Election ’08

Let’s work together

“Don’t blame me when your shoes don’t fit!” This is what I read on a friend’s Facebook pages only hours after the presidential election was determined. She was referring to the fact that sometimes shoes issued in communist Russia wouldn’t fit because the government didn’t account for the shoe size of every single citizen.

While my friend doesn’t really believe America is going to become a communist country, she was disappointed when John McCain wasn’t elected on Nov. 4. She believes McCain would have done a better job running our country than Barack Obama. She is not inspired by Obama’s rhetoric: she is fearful of what his policies – such as universal health care – might mean for the country.

When I first saw this, I wondered why an 18-year-old college student would think this way. How is she not motivated to answer Obama’s call to action? But then I remembered am at Rhodes College, a small private school in Memphis, Tennessee. And my friend is also from a white, upper-middle-class, devout Catholic family in Texas.

It shouldn’t be too difficult to imagine how her views were shaped. Even though two out of every three voters between 18 and 29 cast their ballots for Obama, there are still many young people – a third in fact – who disagree with his policies. Obama’s victory may have been a landslide, but as he said on election night, there are still many Americans whose support he has yet to earn.

I am a registered Democrat, but I have always believed that my political decisions are based not on party affiliation, but on what would be best for our country. Going to school in the South has made me question that belief. I realize now that growing up on Bainbridge Island meant I was exposed exclusively to liberal thought – by my family and community. ]The island is extremely liberal, but I never realized it until I was able to see it from the outside looking in.

This realization made me reexamine my political beliefs. Since I have been in Memphis, I have had many lively political discussions with both conservatives and liberals.

I have met people with very similar beliefs to my own, as well as people who disagree with me on just about every issue. My beliefs have not changed drastically from what they were when I left home, but I have learned a lot.

The simple process of reevaluating what you believe is very important. Regardless of political affiliation, we all have a duty as active citizens to continually look for new information. So even though we have a Democratic president and Congress, as well as a majority of Democratic governors, it is important not to drown out the rest of the voices in America.

If we are to solve the problems of tomorrow, we must do so together.

The most interesting part of Obama’s election-night speech was that instead of having a celebratory tone, he was somber.

He didn’t dwell on his amazing achievement of being the first African-American president; he talked about the work that is yet to be done. Part of this work will be healing racial and political divides so that America can progress as a unified nation.

Fortunately, my conservative friend is at least willing to discuss her political views with me. One place we can find common ground is with the failings of our current president and the need for change. We can, and do, debate all day about what changes need to happen and when, but in the end, we both agree we can’t have another four years of Bush.

In some ways, the process of this change will be more important than the change itself. By setting aside differences, we can see that people who don’t share our beliefs can actually have some good ideas.

When Obama talks about healing the divisions in our country, he is talking to the liberal left just as much as he’s talking to the conservative right. And if both sides can reach across the aisle, I will be optimistic for the future of America in a way I haven’t been for the past eight years.

Ben Curtis is a 2008 graduate of Bainbridge High School and a freshman at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn.

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