On election night 2004, the image of a divided country was broadcast to the American public. The blue coasts and the massive red interior of the electoral map signaled a nation engaged in an ideological civil war.
How can America reunite with shared goals and cooperative political discourse? The very nature of self-aggrandizing party politics has much to do with this growing divide and organizations at the College are helping to perpetuate it.
Ideological arrogance is at its maximum at the meetings of political parties, Democratic, Republican or otherwise.
During my freshman and sophomore years at the College, I attended several meetings of one of the student political organizations. I was rather displeased because they failed to offer me any real perspective on the issues.
At this first meeting, I was assigned the task of going to a dorm and promoting the political agenda of that party’s candidate. There was no discussion of the candidate’s views on serious issues prior to this request, nor was I asked if I personally supported the candidate.
It was simply assumed that because I had shown up, I was going to promote their agenda. Members highlighted their clever use of mockery to embarrass the opposing party’s candidate at public functions.
For example, members of the organization stood on stilts to look down on the opposing candidate who was known for his short stature.
One member actually said she knew nothing of politics before joining, but was won over by the allure of state party functions. She was reeled into the social aspects of the party because of the glitz and glamour of election night rallies, the open bars and the many “important” officials she happened to meet through the organization.
There is the chance that some level of rational debate does occur at the meetings of political groups like this, but they remain forums for self-congratulation and groupthink. Members meet once a week to mock the candidates of the other side who are the personification of an ideology they do not take the time to understand.
Rather than focusing on the issues and the needs of their community, time is taken to devise the most effective smear campaign to attack the candidate.
Yet, I can understand the allure of partisan political involvement to some extent. There is a high level of intensity and emotional investment. Pre-election fervor shared with peers excites us.
Choosing a political party in America has become like choosing a side in the World Series. Even those who don’t follow baseball can choose a side and invest emotional energy in their team’s success.
We go out to the bar to see the deciding game. Emotions run high when our team has won and we celebrate in a frenzy of cheers and high fives. Or, if our team loses, we are left in a state of misery and disappointment.
However, there is a significant distinction between the World Series and an election. The winner of the World Series does not have power over how our government is run.
When choosing a candidate to support, it should not be a social bonding event. It should be an exercise in personal intellectual introspection which may then be applied to communal discussion.
Rather than coming up with creative ways to make fun of the other party’s candidate at political rallies, it would be far more effective for political groups at the College to objectively analyze the platforms of other parties in detail.
This would allow them to actually become informed about opposing sides to issues and possibly find common ground between parties.
It would also allow these groups to attract and retain independents and moderates. They would then eventually evolve into organizations based on intelligent understanding of the issues and a common belief system.
I challenge all partisan and independent political organizations on campus to abstain from mockery of the other and to discuss the opinions and policies of all sides.
Our politics necessarily leads to a misinformed public and a divided nation. Parties provide an easy-to-digest set of policies and principles for the masses to consume.
Political candidates create images of the other party which may be entirely false and then use propaganda to convince people of the truth of the image. Statistics are manipulated on both sides so that they can always be used in favor of either party.
This makes the seemingly objective numerical facts entirely illegitimate. If numbers do not tell the truth, then ambiguities surrounding the candidates become the most significant factor in determining elections.
Often, political parties serve the interests of those in their ranks rather than serving the interests of a nation. Their platforms are arbitrary sets of values that are difficult to align within any strict philosophy of government. Generalities may be made but there are always exceptions and instances of hypocrisy.
For example, how could Democrats have supported a candidate who is anti-capital punishment but promotes the execution of terrorists?
Life can be determined by governments or it cannot; exceptions should not be made for political gain.
How could Republicans have supported a president for his moral values when he misled Americans in his motivations for war?
Either honesty is an important moral value or it is not.
Yet, people continue to be swayed by these ambiguous definitions of party platforms. Why are most people compelled to choose between the two?
By its very nature, the two party system serves to dismantle the sense of shared values and cooperation that is inherent in a democracy.
In order to promote one’s own party, it is necessary to demonize the other party and create points of departure.
Even if there does exist a level of shared belief, some nuance must be created to show how one’s own party is superior. There is no room for discourse between the two.
To accept any political party’s ideology wholesale is easy. It means being part of a team and sharing in that team’s glories as well as defeats. It is far harder to challenge yourself to understand and evaluate differing views.
Yet this is the only path to ward growth and progression, both for the nation as well as for the individual.
Open discussion and collaboration between parties and independents is also the only way for this country to become united.
This unity can begin at the College if political organizations take the initiative to become forum for actual discussion and cooperation rather than for social ego-boosting.