The election is three weeks away and I would like to see the level of passion and pique among St. Thomas students ratchet up – dramatically. If you can’t get excited over the presidential and U.S. Senate races this year, you’ll have trouble fogging up a drinking glass.

What I’m missing on campus is some rambunctious rhetoric over the noon hour in The Grill, with an arm-waving, table-pounding intensity that only the self righteous can muster.

Or dueling campaign signs in dormitory windows.

Or a dozen letters a week to The Aquin, taking umbrage or offering support.

The issues are relevant, the divisions apparent and the differences clear:
Is Al Franken a contentious comedian or a thoughtful critic?
John McCain: a wise warrior, courageous maverick or George Bush’s third term?
Barack Obama: an insightful new voice or a soundbite cliché?

My friends, we have some things – and some bodies – to argue about, and I’d like to see more of that breaking out on campus. I’m calling for a little sound and fury. Well, maybe not fury, but passion.

Of course, I went to undergraduate school at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where politics and protest were part of the fabric of campus life. But some discussion, debate and, yes, even dissension is good for this campus, a reflection of the increasing diversity at St. Thomas.

Encouraging signs do exist. Steven Hatting, political science professor, says he senses a high level of interest in the presidential election among his students. “Even before the nomination process was over,” says Hatting, “the students in my classes were more knowledgeable about the views of presidential contenders than I’d ever seen before.”

Sophomore Ariel Kendall says she sees a lot of election interest in Dowling Hall. “They (students) don’t get real verbal about it (their politics) unless they know the person. You don’t want to offend anyone.”

Britney Bryant, president of the Undergraduate Student Government, says 450 students have been registered to vote by her group and the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group.

That’s a good start. But I’d like a little more action – and reaction. Franken was on campus a week ago, and 200 or so students came to hear him. Franken didn’t take any questions, but it’s too bad one of his critics wasn’t there to shout out, “Why isn’t Betty McCollum here?” McCollum, who has criticized some of Franken’s satirical prose, was scheduled to appear with him.

I say let’s run the risk of offending someone as the election draws closer. Let ‘em know how you feel. Listen to what they have to say. Agree to disagree. Finally, instead of 450 new voters registered on campus, let’s make that closer to 4,000.

This is a helluva good time to cast your first vote.

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7 Responses

  1. Pam, Bloomington, MInn.

    I’m delighted to read the entries on this site. Politics should NEVER become a banned topic for discussion. In fact, it should be encouraged.
    Why? Because it is important for each of us to know what is happening in our government(s). We should be knowledgeably informed and possess our own individual degree of political passion. After all, politics – national, state and local – is what runs our country and makes our laws. We must know about issues and be willing to confront lawmakers if necessary, as some recent laws and policies have been proven unjust and cruel to humanity.
    As a spiritual but not religious person, I long for a peaceful world, but I am also realistic enough to know that the citizens of our world do not declare war. Our politicians declare war – and most of these are totally unjustified.
    If we ignore the subject of politics and political persuasion, we are essentially ignoring our rights as citizens of this country to monitor the survival and direction of our constitutional rights and privileges. If we ignore the subject of politics, we will once again encourage the media to slip into a state of slumber. This woudl empower politicians’ enactment of legislation that affects the populace without our awareness.
    I vote for full and complete awareness.

  2. Andrew Engen, St. Paul

    Hi, I’m Andrew and am the Campus Vote Director for the DFL at UST (my job is to organize the campus) and am going on my 2nd year of chairing the College Democrats chapter at UST as well.
    Through my organizing on campus thus far, what I’ve discovered is that people aren’t necessarily apathetic, they care and know who they are voting for, they just aren’t passionate or allow these decisions to really permeate in their lives.
    But, you’ll be happy to know that both the College Dems and College Reps are certainly in the top chapters of Minnesota. Both have consisently had very active leadership who keep the club actives, even in off-election years.
    The Obama crowd has done plenty of events and been quite visible all over campus, just not in a loud manner. On election day though, we’ll be the only thing you’ll hear about.

  3. Teresa Collett, Minneapolis Campus

    I agree with Professor Nimmer’s call for student engagement in the political process. However, I take issue with his idea that “sound and fury” or “shout[ing] out” challenges are evidence of responsible involvement. Too often in politics we confuse emotion for reason and personal desires for sound public policy. As a Catholic university, we can do better.
    As citizens, we should seek to understand the problems confronting our communities and the candidates’ proposed solutions. This understanding is rarely achieved through “sound and fury” or shouting. More often it is arrived at in quiet study, thoughtful listening and respectful dialogue with those of differing views.
    When we are convinced we understand the issues, we are called to judge the candidates and their proposals against “our moral obligation to help build a more just and peaceful world through morally acceptable means, so that the weak and vulnerable are protected and human rights and dignity are defended” (as stated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship”).
    Often we will vary in our individual judgments. Some will disqualify Barack Obama for his support of abortion on demand. Others will reject John McCain for his support of the war in Iraq. This diversity is healthy when it reflects serious thought and honest evaluation of the candidates. It is toxic when it results from identity politics and blind party loyalty.
    Professor Nimmer and I are in complete agreement when he calls for us to enter into discussion with those who disagree. However on his point that we should “Let ‘em know how you feel,” I say it is better to let them know what you think. On this point, perhaps, we will just have to “[a]gree to disagree.”

  4. Katie, St. Paul

    I think Professor Nimmer has an excellent point. I think we can all assume that by being mature young adults developing into their own, students can handle the personal responsibility of engaging in civil debate filled with passion and facts, not angry arguing leading to anything physical.
    So let’s not worry about the capabilities of the students. Let’s instead take what he has to offer as a statement of observation from a man who, it sounds, experienced true political and community engagement back in the 60’s.
    I remember during my study abroad experience, when our program manager was visiting from Minnesota and the Iraq War had just been declared. He stated that in hindsight he felt ashamed by the lack of involvement in protest by himself and the other professors and students. He remembered back to the ’60s when so many of the movements, political statements and passion stemmed from the universities. What had changed, he wondered?
    We must not become complacent and fear offending others. We can listen and speak respectfully, sharing opinions and facts. So I, too, say to the students: get involved! Get involved now, whether by volunteering for a campaign for a few weeks until the election, or talking to friends … and foes. We don’t have to agree with someone to learn from them, or at least reading the actual policies one stands for on their websites. Hang a sign, post a blog, text some pals to watch the final debate (Wednesday, Oct. 15) … whatever fits your style, but get involved and GET EXCITED!
    Our native Minnesotan Bob Dylan wrote, “The times they are a changing…” That change should come from us. If we don’t get involved, then the change will come TO us.

  5. Jan Olafsson, Minneapolis

    I think Professor Nimmer’s comments are awesome.
    Look, we need some discussion; especially if it’s pro-Obama. I cannot imagine how anyone who is not a multi-millionaire could vote for McCain. Besides, he’s too old. And then, what would it be like to have a President Palin?

  6. Michael B, St. Paul

    While I can see where Mr. Nimmer is coming from, I must disagree with making a lot of noise on campus regarding the election.
    I think the danger in doing that is that people may think that politics is the only way through which one can change the world.
    I can attest to this as someone who was once very involved in the political process.
    The best way to change the world is to find Christ, and to set this world on fire for Him, to seek to change hearts rather than constantly argue and seek to change peoples’ minds.
    St. Augustine of Hippo once said that our hearts are restless until they rest in Christ. This is true of all of humanity, and there’s a popular slogan that goes like this: “No Christ, No Peace: Know Christ, Know Peace.”
    So, my suggestion is to begin or deepen your relationship with God through prayer. If you are a Roman Catholic like me, try attending daily Mass a few times, pray the rosary, and attend reconciliation at least once a month. You’ll be amazed at the difference the grace received from these sacraments makes in your life!
    Then, talk to your friends, and share your faith with them. If we work together, we can surely set this world on fire for Christ!

  7. Tom King, West St. Paul

    Ah, Dave… you bring back memories with your comments here.
    I was in grad school at UW-Madison back in the late ’60s and recall what can happen when rambunctious goes bad.
    But, I do remember one of my favorite profs at St. Thomas, G.W.C. Ross, having us write a paper back in the late ’50s on why we thought students were so politically apathetic. I conjured up something for him, but it wasn’t till JFK came along that the passion you call for happened.
    In the old Quonset grill between classes, there was much debate, but usually it was the pro-Nixon business majors against the rest of us. No table-banging mind you, just reasoned conversations punctuated with only a few spilled cups of coffee.
    Ah, those were the days!