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Earlier this week, a staff editorial appeared on this very page and voiced the opinion that this year's election has nothing to offer us. The candidates are dull, it opined. They have nothing new to say; their conventions were nothing more than infomercials. To top it all off, there's not even a contest between the two, no good horse race for the public to sink its teeth into.
The Crimson, however, is not alone in falling victim to this type of political malaise. I'm sure we've all heard our friends and acquaintances voice similar opinions. "I'm voting for the lesser of two evils," is a common sentiment. Just as frequently heard is the more distressing, "Both candidates seem the same to me. I don't care who wins, so I'm not going to vote."
Political apathy is an old story, and my purpose in this column is not to remind us all yet again of America's embarrassingly low voter turnout rate and scold those who don't take the time to vote. Rather, I write in response to the kind of political cynicism that allows those who do conscientiously devote time to following politics to dismiss so readily the importance and novelty of this presidential election.
There seem to be two main complaints levied against the '96 campaign. The first of these holds that there are no new, interesting ideas being debated back and forth by the candidates, and that instead we hear the same tired old rhetoric about such issues as the deficit, welfare reform and family values. Cynicism in this area is unwarranted for two reasons. To begin with, these topics may be old, but they are vital and unresolved. If we allow our attention to waver simply because we've heard it all before, then perhaps we've been watching a little too much television. Additionally, there are new ideas out there which are vibrant and exciting. For instance, Clinton's plan to raise an army of one million volunteers to ensure that all third-graders can read has the potential to wipe out illiteracy in this country. Of course, it is legitimate to be cynical as to whether Clinton can, or will, implement this bold plan. But if we fail to at least see the potential, then it is us, and not the candidates, who are uninspired.
The second negative label slapped on this campaign is that both candidates sound the same; that they have, for purposes of political expediency, adopted those issues that are most attractive to the American people. Clinton is especially singled out here; it is said that by talking about lowering the deficit and preserving the integrity of the family, and by acting to end the old welfare system, he has sold out to popular right-wing principles.
Well, I would hope that most American voters are intelligent enough to reject the simple-minded Rush Limbaugh one-party-good-other-party-bad mentality. The history of the United States is the history of moderation and compromise, and if Clinton believes that it is necessary to adopt elements of the Republican's platform in order to produce the most effective and successful policies, then he deserves credit, and not scorn, from the voters.
In fact, to confuse moderation with maintaining the status quo is to reject one of the most fundamental principles of American democracy: Namely, that a free and open debate in which all sides are allowed to participate will eventually produce a synergistic common ground which embodies the best of all worlds. This process, rather than a cacophony of conflict and extremism, is the key to progress. David H. Goldbrenner's column appears on alternate Fridays.
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