Twenty years ago, I voted in my first election. It was the fall of 1992, and I was a junior at Penn State who’d found my niche in Political Science. Then-President George H.W. Bush had come to campus to campaign, and I was one of many who stood outside the penned in area, NOT PLEASED to find him there. I’d grown up in a solidly blue household in Suburban MD, just outside of DC, and as soon as I could register to vote, I did. I got my absentee ballot and I voted in the general election for the man who I’d supported in the primary – William Jefferson Clinton.
On election night, I sat in a large lecture hall with a number of other Poli Sci students watching election returns on a giant screen. We had snacks and drinks and we settled in for a long evening. When the election was called for Clinton, the majority of us left the building completely exhausted but totally elated. Not everyone supported Bill Clinton, of course, and I was friends with other students in the same program who supported President (H.W.) Bush. There are a couple of things that are interesting to me about that time.
First off, I was so excited that I got to vote. I couldn’t understand my fellow students who chose not to vote, who claimed that their vote didn’t count. If nothing else, I think the 2000 election taught us that it’s completely naive and foolish to claim that your “vote doesn’t count”. That’s just nonsense. I couldn’t wait to vote, and I still – to this day – don’t get the idea of just not bothering at all. OK, sure, the people who were hit hard by Superstorm Sandy that don’t know where their polling place is or who have more pressing concerns, like how to get through their day alive…they get a pass from me. But the others? I still don’t get it.
Second, Bill Clinton got in on the strength of the youth vote, and I was proud to be a part of that. We “rocked the vote” back in 1992, and that movement clearly had an impact on the election twenty years later, where the youth helped power President Obama to a second term. The higher emergence of other constituencies, such as Latino voters, also clearly had a positive impact on President Obama’s vote count. I feel like something changed in 1992, where the youth voice was suddenly IMPORTANT in a way that it hadn’t been in quite some time. I think that just happened again, with the youth and other constituencies outside the standard older, white male vote.
Third, and perhaps more importantly, we used to be able to have conversations and arguments where people eventually changed their minds or were willing to agree to disagree. I remember a time back in 1991, when I was having an argument before one of my Poli Sci classes with a fellow student and the other students were ready to start jumping in between us. Sitting in our desk chairs, we both looked at the others quizzically, and the interlopers explained that they were afraid we were about to start throwing punches. Sure, our voices rose a little, but that was it. Both he and I calmly told our fellow students, “We’re having a political discussion. We don’t agree. We’re allowed to not agree with each other and then argue it out.” They looked at us, dumbfounded, unsure how a clearly Democratic girl and Republican guy could A) have this type of discussion and B) still be friends. He and I ended up being friends for quite some time, united by our willingness to have this type of refreshing discourse. You’re never really challenged by people who only ever agree with you, and we both forced each other to defend our positions, confirm that we had solid reasoning for them, and be willing to stand firm on the things we believed in.
If you think about it, it’s never the easy times that really shape who you are. It’s always the adversity, no matter how small, that tests your faith and your commitment and shows whether or not you have the strength to survive. He and I helped shape each other’s ability to survive, and we strengthened each other, and I see such a terrible lack of this at the national stage it’s not even funny.
OK – so we made it through the seemingly never-ending season of robocalls, forest-destroying mailings, and blood-boiling TV ads. The election’s over. Now, wouldn’t it be nice if the people we elected actually put aside their own personal agendas and worked things out with each other LIKE ADULTS because that’s what we elected (and pay!) them to do? I’d hate to think that the mature actions of two college kids can’t be echoed and imitated by people twice that age.
I figure that, in forty years, I’ll probably be one of those old biddies at the polls, checking people in and giving them their ballots. If I didn’t have to work, I would’ve been outside the polls with a sign yesterday, rooting on the people I wanted to win. This stuff gets my blood flowing. With the election over, I’d like to see it keep flowing and not turn to boiling. Let’s hope the adults will rule the day. It certainly would be a nice change of pace.