Letter: Confessions of a voter

By The Daily Illini

As I prepare to cast my ballot this coming Tuesday, two images stand out most clearly in my mind. The first occurred on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2001, shortly after one of the most tragic events in American history. I was walking to work along Lexington Avenue in New York City when I passed a small church. Outside the door was a folding table with cups of juice and a few boxes of cookies and a hand-written sign inviting in anyone who just felt the need to talk. Although I didn’t go inside, I can still remember the scene in its entirety. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen; for here in a city defined by its multiple ethnic, religious, and economic identities, at a time of great emotion and feelings of vulnerability, U.S. citizens had come together as one people. For a brief moment, we all forgot about the simple and petty things that divided us. Our love for our country and for our fellow citizens were our only thoughts.

Now, flash forward four years to a congressional debate in Bloomington last Wednesday, between Rep. Jerry Weller (IL-11) and his opponent Tari Renner. During the closing statements, Mr. Renner quoted Barack Obama’s line from the Democratic national convention, saying that there is “no liberal America, no conservative America.” As he said this, I noticed two of Rep. Tim Johnson’s (IL-15) aides vehemently shaking their heads in disagreement.

This last image will haunt me for some time, for it has occurred to me that for certain people, the trite political divisions between the two parties have become something deeper, something symbolic of a different set of values, of beliefs about the meaning of being a U.S. citizen.

For some people, being pro-choice is no longer just a political opinion, but an acceptance of murder; criticizing the Bush administration or its Iraq policy isn’t freedom of expression, but treason; and joining the Democratic party has become a declaration of war against religion, capitalism, and indeed, against the very country itself.

While I realize that 99 percent of these charges are just Election Day spin, and that there is a complimentary and equally inflammatory set of stereotypes on the left, it troubles me that we are moving further and further away from that moment after 9-11 when we all just thought of ourselves as Americans. It wasn’t so long ago that we recognized that our neighbors felt the same way as we did about our country, about our community and about the values that tied us all together.

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But sadly, that day is fading, and with each new exaggeration, we move one step further away from that sense of unity that has always been the source of U.S. strength and success. If we are not careful, we will tear this country apart as we did during the Civil War, and forget the values and core beliefs that our forefathers died to protect for us. We must not allow that to happen.

Jason D. Hansen

graduate student