I have learned a few rather terrifying facts about myself after teaching for 12 years: I tolerate differences in my students much better than I tolerate differences in adults; I remember their names better than I remember adults’ names (much to my husband’s eternal embarrassment); I am more willing to listen to them, and less willing to judge. In fact, I think I am the opposite to most rational adults. I haven’t really gotten to the root of this, but I suspect it is because they are so guileless (or I assume them to be).
Case in point: I have very few republican friends. But I have LOTS of republican students, many of whom I greatly admire and actually enjoy spending time with. So I thought – who better to talk about bridging our nation’s political gap with than two of the finest brains of our next generation (who also happen to be republicans)?
I have known Julia and Emily, who are both seniors in high school, for three years. I have taught and advised them on the school newspaper and literary magazine. Both are incredibly high-achieving in academics and sports and both are respected and admired in the school community. Teachers like them because they are respectful yet lively in discussion. I like them because they don’t take crap from anyone – a rare trait among the girls at this school.
Both also find our increasing political polarization as frustrating as I do. Below are Julia and Emily’s take on our current political climate – truly eye-opening reading for the over 30 set.
What does it mean to be a young republican today?
Julia: “I’m not sure I would define myself strictly as a young republican, as there are some issues where I deviate from a party platform. For example, in the issues of gay marriage and abortion.”
Emily: “Well what does it mean to be a young democrat? It means different things to different people. I don’t think being a young republican is all that different from being a middle aged republican or an old republican. I think there’s an emphasis on fiscal responsibility and personal responsibility. I think younger republicans care less about social issues and more about things like the economy and not spending money we don’t have as a nation. Because at the end of the day what’s more important: that we made someone feel good about themselves because we pandered to them or that they have a job and can provide for themselves? I think being a young republican means sticking to your moral compass and understanding that you are responsible for you. Everyone has bad luck, everyone has days or weeks where nothing goes their way or where they have to do things that they don’t want to do. That’s life. It doesn’t get better by complaining about it or waiting for someone to fix the problem for you. The only person responsible for you is you.”
What frustrates you about friends who define themselves as democratic?
Julia: “I’ve found that I am often stereotyped. For example, if I am pro Rob McKenna, my peers assume that I am homophobic. If I am openly patriotic by standing at attention at the pledge of allegiance, it’s assumed that I am a capitalist/imperialist who doesn’t care about the marginalized, the oppressed, or the poor. People who know I am a member of a mainstream christian church have also assumed that I am a bigoted pro-lifer. The tendency by my democrat friends to make superficial judgements about me is frustrating. The hostility towards opposing viewpoints contributes to polarization which takes place throughout the country today between republicans and democrats. It seems that there is a lack of intellectual curiosity and dilligence to engage in a meaningful exchange of thoughts with those who hold other viewpoints.”
Emily: “It depends on the subject. In terms of economy what frustrates me is the idea that we can spend money we don’t have. If you can’t do it in a household then why should you be able to do it in a government? Owing money isn’t a good thing, that’s not the way you want your budget to work. In terms of healthcare it’s their assumption that in a system more like Canada’s or the UK’s that it’s “free.” There is no such thing as “free” someone always pays for that somewhere. They may not pay money out of pocket as they go into the hospital, but they pay for it with (what I consider) obscenely high tax rates, with long wait lines, with rationing of care, with decreased innovation, and with older treatments and equipment. There a lots of people who work for the Canadian government who come down to Washington for their healthcare. I think that’s an indication of the system they’re in.”
Where do your beliefs come from, and how do you obtain your information?
Julia: “I come from an extremely diverse family. Our family gatherings include octegenarian grandparents who fled Hitler and Stalin’s occupation of their homes, several Bombay-born Generation Xers, card carrying union members, small business owners. In the religion department, we’ve got Eastern Orthodox, mainstream Protestants, both Roman and Greek Catholics, recovering fundamentalists, an atheist, and a few suspected agnostics. Probably what influenced me the most is the immigrant experience that underlies my family’s dynamics. With it, came a powerful work and education ethic. That energy was allowed to thrive in America. We were reared with an appreciation for American industriousness, ingenuity and independent spirit. That experience informs and inspires me.”
Emily: “Really where my beliefs come from are my values, my morals…I think it’s immoral to keep spending money we don’t have and kicking the can down the road, forcing our children and grandchildren to deal with our mistakes. I get my information from Fox News but I also get it from the New York Times and Wall Street Journal and other news stations. I think it’s important to see how different sources portray different events. Discrepancies are often telling. I like listening to Dennis Miller sometimes. He’s extremely witty and Laura Ingraham is incredibly intelligent (shocker, intelligent Republicans exist). But of course I don’t only listen to one side. I don’t think entrenching yourself is ever a good idea. I may not agree with a lot of democrats, but it’s still good to listen.”
Will you become involved in politics in college? After college?
Emily: “I think that the most important form of political activism is keeping yourself informed and voting. You don’t need to go out and march the streets for your cause to believe in something passionately. This country and its form of government was established for an educated population. When you don’t stay informed or don’t understand what goes on around you, you open yourself up to exploitation. Maybe I’m cynical, but I truly believe that the more informed you are the more protected you are from people who would harm you (this isn’t necessarily physical harm, but it can be people who try to persuade you that safety is worth giving up your rights. According to Benjamin Franklin, that person would deserve neither).”
What advice can you give to parents hoping to raise politically active children?
Emily: “Educate them. Read to them. Let them form their own opinions. And don’t assume your opinion is the right one because it’s yours. And most importantly, teach them to respect the “opposing” side’s opinions. I have received more than enough insults because of my political beliefs. But that’s like insulting someone because of his or her religion or culture. If that’s not acceptable, why is it acceptable to have inter-party slurs? Not everyone who is a republican is a red neck and not everyone who’s a democrat is a hippie. That’s not the way the world works. I think teaching children to base their arguments in logic is also important. A lot of people argue based on what they ‘feel’ but that doesn’t make for intelligent discussion. Just because something ‘feels’ right doesn’t mean that it is.”