My earliest recollection of anything in the political sphere — besides bits and pieces — came when I was around the age of seven. It was the summer transitioning into the fall, on the national level, then-incumbent President George W. Bush was facing off against then-Massachusetts Senator John F. Kerry. I remember going from place to place, picking up flyers for local and statewide elections and handing them out to various people spread out across our suburb of Cleveland. I liked the excitement, I liked the new places, and I liked seeing such large groups of people gathered together and full of energy.
One thing I did not yet understand, and my conversations with others tell me this is a common theme among people first learning about politics and the election process, is why I was so excited about supporting the guy that I was supporting, so, I did what most kids do. I asked.
“Hey, why are we voting for ____?”
My parents led me through a rundown of a few issues, but ultimately settled on the one they found most important.
“Well, it’s because he’s Pro-Life.”
“What does that mean?”
My parents agreed that it was not a great topic for kids to know about and that I would be allowed to learn more about it when I was older. So, really, considering I did not technically receive the answer I asked, the conversation should not have stuck in my head. That being said, because of the way the question was answered, I did start seeing politics from a different viewpoint than a lot of people. I was lucky enough to be introduced to politics as a series of issues rather than one party versus another.
Why is this important? To me, it is important for a few reasons, and I’ll tell you about some of the reasons why I think you all should consider looking at the issues first and using your position on them to form what most people would call your “ideology.”
First off, the political parties are constantly changing. There is no guarantee that if I were to say “I’m a Republican” or “I’m a Democrat” today, that those parties are even going to stand for the same things in five, ten, or twenty years. In the 1990s, Democrat Bill Clinton was seen as crossing party lines when he signed NAFTA — a trade agreement supported by Republicans and Clinton’s predecessor George H. W. Bush — into law. Over two decades later, NAFTA, once a law supported primarily by the Republican Party, was repealed by Republican lawmakers, and a Republican President in Donald J. Trump.
Ronald Reagan, one of the most well-known Republican presidents, and Leon Panetta, a Democrat who served as Barack Obama’s Secretary of Defense, both began in the opposite political parties. However, as the policies of both parties shifted, both Reagan and Panetta adjusted their affiliations accordingly. In short, while it makes sense for the purposes of simplicity to say you belong to one party or another, always be aware that the party could change.
Another reason is simple: it’s an easier way to stay true to your own beliefs in how you vote and interact politically with the outside world. If I start out with the preconceived notion that I belong to one political party or another, I’m probably going to be less likely to be open to ideas that belong to the opposing political party. When I look at an issue through my own eyes, I am forced to make my own judgment on that issue. While this absolutely does not mean whatever conclusion someone who uses that method will come to is the “correct” conclusion, it does guarantee that we will come to those conclusions using our own minds and thought processes.
However, what is maybe the biggest reason for me, it helps you to better understand both sides of any issue. Confirmation bias, as most of you probably know, is a tendency humans in general have, and it basically means that once you form an opinion, your brain tends to skew everything else you learn in favor of that opinion. If I dive into the issue of repealing regulations with the preconceived notion that my political group already supports the repeal of regulations, then I am not going to be as open-minded to the opposing arguments, and, ultimately, I am probably never going to understand why someone would support that other viewpoint as well as I should.
I remember being around twelve years old and talking to my cousin, who was a college student at the time. She helped take care of my siblings and I when we were younger, was a good student, and very politically active. I remember asking her:
“What’s your idea of a radical [I’m going to leave out the political party because both sides are susceptible to this]?”
She thought for a second, before saying the name of a politician who was fairly prominent at that time.
“No, I mean, like…what do they believe, in your mind.”
She gave me a blank stare and said, “Well, I guess it would be the things that [blank believes].”
“Yeah, but like…what things?”
I got a blank stare, and then we changed the subject.
In other words, no matter how educated you are, it’s always a good idea to re-examine your beliefs, and figure out just how fair to yourself you are being with them.
Ross McDonnell is an opinion writer. Contact him at email@example.com.
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Hi, I’m Lauren Sasala, a senior journalism student from Toledo. I’m also the editor in chief of The Kent Stater and KentWired this semester. My staff and I are committed to bringing you the most important news about Kent State and the Kent community. We are full-time students and hard-working journalists. While we get support from the student media fee and earned revenue such as advertising, both of those continue to decline. Your generous gift of any amount will help enhance our student experience as we grow into working professionals. Please go here to donate.