Post-election Fallout: …Boredom?

The 2012 election is over.  For all the races I have been following closely this election cycle, one candidate has emerged as the victor.  In the three races I cared most about, the person I supported won. So why do I feel so unsatisfied?

I don’t think it is the fact that accurate polls lead me know to outcomes of elections before the occurred (because they didn’t). Nor do I think my lack of satisfaction is due to me voting by mail sometime between the second and third presidential debate or that I didn’t feel like my vote could impact some of the races I cared about.

I feel unsatisfied because I am bored.  From the Iowa Straw Poll during the Republican presidential primary until election day, I was completely addicted to the 24-hour news cycle and all the political stats and polling I could get my hands on.  And now, I am experiencing withdrawals.

Whenever I got onto a computer, I used to do three things before anything else: check my email, check Facebook, and check the poll numbers.  Now I only do two things.  I never really thought about it during the election, but I spend a lot of time checking stats (mostly of the presidential race).  What do the national numbers look like today?  Who has momentum? Are the changes in the numbers uniform across the country or focused in specific regions (swing states and the next three primaries/caucuses drew most of my attention at any point in time)?  How will the change in numbers affect the Electoral College outcome?  Oh, RCP Electoral College prediction map, how I miss tinkering with you.

Fellow political junkies, what am I to do?  How will a spend all of this new-found free time?  Is it problematic that politics has become an entertaining “spectator sport” (especially for a few people I know who followed the presidential race as closely as I did, but chose not to vote and truly did experience the election as spectators)?

-Jordan Roberts


Marijuana is Legal in Two States- What’s Your Opinion?

Well, the votes are in. Marijuana is officially legal to posses in small amounts for personal (that is, non-medical) use in two states: Washington and Colorado.

So my peer in one of my classes, aware of my interest and involvement with NORML (The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), asked me “So are you moving to Washington or Colorado?” My response was “I think Colorado- the skiing is better.”

But after a laugh the serious response was “We need to make Utah Colorado.”

Marijuana legalization is a hot topic that is difficult to talk about, especially in this state where there is a predominant religious influence. The response to controversial issues such as marijuana legalization, abortion/contraception, and gay marriage, is often a lack of one. There is a fear that to be on the opposing side may seem ignorant and to support may seem evil. This fear is what keeps many people from being politically involved.

I’ve been there and I think we all have. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote that the greatest danger to America wasn’t the people who hated, for at least they lived their lives with passion. It was those who lived in a state of apathy, or even sympathetic uninvolvement.

“History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”
-Martin Luther King, Jr.

Machiavelli, one of the fathers of modern Political Science, wrote similarly, saying essentially that the greatest danger to a free society was an apathetic populous.

Now this blog is meant for people who are already somewhat politically involved, but I don’t think I’m preaching to the choir. There have been many times when I have kept my mouth shut in a discussion for fear that my perspective would be rendered invalid. I think the greatest way to progress your knowledge is through discourse. Let’s try to make an effort to be more open about why we feel the way we do about certain issues and not fear having a perspective that is different from our peers. If the point of view happens to be based on a false premise, being proven wrong (while admittedly embarrassing) is the best way to learn what is right.

And It’s not that cut and dry. Sometimes there isn’t a wrong or a right answer.

Another response that goes along with these hot-button issues is a state of contentment. It’s easy to assume that if something has been a certain way for a while, then that’s the way it ought to be. That’s just not true. Through enough press and attention leading to widespread discourse, Washington and Colorado have been able to decide that the way it has been is not the way it ought to be.

The point of my anecdote about me and my friend earlier in this post was to show that even though things have been a certain way, I have an eye to change it. When it comes to hot subjects that get people very fired up, don’t worry about the majority of the people not agreeing with you. They may be wrong. Now I’m not encouraging ignorance- do your research! Not only that- talk to people! So that way even if your perspective is completely different from the general populous, you’ll have nothing to hide. Maybe then you’ll be able to even influence others with your knowledge.
So Marijuana is legal in two states- that is a tremendous political change! It will surely lead the way for other states to follow suit. How do you think the federal government and FDA ought to respond? How should lawmakers respond? What’s your opinion? And most importantly of all, why is that your opinion?

Division of Powers – What does it mean now that the election is over?

The vibe on campus this morning is an electric one. It feels as if we are walking into the halls of higher learning of a new America.

A lot has happened since the race for the president began. Ideas and policies of both sides have been debated and presented to the public, social media has been ablaze with cheers of excitement and cries of woe, and one thing in particular that I found a bit troubling; blame being shed solely on one office of our government in particular, The President of the United States.

Over the past month, it has not been uncommon for me (and probably many of you) to log onto Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or any other social media outlet and see claims resembling the following,

“If Obama gets reelected, we are in for another 4 years of suffering and bad economy.” Or,

“If Romney gets elected, Women and the LGTB community are going to lose rights.” And on more than one occasion I have seen (from individuals on both sides),

“If (enter either candidates name here) wins, I’m moving to Canada!”

Now, while I can appreciate the fervor of emotion around this issue and am glad to see that we had such a great level of political involvement both here on campus and across the nation, I have to humbly object to all of these claims and cries of woe.

One thing that frustrates me in regards to national level politics is the apparent belief that the office of President is a magical one that has the power to change every bad or undesirable thing about the state of our nation, its economy and our social issues with the snap of a finger or the wave of a wand. This is simply not the case.

Anyone that believes or posts something about the president (Be it our current president or any other) as having failed our nation, not kept promises, or that they are going to be the end of our nation either is forgetting the other branches of government or is ignorant to how the political system in America works.

Separation of powers is a fundamental (and sometimes halting) part of our nation’s political structure. As many of you probably know, our nation’s power is divided between three branches, Judicial (the Courts that interpret the laws), the Legislative (Congress and the Senate that make the laws) and the Executive (the President and his cabinet, etc.).  No one branch has supreme power to make a decision on its own and have it become law.

If we want to look to blame someone for something that we do not believe was handled correctly, a promise that was not kept, or an issue that passed into law that we do not agree with, then we need to look beyond the office of President to the other two branches of government as well.

Aside from an Executive Order, all laws must be passed (in Identical form) in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. This is often the hardest part of getting any law passed. Often we find such a staunch division within these chambers that little is accomplished. In fact, each session of congress in recent history has passed less and less laws into effect than the preceding session. This is in part to partisanship disagreements, personal beliefs, party allegiance, personal stakes in issues be they financial or otherwise, and any other number of things.

So to say that the President failed in A or passed B without support is to turn a blind eye to the voting record in both The House of Representatives and the Senate. It also ignores the Judgeship records should an issue have been taken before any of the judicial levels. This is a very important step as the courts are charged with determining the constitutionality of the law and either upholding it, or striking it down.  It is also important to know that the expenditure of tax funds (Government’s budget) is only able to be spent/ allocated by Congress. Any law that requires the use of funds must be introduced in and approved by the House of Representatives as they hold the “Power of the Purse” according to the Constitution. So to blame a president for our nation’s debt without also adding blame to the congress (which had to approve the expenditure of funds and essentially approve our increasing national debt) is demonstrating a misunderstanding of how government works and who actually has the power to spend our tax dollars. It is not the president, it is congress.

Now, I realize that this is the shorthand version of how government works, but I hope my point has still been successfully made. If you’re going to complain about the president, be sure that you have also studied out the actions of congress, the senate and the courts in regards to the issues that are causing your frustration or dissatisfaction.  It may surprise you to see the real cause of what has or hasn’t happened in America and why.

Hopefully we can all have the same drive that we have felt during the presidential race and devote as much time to studying out the issues and where the votes/ decisions of all branches of government fall on these issues as we do to our posts on social media.

A Student’s Perspective: The Importance of Student Political Involvement and Activism

There are students at the University of Utah that are highly politically involved: students working on campaigns, students participating in voter registration, and students becoming civically involved in other ways.  However, there are also students that do not get involved in politics. In campus wide voter registration drives, while I have encountered many students excited to vote, I have also encountered students that are apathetic towards voting, or even more worrisome to me, against voting and civic engagement all together. As students, it is important that we participate politically to ensure our interests are represented and create informed political dialogue and decision-making.

Evaluating the claim that students are politically apathetic is critical to this discussion. In conversations with other individuals, many of them older than the average student, they congratulate me for my political involvement, which they say “differs from the involvement of my peers”. While voter turnout is a problem among many groups, students are frequently placed in a group of individuals unlikely to vote or be civically engaged. Society’s view of students as civically inactive, whether deserved or not, creates a substantial problems for students and society as a whole.

If students don’t participate in political processes then policy makers are not held accountable for decisions about issues important to students. When legislators are held accountable to specific groups to remain in office it seems logically that they would be more likely to make decisions in support of that group. Students can participate in government to help ensure that their interests are supported and valued in decision making from the local to national government.

As future political leaders, the educational experiences we have as students can help shape our political involvement and actions in the future. When students get involved in government it doesn’t only help them get their current goals accomplished. It can also help them to learn about how government works and break down barriers to future involvement in government. Engagement as students could help to break cycles of political apathy that are also found in the US population post college graduation. Students involved in politics may also become more educated public officials.

Political engagement helps individuals to evaluate their belief systems and think critically about issues. Even if students didn’t chose to run for elected office or be highly involved in government after graduation, political engagement can help students evaluate their beliefs and think critically.

While the voting registration deadline has passed for this election, and early voting is in full swing, there is still a lot students can do to become more involved in the political process and change the perspective of students as an apathetic group. This is not just a single election issue. This is an issue that can be solved through attitude changes by students and individuals who are not categorized as students.

To end on a positive note, I have been very pleased with the engagement I have seen at the University of Utah during this election cycle: the willing and excitement of students to register to vote, high attendance at on campus debate screenings, and students involvement in campaigns. It seems that many people at the university (including students, faculty, and staff) do value political engagement from my perspective.

Rachel Wootton

ASUU Associate Director of Government Relations

Political Science SAC Member

Political Science Peer Advisor