Ideas going extinct this election
October 28, 2008
With a historic election taking place, it is natural and to be expected that people will get a little caught up in the moment, as well as the candidates and their parties. Both parties have candidates on their tickets that, whether you like them or not, are charismatic and can excite a crowd and the public like few others. There is, without a doubt, an enormous interest among the public for this election, as evidenced by the record voter registration numbers.
It is hard to complain about the increased interest. It is great to see so many people wanting to fulfill their “civic duty” by voting this Election Day. Signs of increased enthusiasm about our political system are always encouraging and something to be heartened about. Obviously no one can say for certain how the turnout is going to be until after Election Day, but the trends and numbers are encouraging.
Yet despite it being hard to find things to complain about, I feel I must complain about something, as this wouldn’t be a proper opinions column if I didn’t.
We can all draw hope that perhaps this election cycle might indicate a more engaged citizenry, especially among our generation. We can also hope that this level of engagement will continue for future elections. At the same time, however, I can’t help but to notice a loss of a certain amount of intellectualism to more partisan politics. This is not something that has just started with this election; it has been around for some time, yet it has accelerated this year.
Today when you ask someone what his or her ideology is, that person will probably tell you Democrat, Republican, or perhaps some third party. The ideas themselves that constitute the parties have been lost in the competition between the two. People don’t really care so much about the issues, but instead normally follow a blind party adherence, voting either Democrat or Republican, but never both, believing that their party is the one with the answers to all of their problems.
The candidates that I mentioned earlier that could excite the crowds like few others are evidence of this increased party orthodoxy. Barack Obama has unique oratory ability, and, to his credit, does have a certain intellectual flair to him, which appeals to a lot of people, but with no other candidate has this devotion to party or candidate been more evident. So many of Obama’s supporters are moved to vote for him because of his way with words or his promises of hope and change, when they are not really aware of what that change might bring. Or people who are unhappy with Bush see that McCain is a Republican, and therefore, ipso facto, the two are the same.
The candidate to whom I refer on the Republican ticket with most of the charisma is Sarah Palin. While her political skills are unquestionable, her ideological fortitude seems to be almost nonexistent. What she stands for is as tough to tell sometimes as what Obama stands for. Yes, she has talked about energy independence extensively, being from Alaska, yet beyond that she simply seems to have ideas without really knowing why; she mainly sticks to the Republican party line.
We can also see this anti-idealism bent at our own universities. By far the largest political student organizations in the country are the College Democrats and College Republicans. Worrying about the ideas or issues that people have has given way to mindless campaigning and boosterism for their candidates.
Today’s conservative icons are people like Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity, who deem you a “great American” if you call in and voice agreement on their shows. But if you disagree, you are liable to get shouted at and called a liberal and a socialist.
Even newspapers are in the business of endorsing candidates for office. The one notable exception to this is The Wall Street Journal, which hasn’t endorsed a candidate for office for decades, instead preferring to focus on the ideas and issues.
In the 1984 election, Ronald Reagan won 49 of 50 states. People saw beyond the party affiliation to the ideals he represented and his strength of character. Such unanimity seems unimaginable today in a nation of red and blue.
Jordan is a junior in MCB, and hopes no one dies on Friday.