Would you be willing to help put the Green Party on the Nebraska ballot?"
Gathering petition signatures, I had put that question to many people in Lincoln, and gotten an interesting sampling of views. This time I put it to a young man from the University of Nebraska's maintenance staff.
Punctuating his answer with a flourish, double thumbs up, he cries, "No way! I'm a Republican!"
"Good," I say. "You can help siphon votes away from Al Gore."
He thought two seconds, said, "Yeah!" and signed my petition.
On the other side of the spectrum, fear of the right prevented signing. One I asked, a retired judge, replied "I already signed, but I regret it, and I wouldn't do it now. There's too much at stake."
Similarly, an English professor on my campus, lapsing into Robert Burns verse, replied, "I remember John Anderson. John Anderson, my jo. We had fun voting our hearts, and Ronald Reagan got elected. We shouldn't do anything to give such tries credibility."
But in the main, here in "the People's Republic of Lincoln," so-called for being more liberal than the rest of Nebraska - as a university town often is - Green Party volunteers found that getting enough signatures to do the first congressional district wasn't difficult. In any congressional district of California, I'd have found it personally impossible. There, the dour thoughts of the judge and the prof would seem compelling.
There is a difference here in Nebraska. Not for nothing we classics profs at the U call it "the Arcadia of the United States." Not for nothing does Roger Welsch refer to our state as "Nebr-Nebr-Land." Arcadia, of course, is the home of Pan, classical god of shepherds and herdsmen - and of panic.
On the east end, they graze sheep on the Nebraska slopes of the Missouri Valley. Further west, on the slopes of the University of Nebraska city campus, a classics prof demonstrates Panpipes with glued-together Bic razor handles tuned with modeling clay.
The big cities, all two of them, are quiet with industries of insurance, telemarketing, Cliff Notes, and Gallup polling. A bit farther west and the landscape is dotted with feedlots and the air is not filled with music. The corn in between is more for cattle and for ethanol. At the western end of the state, the cattle walk on dry sand hills instead of in feedlot muck, and they are grazed, rather than fed.
Arcadia is the home of Pan; its modern US counterpart is the home of five Republican electoral-college votes. From the east to the west, the whole of pastoral, quiet Nebr-Nebr-Land is, in presidential elections, at least, the most Republican state in the Union. Nebraska's electoral-college votes haven't gone to a Democrat since 1964. Before that, Franklin D. Roosevelt took Arcadia's electoral-college votes in 1936, but not in 1940.
I hadn't been fully truthful to the thumbs-up young Republican. "No way" can Nebraska Republicans siphon votes away from Mr. Gore. Here, a vote for Gore is a fringe vote, erased in the electoral-college system. Pan, shepherd god, may shepherd the two-party flock all centerward with fear of wasted votes, and with fear of wolves on right or left, but here in the center of Arcadia, the electoral college means Pan is all pipes and no panic. The one hoary holdover erases the other.
Like Pan, the vote-shepherding electoral college belongs somewhere in the deep mythological past.
Yet the benefit of the electoral college is we are freed from lesser-of-two-evils politics. If a few idealists in the capital want to vote for John Anderson then, or Ralph Nader now, they can do it completely free of "Reaganfear."
I live in Nebraska, and here in the Arcadia of the US, I can vote any which way I want to.
*Thomas Nelson Winter teaches Latin at the University of Nebraska.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society