It’s only a matter of time before the frenzy of classes, clubs and extracurriculars picks up. However, no matter how hectic college life is, it’s essential to remember that this fall is also a crucial time for the political and economic future of our country.
This year, we are returning to campus in the midst of a much-heated presidential campaign, and a closely contested election that will have huge implications on everything from health care to education.
A quick glance at the news makes it hard to ignore the fast-approaching election between President Barack Obama and Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney. News channels, papers and radio stations are covering the campaigns incessantly. Whether it’s debates on policy issues, candidates’ speeches or nominating conventions, the election will be the big news story until November. We have access to overwhelming amounts of information — about the candidates, their positions, their personal lives and their records. This knowledge is indispensable. It’s necessary that we have all the facts to make well-informed decisions at the voting booths.
But with the nonstop news cycle we’re also getting a lot of political rhetoric. As the election becomes closer, campaigns are stepping it up. We’re seeing an increase in negative attack ads and campaign rhetoric. For those in battleground states, The Washington Post warned in a Sept. 2 article, “the worst is yet to come.” Candidates and other interested parties are set to unravel upwards of $3 billion in advertising over the next three weeks alone.
Endless rhetoric is taking its toll. With special interests pulling out all the stops to sway the media cycle and candidates in different directions, it’s hard to discern facts from campaign chatter. It’s even harder to determine what the candidates actually stand for, and who their influences are. It’s difficult to know what information to trust and where to look for true assessments of policies and issues.
In turn, this is leading more and more people to become disillusioned with America’s political process. According to recent Gallup polls, Congressional approval reached an all-time low in August. Only 10 percent of Americans approved, the lowest percentage in 38 years. In fact, more Americans approve of the IRS and Paris Hilton than of Congress.
Why wouldn’t people be cynical? There’s a lot wrong now and a lot that’s frustrating — from a slow economy to a deteriorating public education system to a growing income gap. People’s patience is waning and it’s only natural to become frustrated. Everywhere we look, it seems as though there is an overflow of problems and not enough solutions.
The fluffed up campaign talk coming from both sides doesn’t help. Political Action Committees, super PACS, corporations and interest groups are pouring more money into this election than ever before, making it difficult to trust what candidates are saying. The inefficiencies of Congress combined with the back-and-forth attacks add to citizens’ frustration. In the past week alone, I’ve heard many people comment on how upsetting it is to follow the election and how the widespread partisanship disillusions them from the entire process.
But, in a time like this – where so much is at stake – it’s more important than ever not to become cynical. Yesterday, I was sitting in a public policy class when Professor Yazier Henry said something that really struck a chord. “Cynicism is a privilege in my opinion. It allows us to shirk our responsibilities as leaders.” It’s easy to be cynical, to complain about problems or to simply live with them.
Pessimism won’t change anything and doesn’t stand in for action. And if there is a time for action, it is now. It’s during times that things seem exceptionally bad or frustrating that it’s most necessary to be engaged.
So even though it’s going to be a frustrating election season, and even though some of the rhetoric will make you want to pull your hair out, cynicism and apathy are stopgaps. Because now more than ever, it’s necessary that we – especially as college students – are engaged and active.