We’re used to seeing chalkings all around campus about mass meetings for political groups or protests. We’ve all been tailed through the Diag by student activists determined to get their say. But if you’ve been following the madness of the current presidential primary races, knowing that it will soon trickle down to our campus, you know we haven’t seen anything yet.

Jessica Boullion
Imran Syed

We know partisanship brings out the worst in our leaders. Desperate to stem a surging Michael Dukakis in 1988, the campaign of a seemingly mellow George H. W. Bush turned to despicable racist symbolism in its infamous Willie Horton ad. Looking to squash any momentum built up by John Kerry in the 2004 election, George W. Bush’s supporters questioned everything from Kerry’s resolve to his military record. Suddenly the man who won three Purple Hearts in Vietnam had to answer for his military service to an opponent who was lost somewhere in Alabama the whole time he was supposed to be serving his country.

This sort of thing is nothing new in America. Dirty partisan politicking was alive and well in the 1884 presidential contest between Democrat Grover Cleveland and Republican James Blane. Even further back, the wrangling of the Federalists versus the Anti-Federalists, Henry Clay against John C. Calhoun and Andrew Jackson against just about everyone of his era are all examples of political disagreements going just a little too far. The only difference is we no longer throw around the word “scoundrel” quite so much.

The difference now, however, is that not only are we bitterly divided on a partisan basis, but both candidates and voters accept the torching of opponents with reckless abandon in primary races too. Poor George Washington. The man who feared the divisiveness of political parties so much would probably be at a complete loss for words if he saw the firestorm that is on now – between people of the same party.

We can rail against the long and vitriolic primary process, which this time seemed to start the day Kerry conceded. We can ask for stricter regulation of attack ads and keep the politicians’ accusations of others in perspective, knowing they’re nearly always bent beyond recognition. We should do these things, but the most important thing of all for us is to not let ourselves become entangled in this mayhem.

We students are different from those vying for the presidency – we have to be. We are a different generation, the leaders of which will accomplish far more than even dreamers like John Edwards can imagine. Our generation knew community service before it could walk; we recycled, sold lemonade for charity and told our parents to cut back on the cholesterol as early as elementary school. The active among us readily understand long-term issues that our country faces while so many of today’s politicians need committees, reports and junkets to see the same realities.

No doubt we have our differences: I suppose Young Americans for Freedom will never see eye-to-eye with SOLE. We have come to a point, however, where we are needlessly forging new divisions.

Why, for example, must students who want to end the war in Iraq now turn against each other and fight over the supposed superiority of Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama? If we want the war ended, aren’t we better off sticking together as a strong bloc? And what of those who want to see more done to prevent terrorism? The “how many terrorists did you kill today?” infighting at the Republican debates isn’t helping anybody.

Some will argue that the vicious potshots dished out in the primaries among candidates of the same party will simply be forgotten once a nominee is named. Unfortunately, it seems that the candidates really do believe this absurd idea. Other than making the ultimate party platform look weak and hypocritical, such an approach initiates hostilities that are not easily forgotten. As many Howard Dean supporters – a large percentage of them college students -found out last time around, if you pour your heart into a candidate during the primary and that candidate ends up losing, it isn’t easy to simply jump on the other guy’s bandwagon.

We all have preferred candidates in primaries. That’s fine. We can even let others know of our preferences and the reasoning behind them. We get into trouble, though, when we start disparaging the other candidates, one of whom we will in all likelihood have to vote for at some point. This is the inane, bitter polarity of the general election carried to an even bleaker level.

But the most engaged and aware minds in our generation shouldn’t fall for that. We have bigger arguments to partake in than the petty squabbling of the primaries.

Imran Syed is the Daily’s editorial page editor. He can be reached at galad@umich.edu.

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