A Student’s Perspective on the Election

Barack Obama’s victory this past Tuesday renewed in me feelings of hope and optimism that I was afraid might slip away. The two presidential candidates represented starkly different visions for America’s future: the embrace of America’s rich diversity on the one hand and its rejection on the other. The President’s reelection is a triumph over backwards-looking and intolerant positions that fundamentally contradict my vision of an America that lives up to its foundational principles.

Without a doubt, this campaign season was disheartening. It was an entirely cynical affair targeting people’s fears rather than uplifting their spirits. Both sides relied on vast stores of data to coldly penetrate the undecided American voters’ preferences, generating messages through focus groups and surveys, like designing a new Doritos flavor. In Virginia, a viscous deluge of negative advertisements engulfed us. We couldn’t even watch a YouTube video without being warned of the apocalyptic suffering that awaited us if the wrong candidate were elected. The worst part: even after ten seconds of these ads, you couldn’t tell which party it came from.

But still, I am reinvigorated. For me, the election marks the victory of a resilient progressivism that sprung to life in 2008. It is a victory over the idea that poverty is a self-inflicted condition. It is a victory over a party that wants to make it harder for poor people to vote. It is a victory over a nauseatingly hypocritical establishment that bemoans the state’s encroachment on personal liberty, yet callously treats women’s bodies as objects over which capricious state control is completely justified. It is a victory for the ideal of equal rights for all Americans, regardless of sexual orientation.

Mitt Romney had a dream to lead America as a Republican president and thus was forced to genuflect before far right donors in order to have a fighting chance against the frighteningly efficient Obama-campaign apparatus. America watched as the primary and then the general election systematically drained Romney of every last one his moderate inclinations. I even thought I could see a dullness in his eyes toward the end of the campaign as more and more of his political soul evaporated. But perhaps that’s too generous. Maybe that’s how he always looked. Maybe he never had a political soul.

Regardless, Obama’s victory affirms that the Republican Party is out of touch with the American electorate. This election has revealed the cruel irony of a Republican political machine that has spent millions of dollars alienating the very people that it needs to win elections in the future. By spending exorbitant amounts of money exploiting racial divisions and parroting outdated right-wing adages, Republicans have frozen themselves in a political tradition that is irrelevant given America’s tectonic demographic shifts since the end of the 20th century. All that money could have elected Mitt Romney – but it didn’t, and to me, this is one of the most significant victories of all. The Tea Party’s radical values have diffused through the Republican Party like a teabag in hot water, and unless Republicans can stanch the Tea Party’s pernicious percolation, they will find themselves losing election after election no matter how much money they spend.

Enormous questions remain regarding the future. Will our political leaders abandon petty partisan quibbles and start providing real leadership on pressing issues? Will Obama, liberated from election constraints, have more latitude in pursuing a progressive agenda? Despite these questions, the election has demonstrated that many folks believe in the project we have before us in rebuilding America. It is a project in which success depends on the inclusion of all Americans: rich and poor, white and colored, straight and gay. It has reminded me of why I’m proud to be an American and why I applied to the Batten School in the first place.

– Post by Shivesh Puri, MPP’13

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