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The finish line

Jason Coleman | Wednesday, October 29, 2008

With less than a week until election day, I have found myself wondering what I’ll do with all the time I will save by not checking multiple blogs, new feeds, and polls several times every day. I also find myself reflecting on the entire election season as a whole, remembering – not quite nostalgically – some of the more sensational twists and turns, and deciding what I learned from my first true immersion into American politics.

For me, it started last Christmas break when a friend of mine called me a few days before New Year’s, asking if I wanted to drive up to Iowa to see the candidates make their pitches just days before the caucuses. Over a forty-eight hour span I would see stump speeches from four candidates at middle schools and diners.

It’s funny to think back on that now. First, I saw Mike Huckabee at a bar in some sleepy town. He was a mostly unknown Arkansas governor at the time, and made a strong enough pitch on values and compassion to win the contest. (McCain came in fourth). I’m not sure anybody thought that he was going to be the runner-up in the GOP contest even with the win, surviving the deadly Republican National Convention primary system clear into March.

Then, I walked a block or two down to a small diner, where Rudy Guiliani answered questions and signed autographs. Even as late as last Christmas, a lot of the smart money pegged him as the nominee. He had chosen to use Florida as his first (and last) stand in the process. The effectiveness of that position was more or less summed up when a native Iowan shouted out “Why aren’t you showing Iowa any love?” That was tough for even America’s mayor to answer. It also probably explains why he finished behind Ron Paul.

Later that evening, I watched John Edwards in a middle school gym. His strategy, more or less, was to come out ahead or close to ahead in Iowa as a result of vote splitting between the two superstar candidates, Clinton and Obama. He ended up finishing second, edging Clinton out by no more than one percent. With his recent recreational activities exposed, I still shudder to think what would have happened had he been the nominee.

The next morning, on the way out of Des Moines, we stopped to see Barack Obama speak in an elementary school auditorium. I had heard of him, like many others, after his 2004 DNC speech, but had not followed him or even knew what his chances were. Everyone figured Clinton would win anyhow. But, we were intrigued and decided it was worth checking out. Little did we know that in a few days Iowa would shock political circles, allowing Obama to draw first blood against the Clinton Machine.

Of course, since then, there has been no lack of surprises and upheavals in the political world. Some of these were completely external; common knowledge through the spring indicated that Iraq would weigh heaviest on voter’s minds. Who would have thought the global economy would implode dramatically over a matter of weeks?

Other surprises were intentional. The GOP VP pick, for instance, comes to mind. Who saw that coming? Add to the mix “Joe Six Pack,” Joe the Plumber and Joe “Foot in Mouth” Biden, and you could have a primetime sitcom.

In all seriousness, the political education I received over the last year has provided more insight into the way America works than any book or course ever could. In some cases, it was experience, such going up to Iowa or volunteering to canvass, that provided first hand insight into how a political following is built. In others, it was all the information gleaned from watching CNN, or following the New York Times commentators. Most importantly, though, it was probably the arguments with my friends over such important issues that helped me to clarify my worldview and see how it fit with the way the world currently works.

All of this, however, led me to conclude that voting in and of itself is tantamount to being an American. Voting is the constitutional right of the people to change the face of America every time they step to the ballot box, and one that should not be voluntarily given up. I understand that it is hard to justify voting as a Democrat in a deeply Red state or visa versa, but I don’t think this provides a reason not to do so. The vote is the strongest political statement one can make, regardless of how it figures into the bigger picture. It should not be taken lightly.

So, let me send you off, in my last column of the election season, with the charge to vote. If the absentee ballot is sitting on your desk, close it up and drop it in the mailbox. If you are registered here in Indiana, brave the lines and make your voice heard on Tuesday. Make sure you remind your friends and family. Regardless of who wins the race, America wins if everyone participates. Plus, as Bob Schieffer reminded us in the third debate, voting “will make you feel big and strong.”

Jason Coleman is a junior majoring in management. He can be contacted at coleman.70@nd.edu

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