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January 22, 2010

My political education

There was actually more that I wanted to say about politics in general yesterday, but Neal’s super strict bedtime rules got in the way of my more philosophical ramblings.  Ah, but you were not spared forever because I still just feel like talking about it — and I’ve got a lot of time on my hands!

I think I was destined to love all things political from an early age, considering that my birthday falls on election day every six years or so.  Good ole November 3rd has seen the elections of Presidents Bill Clinton, Lyndon Johnson, Franklin Roosevelt, William Taft, and Ulysses Grant.  So glamorous, I know :).

I was always sort of itching to move to Washington, D.C. and get in the middle of all that action, so in 2002, I did [I can’t believe it was 8 years ago — it doesn’t seem that long ago!!].  It was in that first summer in D.C. that I started to notice something most distressing about politics.

See, I was going from this very conservative BYU environment and a largely conservative extended family, to work at a partner organization of the ACLU called D.C. Prisoners Legal Services Project, and I was getting everything from questioning looks to serious vitriol directed at me [no doubt some of my readers also consider the ACLU to be a dirty word and will sympathize with my detractors :)].  They (that great, amorphous group of conservatives and Republicans) could not understand why I would want to devote my time to such a cause and align myself with such a group of God-less heathens.  And then I spent my entire run in D.C., about 4 years all told, working in the non-profit sector with extremely liberal people, and they (that great, amorphous group of liberals and Democrats) couldn’t understand how I could associate with such a group of God-clinging, Bush-voting idiots.

I guess I’ve come to realize that this is not just the story of politics, but of human nature: when we come to a conclusion about what is right or best, we cannot really understand how others could come to the opposite conclusion.  We can’t just conclude that they have an equally valid opinion and agree to differ, we often can’t even just think that they are wrong about this particular issue . . . all too often we must assume that they are bad or ill-intentioned, evil or stupid.  Lest you think I’m putting myself outside of this cycle, I catch myself waging this internal battle daily.

Human nature or not, it’s what I’ve come to loathe about politics.  I watch these seemingly intelligent, well-intentioned politicians come to opposite conclusions on every. single. thing.  And they can’t begin to make allowances for how anyone could differ from them.  Now, I do not believe that all politicians are incapable of this type of nuanced understanding or goodwill toward others, but I do think that our system seems to demand a sort of black-and-white, good-and-evil interpretation of everything and everybody when we are in the thick of a campaign.  And sadly, we are always in the thick of a campaign in this age of 24-hour news.

I truly mourn for what a political campaign does to people, which in my observation is turn them into the worst possible versions of themselves.  To me, John McCain is a perfect example.  There is much to admire about him . . . heck, the prisoner-of-war thing alone should qualify him as a national hero.  And I watched his political career and applauded much of it for some time.  Then he became the Republican presidential nominee in 2008 and it saddened me to see him look like a lesser man than I believe he is.

I think George Stephanopoulos wrote about this complicated relationship with politics as eloquently as I’ve ever read in his book All Too Human: A Political Education about his years on the Clinton campaign and in the White House [I wish I could have found a good picture of the book cover to paste in here because, it’s true, I think George is dreamy :)].  He chronicles what became a sort of rude awakening . . . he was an idealist who thought that serving Bill Clinton was this grand, great thing that would make the country better.  And he was willing to sacrifice mightily for that dream.  But in the face of Clinton’s many indiscretions, he was left to “question whether helping him get elected was the best thing I ever did — or the worst.”

For a long time, I thought that I would work in the political realm in some capacity.  It seemed to be my great passion.  But reading George’s book was sobering for my idealistic younger self.  I did not ever want to say what Vince Foster, another Clinton advisor during the first term, said just weeks before he committed suicide, “Before we came here, we thought of ourselves as good people.”



  1. Ok. Your thoughts have really gotten me thinking, too. I had a similar situation coming from conservative BYU and family and then heading off to England to ultra liberal, then to DC interpreting where once a girl wouldn’t talk to me because I was religious. I have come to feel put off by extreme views which won’t acknowledge another view. However, where I wasn’t so interested in politics before, it has made me more interested. While I was in Europe I constantly heard reports of people being fired for holding the opposite point of view, etc. I began to love the back and forth that happens in the States. We can express both views. I like the debates, the careful rhetoric aimed to keep supporters and win detractors–and I believe, after interpreting in some of the US Departments in DC that a lot of people honestly go through the mayley to try to do something good.
    My bad opinnion of Bill Clinton changed when I discovered that he is still much beloved at Oxford and many nations around the world appreciate the respect he gave them. He has a different view of morality, and so does Hillary. She has said that she still loves him. I believe Bush was a good guy, too. Different views of humanity but trying his best. Not saying I agree with every policy or plan these two gentlemen made, though.
    I know I’m going on a little but I had one more thought. I have been noticing, recently, how many times the scriptures seemingly take opposite points of view. King Benjamin talks about giving to the poor without judgement but we are also taught self reliance. Do we help someone be self reliant or do we give to the poor without restraint? Both of course, but where’s the balance. Love thy neighbor as thyself but also beware of wolves in sheeps clothing or be careful who you associate with. I think it’s interesting how we can draw the balances so differently and possibly still be right.
    I love that you worked in DC with prisoners and I love reading about your experiences. I feel bonded with you in that way because that DC experience really opened up my eyes, too. It’s fun that we can share some of that.

    Comment by Audrey — January 22, 2010 @ 5:09 am

  2. Very well put!

    Comment by Jolene — January 22, 2010 @ 5:37 pm

  3. Lindsay, this post makes it official, I need to talk to you about politics sometime. I have such issue with the polarization of political parties in America and I share so many of your frustrations. Yet you still engage! I have never had any passion for politics, so it is difficult for me to engage given my concerns. I feel like you give me hope that I might find a way to engage at some point, despite my negative feelings toward the situation. And it is SO good to know I am not the only Mormon who was far from impressed with McCain in the presidential campaign (I never knew him before the campaign though). And while I’m at it, I really don’t understand why some people, especially many members of the Church, think Obama is evil. It is one thing to disagree with someone, another to dislike them, but to think they are evil? This example of extreme judgment in politics is particularly troublesome to me because I felt comfortable voting for him, so I know people who know that (that would ordinarily consider me their friend) might turn that judgment on me.

    Comment by Vickie Blanchard — January 24, 2010 @ 10:17 am

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