The first vote I ever cast came with the 2008 presidential election. I knew nothing of politics at the time except for what I had gleaned from my parents’ offhanded comments on the matter—occasional commentary between them and their friends on the state of the union, complaints about the high taxes they paid and the unsightly blue yard sign adorning our neighbor’s lawn. 2008 was an interesting election for me not only because it was the first time that I could vote, but also because I experienced the lead up-to and aftermath of the election from Ireland. I was spending a semester abroad, which lent itself to many interesting conversations with the locals on who I was voting for, what I thought of certain campaign promises and ideas for change proposed by the candidates, and really a whole lot of content of which I had absolutely no understanding.
Being abroad also meant that I needed to obtain an absentee ballot in order to vote. I remember having a phone conversation with my mother in which I asked her to send me my ballot. Her response was, “Only if you promise to vote a straight Republican ticket.” I, being the strong-willed and opinionated (aka stubborn) woman that my mother raised me to be, and wanting to actually research the candidates’ platforms before making a decision, politely declined, and promptly searched the Internet to see if I could obtain a ballot online. As a registered voter I could, and I printed off and mailed in my ballot a few days later.
I had every intention of researching the platforms and trying to understand what exactly each candidate stood for. The Irish all loved Obama, and there were headlines calling him the “Beautiful Brown Angel,” praising him for his promise of being a “change we could believe in.” McCain, on the other hand, was the favorite of all those I grew up with—us middle-class suburbanites—and he catered to that demographic, as many Republicans do. But the idea of voting along party lines struck me as closed-minded, and I wanted to take the responsibility of voting in a Presidential election seriously, even if I didn’t completely understand the implications.
In my mind, the problem with voting a straight Republican ticket or straight Democratic ticket is that it almost completely glosses over all the things a candidate can actually stand for or accomplish. I mean, look at the field of Republican candidates right now: You have everyone from Ted Cruz, the ultimate right-wing hard-line conservative, to Chris Christie, who isn’t afraid to work with the other side to get things done. And while both candidates are vying for the Republican nomination, their platforms, style of rhetoric and approach to actually governing are completely different.
If we as Christians are striving to be informed, then walking into these elections only considering a candidate’s party affiliation rather than his or her actual ideals, values and platforms seems counter-productive. There’s nothing wrong with identifying with and supporting a party, but hard-line partisanship can limit the ability for someone to explore an idea or issue from all sides—leaving their own arguments weaker as a result.
We are called to love those who are different than ourselves. Doing that well means being quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, even when we disagree with people. If we give that courtesy to people who hold other beliefs, political viewpoints and differing opinions, they’ll usually be more likely to take our opinions and beliefs seriously, as well.
Original photo by CollegeDegrees360. Used under Creative Commons 2.0.