Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Choosing Process

Photo from Yahoo
Though I expected to be bored at this point with the longest presidential campaign in history, I’m not. My students are quite taken up with it too. That makes my job easier because I’m charged with teaching them civics, but it also energizes my interest. Here in January, my students are about as sophisticated as the adult voting populace, or as unsophisticated, as the case may be. They’re a window through which I can study my fellow Americans and why they vote (or not) as they do (or don’t). Most students hear what their parents say about candidates and echo it, and that’s how political awareness begins for most of us. Some parents pay no attention to politics, don’t vote and, with a few exceptions, their kids aren’t particularly interested either. In this little laboratory that is my schedule of classes every day, several patterns became more obvious during this election cycle.

One is the herd mentality. Five distinct groups of fourteen-year-olds file in and out of my classroom most days and each is unique because of the students in it. Some students influence the rest without knowing it. They’re trendsetters who don’t try to sway others but they do. They seem unaware that others emulate them. When I ask a class to raise their hands if they support Candidate A and they see the trendsetter raise his/her hand, many will raise theirs too. They’re not all followers. Some are independent thinkers but they’re a distinct minority. The herd mentality influences adult American voters fully as much as fourteen-year-olds I think. It’s manifest in the caucus process when voters declare which candidate they support by a show of hands or by standing in a particular corner of a room. It’s less of a factor in a primary when voters make their choices in a private voting booth where no one else can see. When they’re returning to their cars and someone taking exit polls sticks a microphone in their faces, they can tell the truth or not. Many don’t, I suspect.

Another pattern is the tendency to vote for a candidate because of what identity group he/she represents. When I ask students why they support Hillary Clinton, most say they want a woman to become president. When I ask Obama supporters why they would vote for him, they say it’s time we had a black president. Students have had many lessons on the Democrat Party’s positions on issues and the Republican Party’s as well, so I’m disappointed when they ignore a candidate’s platform and make up their minds based on race or sex. Then I have to remind myself that too many Americans choose our leaders using the same criteria. It is, unfortunately, the way we are.

Perhaps it would be better to say it’s the way we have been so far. There’s still hope that we’ll move beyond our obsession with skin color some day, but our sexual distinctions are real. In spite of liberal feminist denials, there really are differences between men and women. There always have been and always will be no matter what Women’s Studies departments claim. That’s not to say I’d have a problem voting for a woman. As with men, my vote would depend on who that woman is and what she says she’ll do. I would never have voted for Shirley Chisholm, Pat Shroeder or Geraldine Ferraro. I’ll never vote for Hillary Clinton either and those are the only women who have run since I’ve been voting. If, however, Margaret Thatcher were a native-born American and running for president, I’d vote for her over any man in the race today, Democrat or Republican.

Last week, formerly-leftist writer Christopher Hitchens pointed out how Democrats’ obsession with color and sex is haunting them in this primary process. Early on, it looked like Democrat voters were starting to get beyond it as pollsters reported Barack Obama having more support among women than Hillary Clinton - and she had more support among people who think of themselves as black than Obama did. Lately, however, Democrats have returned to their traditional politics of sex and color and the tribes are lining up accordingly.

Hitchens defined a racist as: “one who believes that there are human races.” By that definition, virtually the entire Democrat Party is racist. It insists the US Census continue categorizing Americans according to “race” even though biologists insist there are no such things as races. Democrats insist on maintaining skin-color preferences in hiring, awarding contracts, and assigning students to schools.

My hope is that someday all of us, even Democrats, will realize there’s only one race - the human race - and we all belong to it. Then, perhaps, we’ll abandon that most primitive of our voting patterns.


Anonymous said...


I hesitate to add a word.
Looking forward to when people vote on information and not so much on emotion.

Problem. I just became informed and mostly due to age.

Younger voters will continue to rely on emotion . . Some teacher could provide insight there, no doubt. = TG

Tom McLaughlin said...

I'm doing my best TG. Sometimes it seems like I make little progress, but then I run into former students in their twenties or thirties who tell me I made them think. It's one of the benefits of living in the same community for most of my teaching career.