How will Czech-Americans vote in the U.S. presidential elections?

Photo: CTK

Chicago is home to one of the biggest Czech communities in the United States. It also houses the headquarters of President Barack Obama’s campaign for reelection. Where better to get a sense of how Czech-Americans plan to vote?

Photo: CTK
In the run-up to the election on November 6, I met four Czech-Americans to find out their views on this presidential campaign. They started by introducing themselves:

“Hello, my name is Vera Wilt and I’m born here in America and in Chicago, but I’m very involved in the Czech community through various organizations. I’m the former president of the Czechoslovak Society of America, CSA Fraternal Life.”

“George Drost and I’m an attorney, and I have had some experience with the Czech community, I was formerly the honorary consul of the Czech Republic in Wisconsin, Illinois and in Indiana. I’m currently also involved in Chicago-type activities with World Chicago, and I do a little professorial work at the John Marshall Law School.”

“I’m Tony Jandacek or in Czech it would be Antonín Jandáček. I was born in Prague and have lived in the United States now since December 1950. I’m a retired high school teacher. I taught English and even the Czech language at Morton High School in Cicero [Illinois], because we had a very large Czech population there at one time.”

“Irena Čajková – I came to the U.S. in 1992, so I have been here for 20 years now. I currently work at the University of Chicago as a Spanish instructor, but I also teach Czech. I teach Czech children on Saturday mornings, and I’m also involved in many other Czech organizations such as the [Chicago Prague] Sister Cities.”

So the first question – which is probably the million dollar question – is who is it that you are planning on voting for in this upcoming election and why? Let’s start with you, Irena.

Barack Obama,  photo: CTK
Irena: “Well, I am voting for Barack Obama. You know, I am not a politician or expert in politics. I’m not an expert in economics so, really, my decision is based just on basic instincts – it’s as simple as whom do I like better as a person: it is Obama. And which party do I find less extreme and more representative of my views? And that would be the Democratic Party, even though I am not, you know, a big fan of either.”

Vera: “Well, I plan on voting for Mitt Romney. And my theories on this are I think that we do need someone who understands business, I think we need someone who has shown leadership at the levels that he has. I have been disappointed in some of the policies and the politics of the Obama administration and, honestly, I’ve been a lifelong Republican and I feel more closely aligned with the thoughts of that party.”

Tony: “This will be my 15th presidential election. I voted for the first time back in 1956 when I was still in the Air Force, stationed at Eglin Air Force Base down in Florida, and at that time I voted – by absentee ballot – for Eisenhower. My heroes were [Barry] Goldwater and, of course, Ronald Reagan. Because he did, especially Reagan did, the most for the fall of communism and helped the Iron Curtain to drop. But I’m basically a conservative and I like the views of Mitt Romney.”

And finally, George…

Mitt Romney,  photo: CTK
George: “Well, at this point I’m undecided and we need to have that blunt. I thought that I could be the tie-breaking vote here – but it looks like it is Romney and undecided. But, for transparency purposes, I voted for Obama four years ago, and there have been some questions as to the type of leadership, and questions as to him moving the country forward after having four years of his term to try to pass legislation, and there seems to be impasse. We’re going to wait to the final days to make our final call but, like Tony, I had traditionally been a Democrat – he was a Republican, Tony was – and we, our family, came over because of the courage that we got from Harry Truman who signed an executive order to allow our family into the United States. And there has been some reliance, allegiance and remembrance of what some of these small-town Democrats did, but what’s happening so much in our country is that it’s really starting to move away from the center of the people, and it’s larger interest groups. And it almost becomes dizzying as to what we have seen in commercials, ads and a lot of misinformation, confusion in things that have been reported to us and tried to sway our votes.”

Now the pair of you two gents just touched upon this – Tony and George. You suggested that your Czech background in some way influences how you vote. Can we go into this in a bit more depth? In what way do all of you feel that your Czech background – being born there or being active in the community here – has any sway on the way you plan on voting?

Photo: CTK
Irena: “I guess the one thing that affects me the most when I look at American politics, and it is certainly something very Czech, is the fact that I am a religion-free person and nothing drives me crazy more than the role religion plays in American politics. So, for me, the deciding issues come down to things like abortion or gay marriage, and those are of course very religion-related topics. And so for me that would be how my Czech-ness affects my view of these issues.”

Vera: “Well, I think that growing up in a refugee family – I was born here but my family all came over – and having escaped communism, so many of the policies and the politics that I see from the current administration just raise all kinds of red flags to the kinds of things that my parents left the old country for. So certainly that influences it. I was raised in a Catholic Czech refugee family, and so certainly I think that the freedom of religion here is a very important thing, so I recognize that religion should certainly not be forced upon people, but I think that religious groups have a certain entitlement here by the constitution – the freedom to practice – and I believe in less government, not more government that’s going to dictate to them what they must do, or whether they can get any funding if they refuse to do certain things.”

You all came here - with the exception of you, Vera - in the course of your lifetime. Now, in the run-up to the election, immigration has been a big issue; President Obama has instituted the Dream Act, Mitt Romney has a stricter stance on immigration. Can I ask you where the four of you stand on this and which candidate’s policies on immigration you feel closer to? Let’s start with you, Tony…

Barack Obama,  photo: CTK
Tony: “Well, I feel that Obama is definitely trying to get the Hispanic vote by doing all kinds of favors to Mexicans – mainly Mexicans. I think Cubans are more conservative, leaning more towards the right. But the Mexicans especially may be voting for him. And some of the privileges that he has granted to Mexicans, for example, allowing the children that were brought here to automatically get U.S. citizenship and so forth. I don’t think it is fair. As a refugee from a communist land, I had to earn my citizenship. I was fortunate enough to be serving in the U.S. Air Force, and after 90 days of active duty, I was eligible to get U.S. citizenship. When I joined the Air Force, it was with the idea of becoming a U.S. citizen.”

George: “You know, there are these people who come here legally, and illegally – but there are these situations where we haven’t really enforced our laws. And so people have been morphing into a sort of quasi-citizenship. And those people should be recognized. And they become, you know, important in our economy. They take jobs that us Americans don’t want. So, we have to keep those doors open – we have to keep opportunities open for the people that can earn their way to citizenship. And there are some proposals to do that. And I think that we have seen it on the Obama side, but I’m also confident that if Romney was elected, he would moderate his stance.”

I have one last question for all of you, which touches upon this particular campaign and how it compares to other election campaigns that you have lived through. Also, we are here in Chicago, which is Obama’s town, and which is a town that was energized four years ago about the election of a Chicago president. Can you talk a little bit about your views on this particular campaign and this city, this time round?

Mitt Romney,  photo: CTK
Vera: “Well I don’t think that he has the same movement behind him this time as four years ago in terms of Chicago. But in terms of this campaign, this has been the most bizarre campaign in terms of the commentary and the nit-picking items that have actually become some kind of talking points that have been absolutely ridiculous. Things on both sides taken completely out of context. And people run with them to the extreme.”

And how does this compare to voting for Eisenhower in 1956?

Tony: “Well, that was of course – they were different times and different people and so forth. But I couldn’t agree more with Vera on that issue. I think there is muck-raking – which is a term which goes back quite a few decades – but mud-slinging, muck-raking, call it what you want. It is on both sides, I agree, the dirtiest campaign, presidential campaign, that I have experienced in all the years that I have been privileged to vote as a U.S. citizen.”

Irena: “I think really what is making this election so ugly is the media and, you know, the way technology has ‘advanced’ – if that is the proper word – even, you know, in the last four years or the last eight years. I think that is what is really having such a negative effect on the ethical aspect of the elections.”

… And the final word lies with you, George.

George: “I don’t think there is going to be much change, regardless of who is elected… The speedometer is not going to go down or up, it’s not going to be the end of the world. I think there are still the checks and balances in the order of this country in the constitution and, for all the complaints that we have about it, it’s really the best system – as long as it doesn’t become overburdened, or corrupt, and that we do try to get this thing toned down with all the money that’s been going into the ads, it’s just crazy.

Photo: CTK
“We’re sort of fortunate being in Illinois because we don’t get bombarded with presidential advertisements. People in Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin; they get their dose of it. But I am confident that the union will survive, regardless if it’s Obama or Romney. And it gives us every reason to, if we’re not happy with it, to get out and change that in the next term. And my first selection that I voted in was Hubert Humphrey. And I voted for him. I’ve always voted for… mostly the losers, if that’s a barometer. But it will be a close election, and it will not end the union.”

Well, on that non-Armageddon-like note, thank you very much.