As this year’s election season heats up, the CIVITAS program has planned several special events to get students more engaged in politics.
Allowing students to have their voices heard is obviously a noble endeavor, but in this presidential campaign, one wonders if the voice of an average person, let alone an average high school student, can be heard over the noise of politicians insulting each other.
Two cases in point: national conservative leaders have accused President Obama of “palling around with terrorists,” being a “socialist,” and having a “deep-seated hatred for white people.”
Congressional Republicans said that their number one goal was to make President Obama a one term President. A movement persists that alleges, without any evidence, that the President was not born in Hawaii but is actually from Kenya and is covering up the truth about his true birthplace. When he was running for the Republican nomination, Newt Gingrich dubbed Obama the “food stamp President.”
The Democratic Party is not immune from this sort of smearing either.
Liberal activist Sandra Fluke said in a primetime speech at the Democratic National Convention that with Mitt Romney as President, the country would become “an America in which states humiliate women.” Opponents of Obama’s policies have been decried by liberal leaders and commentators as “racist” and have been compared to the Ku Klux Klan.
There has always been political mudslinging, but the problem this election cycle is that the mudslinging, much of which is based on distortions of the truth or untruth, has become so thick that the actual issues aren’t being discussed when we need to be more serious about solving our problems than ever before.
With the men who want to be the leader of the free world insulting each other on a middle school level, people just aren’t hearing about actual issues.
You wouldn’t know that right now we are in the longest war in American history.
You wouldn’t know that Social Security disability is going to go broke in just four short years.
You wouldn’t know that our nation is, for better or for worse, in a state of decline.
Furthermore, such divisive rhetoric is dividing people when we need to be united as a country more than ever before.
According to a Pew Research Center survey in June, Americans are more politically polarized now than at any point since Pew began performing the American Values survey almost thirty years ago.
University of Virginia psychologist Jonathan Haidt has gone so far as to say that we are in a “dangerous era” politically.
While until recently both parties had liberal, moderate, and conservative wings, today the most liberal Republican in the Senate is more conservative than the most conservative Democrat in the Senate. This has made bipartistan compromise in Congress harder than ever.
In the wider society, partisanship is dividing people now more than ever. To some, politics is more important than friendships and family ties.
This is disgusting as the truth is that both parties are made up of people who want the best for their country.
But with each new attack ad, distortion, and insult, it seems more and more that whoever wins this presidential race will only win because they are slightly less hated than the other candidate. They will win because they are the second most hated man in America.
In just 50 years we’ve gone from “Don’t ask what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” to “vote for me, I’m not Satan.”
In stead of “We have nothing to fear but fear itself” we’re getting “We have everything to fear unless you vote for me.”
We are not Democrats and Republicans first; we are Americans. If we are to solve the issues that confront us, whether it be jobs, Medicare and health care reform, the growing national debt, or the war in Afghanistan, we will have to work together rather than tearing each other down.
Compromise is the name of the game. After all, we didn’t win two world wars and land men on the Moon because we wouldn’t talk to people who disagreed with us on politics. Soldiers storming the beaches of Normandy didn’t say, “You’re a Republican so I’m going to let you get shot.”
Maybe youth will become more involved in politics when our Presidential candidates appeal to our greatest hopes and dreams rather than our fears or when they emphasize what unites us rather than what divides us.
Maybe youth will become more involved in politics when our elected officials start acting slightly more mature than us.
In the meantime, don’t stop trying to make your voice be heard over the sound of the yelling and screaming.