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You, me and the 2004 election

Peter Quaranto | Monday, November 24, 2003

Next year at this time, as we complain about registration flaws, get our flu shots and become excited for Notre Dame basketball, the presidential election will be over. That is, the United States presidential election, not our own intense student body presidential election. The 2004 election will be history, but my question is this: What will that history say? And my message is this: It will be whatever you and I make it.It is easy to become disillusioned with student government politics here as the leading issues range from changing the constitution to organizing dances, and my fear is that this disillusionment translates from the campus level to the national level. Let’s be honest; Notre Dame students care about politics as much as Boston University students care about football. (Boston University had to cut its football program in 1997.)The rampant political apathy on this campus is also rooted in the fact that most of us do not feel the direct effects of political elections. Frankly, whether a Republican or Democrat is in office, you and I will still be privileged and on the career path to a blue home with white shutters in some suburb of Chicago, married to another Domer and going to Mass every Sunday with our 2.2 children. OK, I should not be so harsh. Some of us might move to California or Texas. Some of us will be lawyers or doctors, rather than businessmen. There might even be a college professor out there amidst our anti-academic-engagement wonderland.So, here’s my plea: Care. As the presidential hopefuls spend overwhelming amounts of money trying to convince the many uninformed idiots of America that they should vote a certain way, the educated masses on college campuses have a huge responsibility to demand higher standards.Educated masses of the United States, unite! It is time that we stop electing presidential candidates for owning baseball teams, fighting in wars and looking good on the Jay Leno show. It is time for citizens to push both parties on the issues that really matter. It is time for us to start caring.If there were an election to start caring, the 2004 one is perfect. Never since Teddy Roosevelt ran as candidate for the Bull Moose Party in 1912 has America seen such a circus. Of course, my good friend George W., former owner of the Texas Rangers, poor student of international relations at Yale and architect of the term “Axis of Evil,” will be returning.Joining him, however, are some classic individuals, ranging from Joseph “Could Not Be More Moderate” Lieberman to the ambiguous Gen. Wesley Clark, who could just as easily be running for the Republican ticket. The democratic front-runner, Howard “Never Should Have Mentioned the Confederate Flag” Dean, seems to be making a run. Personally, I like the Catholic and Red-Sox-supporter John Kerry from Massachusetts, but I have to admit that there is something about the Reverend Al Sharpton that tickles my fancy. Hard to argue with a guy who is committed to getting people to vote and has been stabbed before.In all seriousness, though, quite a bit is at stake with the current election, and it is time for us to take action. The challenge of making this election one of serious debate about serious issues lies in our hands. Rather than simply perpetuating the image-based voting system of America, we need to recreate a system of issue-based voting. Our forefathers surely did not envision a country where a candidate would win for looking good on television or spending lots of money.We have to ask the pertinent questions. When will we know that we have won the war on terror? How long will it take? What will you do to restore our global reputation as a law-abiding nation? How will your presidency be an inclusive one with the vast differences on issues that define our country? How will you help the least fortunate in our country? Where do you stand on the issues of importance in our time? We need to demand answers from our leaders and then hold them accountable.This needs to begin here at Notre Dame. It does not matter if you are a Republican or a Democrat or somewhere in the middle; we need to engage one another with debate about the issues and the future of our country.We need to hold rallies, teach-ins and debates. We need to get everyone registered to vote. How about a political retreat?I mean, if we can hold a Man’s Weekend with pig roasts and a football game watch, how about a retreat where everyone wears suits, debates politics and watches CNN? Let’s call it the Political Weekend. You’d better believe I would be the first person to sign up for such a retreat.So it all comes back to you and me. Will we shy away from hard-nosed, engaging politics and continue our football-laden, work-driven, middle-of-Indiana, alienated existences?Or will we stand up, as our seniors have to the marshmallow-hating ushers, and demand a better standard, a more just America? It is the hope of this lowly idealist columnist that we may.

Peter Quaranto is a sophomore political science and international peace studies major. He would like to thank his advisor and idol, Professor George Lopez, for the inspiration for this column. He wants to wish everyone, especially the guys in Sorin, a wicked awesome Thanksgiving. Contact him at pquarant@nd.edu.The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.