelligence and kindness,” Ms. Hodge recalled. “George and Laura are wonderful people, they really tried hard during these last eight years and I know they love this country so much,” Ms. Hodge said. But Judy Hodge also liked John F. Kennedy and his wife Jacquie, who “had such class and elegance.” And, while calling Cindy McCain “the best woman I’ve ever seen,” she also respects the Obamas: “It’s really too bad that the campaign decided to reshape Michelle’s image so that she would look more comforting and less aggressive. I liked her as she was. And what’s wrong about being spontaneous?” According to her, Barack Obama shows his best side when he interacts with his wife and his two daughters: “Watching him in that context, he really looks like a sweet, compassionate human being.”

Judy Hodge also told me that the media — both left and right leaning — upset her, because they always concentrate on the negatives. And the same is true of politicians, when they start fighting with one another: “Why can we not just agree and work together to make this a better country?” Ms. Hodge wondered.

In the case of Judy Hodge, undecided does not mean uninformed. She not only attended the Republican National Convention, but she also taped at least six hours a day of the Democratic National Convention that took place the week before in Denver, Colorado. She is familiar with Republican politics and Republican gatherings because of her husband’s family and the activism of her mother-in-law, but she says she listens to all sides and has been to a rally of Sen. Obama’s during the primaries.

Her political philosophy truly is a combination of conservative and liberal ideals. According to Ms. Hodge, the White House and Congress exist to protect the citizens of America from outside attacks. Also, the Federal Government must guarantee the right of all individuals to make a better life for themselves and for their family. While upholding beliefs that are traditionally associated with the American right, Ms. Hodge is also a working woman, with a high-profile career in the insurance and finance industries, and one who was never able to have children because she “was working eighty hours a week.” Not surprisingly, she shows admiration for strong women, including Hillary Clinton, whom she would have preferred as the Democratic nominee. Ms. Hodge is staunchly pro-choice and she told me that “the body of a woman is the woman’s property and the government should have no say in what she chooses to do with it.” Then she added: “I don’t like the religious right.” And yet, Judy Hodge is very pleased with John McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate and she believes that Palin’s pro-life convictions are only a personal matter and not a political stance.

Ms. Hodge holds a similar mixed approach to climate change. While acknowledging that human activities might be contributing to global warming, she does not like some of the exaggerations that she says she hears from the media and the Democrats. “They say that the polar bears are at risk of extinction, but that is also a matter of natural conditions. There are only so many seals that they can eat,” Ms. Hodge said. As a result, although deeming the protection of the environment an important issue, she agrees that the US should start drilling at home to address rising gas prices.

After quitting her job in the financial services industry a few years ago, Judy Hodge started a business – a travel agency– and she must now pay for her own health insurance — about $11,000 a year plus some other out-of-pocket expenses. She does not seem to mind: “If I’m sick, I’m willing to pay to get better.” For all those that might not have the money to afford private health insurance, Ms. Hodge thinks we should rely on charity and people’s generosity. “It’s always a matter of people helping other people, of compassion between human beings,” Ms. Hodge told me and listed a number of medical establishments in Dallas that offer free consultations to the poor thanks to the philanthropy of the rich. The government should be careful in dispensing economic aid, because it could be distracted from more important matters such as protecting America’s national security, and because if we give too much to those who don’t have a job, then they won’t have any incentive to start working again: “If you invite me to eat for free at an all-you-can-eat everyday, then I will stop cooking,” Ms. Hodge said.

Finally, Judy Hodge doesn’t hide her real devotion to the US armed forces. When she is in Dallas, she regularly goes to the airport to welcome the troops that are coming back from Iraq. In our interview, she lamented the fact that ever since the Vietnam War – which Ms. Hodge opposed – the military has not received the respect that it used to at the time of World War II. Ms. Hodge told me she likes Al Gore, but that she was happy that when the terrorist attacks of September 11th unfolded, it was George Bush and not him at the White House, since Gore had never served. The same is true for this year’s election. In such a delicate international environment, “from just the standpoint of ‘Commander in Chief’ McCain might be better than Obama.”

Born in a Democratic household but married to an ultra-conservative man, Judy Hodge swears that she will not make a decision on who to vote for until she goes to the polls on November 4th.

Originally reported and written for Washington Prism

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