– Editor’s note: This is the first in a new series of online-only stories written by the Castleton community. Anyone with a connection to Castleton is welcome to submit an essay of 500 – 750 words for publication. The rules are few: the story should pertain to Castleton, it can be lighthearted or serious, the facts should be true and we reserve the right to edit for spelling and profanity. Send submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject ‘Spartan Snapshots.’Until last semester, I always thought people fit neatly into assigned political categories. You know – the typical stereotypes most of us have about those on ‘the other side’ of our political views. There are the FOX News-watching, George W. Bush loving, Iraq-war supporting conservatives. There are the public broadcasting liberals that fight for the rights of baby seals, civil rights for terrorists and a speedy withdrawal from the Middle East. Then there are of course the fringe parties – of which we have a few in Vermont: the Green Party, the Progressives, and so on – basically the parties that I believed spoiled elections for the major candidates a la Ralph Nader in the past two presidential elections.
But back to last semester. In a class I won’t name, with a professor I won’t name (although many of you may likely guess what class I’m talking about) we were asked to devise a hypothesis about the media habits of people based on their political views. To prove that hypothesis, we crafted survey questions designed to identify the ‘conservatives’ and ‘liberals’ to see what kinds of news programming they watched.
I felt at the beginning of the project that this would be a slam dunk. It would be so easy to figure out who is conservative and who is liberal – because they would tell me so. They would answer whether they agreed or disagreed with statements like “I believe in a woman’s right to choose,” “I believe in increased military intervention overseas,” and “I believe in less taxes,” all questions I (and my group) believed to be clear indicators of party lines. I also expected people to answer all my questions based on those same party lines – but I was SO wrong.
Once the surveys started coming back, we started counting responses. To my surprise, the beliefs were all over the map. Some people believed we should ‘stay the course’ in Iraq, but believed in a woman’s right to an abortion. Others wanted lower taxes but increase rights for immigrants coming to the U.S. And still others wanted increased military presence overseas but less intrusion by the government into the personal lives of Americans. To me, it made no sense. I thought the questions would be easy identifiers of who is ‘red’ and who is ‘blue.’ It didn’t occur to me until the end of the project (which we got a crappy grade on) that most people are, as Ill. Sen. Barak Obama said at the 2004 democratic national convention, ‘purple.’
In fact, these days I’ve come to feel that grouping ourselves into ‘red’ and ‘blue’ states, or conservative and liberal, republican and democratic, is doing us all a huge injustice. By pitting ourselves against each other, we focus on fringe issues like abortion and gay marriage – effectively dividing ourselves evenly throughout the country, hence the reason why our elections are such close races. But what we’re missing by warring over the wedge issues is that with few exceptions, we’re all a lot alike. We really don’t break down neatly along party lines. We want good jobs, safe places to live, protection for our children and families, and we don’t want to pay tons of taxes if we don’t have to.
But believe it or not, this is all the more reason to vote in this upcoming election. By voting for someone you believe has some idea that we’re not sheep (ie: mindlessly voting for the party line) you send a message that we are listening and searching for candidates who want to represent ‘the people,’ not ‘the party.’ The bonus effect? We make amends. We all, at times, disagree about certain topics, but in my opinion (thanks to that project), most voters aren’t really all that different when it comes to politics. Pay attention to what’s important to you, and what actually affects your life the most, and you can tune out all that polarizing propaganda we’ve digested about how to vote.
Former President Lyndon B. Johnson once said, “The vote is the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison men because they are different from other men.” And while Johnson wasn’t talking about ‘red’ vs. ‘blue,’ don’t those words ring just as true?