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Tell me about your politics

Jackie Mirandola Mullen | Monday, September 22, 2008

Have you ever had anyone just ask you a fully open-ended question other than when professors lay the floor open to get you to think for yourself? In that circumstance, you know what the reading was about, you know the general topic of discussion.

But when you aren’t ready, when you’re just having a normal conversation with a friend, these are the times that try men’s souls … or okay, maybe their intellects. People’s intellects.

I was hiking through the Austrian Alps the other day (just rubbing it in for all of you who find the new west quad change in elevation exciting) and a fellow hiker of mine asked me one of these questions. She is actually American, so I was lucky enough to explain myself in English. It was a straightforward question – one I don’t get very often at Notre Dame – where everyone assumes a certain amount of background knowledge and then goes from there.

“Jackie,” she began (that’s my name, even though your eyes may already have made the trip back to the top of the page), “Do you feel like talking about politics?”

Do I feel like talking about politics?! Is Lou Holz going to pick Notre Dame to win next Saturday? I decided to go for the polite route, however.

“Well, yeah, but what are you thinking?” I needed some direction. A little bit of help.

“Anything. Everything. I really don’t know that much about politics, and I want to be able to base my vote on something. Just tell me about McCain and Obama. I want to know anything I can.”

Talk about the motherload. A gift, yet a challenge. An opportunity where someone wants to shut up and just listen to what you have to say. It’s so unique that you have to be a little careful, lest you ramble and never touch upon the points you are actually trying to make (Note: resist the urge to compare such rambling to this article).

I had no idea how to approach this. How do you put together years of classroom experience, your parents’ political views, Internet articles and friends’ rants and apply them collectively to two candidates, in what is becoming the identifying historic presidential election of our generation? Then there’s the obligation to be realistic, but your covert urge to slyly goad their newly-emerged political consciousness to the side of your personal tendencies. I’m admitting the bias to you, beloved reader, only because I am writing on the Viewpoint pages. Otherwise, I’d be a total blank slate like all the other objective journalists.

After she posed the question, I naturally stumbled for a minute (not down the mountain, no worries, bitte), but then I regained my stature and started on a 30-minute question-and-answer session about Conservatives, Liberals, healthcare, environmental policies, the military and financial crises. I quickly became introspective, especially about those basic questions that no one pushes on you when you’re at a University – what do I know about the war in Iraq that I wasn’t hand-fed by politicians or the media? How can I explain why we need to change our energy infrastructure in two sentences? When you start on your familiar rant, then someone presses you with, “But what will Obama do to change that?” and you don’t have an answer, then aren’t you just as uninformed as the “uniformed masses” about which every political junkie complains?

Someone once told me that for causes and ideas that you truly believe in, you should have an “elevator conversation” prepared. That when someone asks you why you spend the majority of your life devoted to __________, you should be able to say in 60 seconds why your time spent is worthwhile. You may risk sounding like a broken record, but it’s better than being a James Michner book on tape.

So think about it. If it was a class, you could go home and write it down on an index card. Why are you voting a certain way this fall? How will your vote better our nation? Platforms are unreliable; promises can easily be broken. Theories, thought processes and political character are accurate representations of what a candidate might do once in office. Here in Europe, it’s easy to see the importance of positive international ties in an increasingly global society. When you’re out of the bubble, when you’re not in the American academic universe, there is no presumed knowledge on which you can fall back. You have to really be able to answer those open-ended questions.

So tell me about your politics.

Jackie Mirandola Mullen is a junior German and History major, currently studying in Innsbruck, Austria. She opposes offshore drilling, but only because she doesn’t want to bore the ocean. She can be reached at jmirando@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necesarily those of The Observer.