But before you panic, I'm not talking about using this space for political posturing. Those who know me, know whom and what I support. And if you're not sure, check my Facebook and Twitter feed.
Rather, it's the whole process that intrigues me. So much has changed since that first black-and-white national TV event. I actually saw that one; I remember sitting at my parents' feet in front of the couch. I couldn't tell you much about it, but we sure gathered to watch. My grandparents were probably there, too. I've watched every debate since, and I've just finished watching this last Presidential debate. But this time I sat in front of the TV with my Twitter feed open and my Facebook tab ready to toggle. Tweets were flying back and forth; I was impressed with how quickly my fellow social-media-tors could type in a quote, respond, and still be listening to the two men speak. But it sure meant people were engaged.
When I was growing up, my dad was the campaign manager for our local mayoral elections. He held that position for years. More than one birthday coincided with election night, and was spent at headquarters. My mother was a precinct captain, and I used to go with her as she knocked on doors, talking to each and every housewife, getting the vote out. I must have listened pretty carefully to what she said, because I brought it all home. We had kitchen wallpaper that had all sorts of little houses on it. I had gone on so many of these canvasses, I remember sitting at the kitchen table, knocking on their little doors and "giving the pitch" to the imaginary people living inside.
So, I was raised in a pretty political family, but not one that always voted the same way. That wouldn't be very interesting. If you had an opinion, you were entitled to it as long as you could defend it, and my dad was the judge of that. (Literally—later in his career, he became a judge, something he'd been doing in the family all along!) Unlike other families, pretty much the only topics we talked about were religion and politics. We did stay away from sex, true. Poor Dad—it was hard enough on him with three daughters. We learned to defend our positions, and not shy away from sharing it. It got pretty noisy around our table, but we learned that we could love and respect people with whom we vehemently disagreed.
That's a lesson that more people need to learn. So often, we surround ourselves with people who think just like us. Where's the challenge in that? How does one defend ideas, if there's no one to defend against? My dad and I certainly disagreed on almost everything, but paraphrasing Proverbs, as iron sharpens iron, so are our minds sharpened when we go up against other sharp minds. In fact, during the Robert Bork Supreme Court hearings, we found ourselves agreeing on something, at which point my father looked at me and said, "I think I'd better rethink my position!" And we both laughed. I learned so much from those conversations, not that they changed my mind, but they gave me insight into why he thought the way he did.
The same goes for my friends now who view politics and religion differently than I do. How else can I understand the "other side" if I never discuss those issues? Clearly, the underlying requirement here is respect and tolerance. Without that, it's a shouting match. With it, it's an opportunity to expand horizons and understanding, building foundations for working together and actually solving problems.
Being an active, engaged citizen takes a lot of energy, the kind of energy that most people don't feel like exerting. So, we have a highly polarized, rigid country right now, and by all accounts, the election is going to be very, very close. It comes down to voting, exercising the precious and powerful privilege. As heard on "West Wing", that great weekly civics lesson masquerading as a TV show, "Decisions are made by the people who show up." Make sure you show up.