Much Madness Is Divinest Sense

It seems to me that there is a lot of talk on our campuses about political correctness and not enough talk about the correctness of our politics. President Obama’s reelection is a momentous achievement, but the process has also exposed deep flaws in our political system as it stands. In Claremont, where the weather never fluctuates by more than 20 degrees, we are fortunately isolated from many of the consequences of our government’s faults. Not only our college bubble, but our intellectual bubbles, our socio-economic bubbles, our bubbles of citizenship, of safety, of peace, of opportunity—these buffer us from much of the true political climate. It’s easy to perceive politics as an annoyance. It’s easy to cast our ballots and continue on our way. 

But there are problems with the election and management of our government. As much as we should be celebrating, we should also be asking questions: In a country with more ideological Democrats than Republicans, how was this election permitted to be so narrow? Why did it cost us $6 billion? Why are we one of the only democratic nations with a two-step voting process? I have not heard enough of these questions recently. These are large issues, but are they too large for us to discuss?

My high school history teacher once described voting as an absurd action, almost as absurd as the act of getting others to vote. Filling out our paper ballots, discussing political events happening across the country from us, making phone calls into a seeming abyss—these actions go against our education. We are taught to distinguish ourselves, to value the nuances of our beliefs. We prefer to see ourselves in the context of our intimate seminars rather than as demographics, as formulas, as dots on a map. Politics makes many of us feel like cogs in a corrupt machine. Besides, what difference can it make?

If you question the importance of your political involvement for these reasons, you’re not wrong. This election was, and our political system is, in many ways ridiculous. But for the logical, the skeptical and the busy, I have an argument in defense of absurd actions. After Election Day, I want to share with you my newfound rationale for the irrational, my experience of finding meaning in the seemingly meaningless.

I’ll start with one seemingly meaningless remark an old man shouted at me as I backed down the front steps of his house, Get-Out-The-Vote clipboard and Obama pamphlet in hand. “You’re not logical,” he yelled, suddenly irate. “You’re emotional! Close my gate. You’re dangerous!” In the moment, I brushed his assault aside, but in retrospect this man is absolutely and objectively correct. His candidate lost because of the triumph of emotion over logic. So says Slate’s political commentator, John Dickerson: “It was the empathy, stupid. When voters were asked which candidate cared more about them, Obama won more than 80 percent of those voters.” 

In battleground states, Obama’s campaign staff and volunteers helped register 1.8 million new voters, almost twice the number the campaign said it registered in 2008. These campaign members made more than 125 million personal phone calls or knocks on doors. In Ohio, the Romney campaign spent $6 million more on advertising than the Obama campaign, but the Obama campaign had twice as many volunteer offices. At least to me, details of this election suggest that hope and irrational action may be the best way to get things done. We, of all people, should remember this. Aren’t we supposed to be the dreamers and free thinkers? The future movers and shakers? To the man who shouted at me to close his gate, and to many of the forces that lurk beyond ours, we are dangerous indeed. We are Daring Minds.

As proven by the results of this election, there is a collective benefit to the act of voting. Over the next four years, this country will reap the tangible results. If you, like me, see flaws and injustices in our current system, then do not simply turn away from them and do not merely Dissent. Enter the fray. Participate on behalf of the policies you support. The bucket fills from tiny drops. 

I also want to offer you a less tangible reason to participate in this country’s elections—an individual, even egoistic one: Participate for yourself; vote to collect a piece of this nation’s hope. There is a happiness and a hopefulness to be gained through participation in our political system, as twisted and tangled as that system is. On Election Day, I realized something that has not been emphasized in my courses here: Sometimes, to bring about important change, you have to participate in unimportant, unglamorous little ways. In order to be part of something big, you have to agree to be very small. I won’t pretend to know exactly what hope is or precisely what it does. But I will tell you that it is real. I felt it on Election Night, and it is accessible to all of us. A single conscious voter may be Camus’s absurd hero, but a room full of them, a country full of them, is a chance to rewrite the myth. 

If you’ve followed me this far (you may have guessed that I’m probably majoring in English, not political science) then let me offer you one final absurd notion: I assert that we have the opportunity to vote much more frequently than each election cycle, that we vote every day, in tiny little ways. We vote by what we choose to discuss at dinner, by the books and journals we choose to read; we vote by going to lectures, to office hours, to sports events. The content of our conversations, our approach to our education, the way we treat each other—I promise that these votes are counted. They are not merely assertions of self. When cast by the greater community, these votes have a real and lasting effect.

President Obama has won four more years in the White House. Who understands better than college students the great changes that can take place over that period? Four years is a long time, and no time at all. Four years is what we make it, as students and as citizens. Keep caring, stay hopeful and remember the value of absurd actions. 

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