It is now officially autumn in an election year, and interested voters and observers around the world are following the candidates and are eager to hear what they have to say during the scheduled debates. Three debates are slotted for the presidential candidates, while one debate is set for the vice-presidential candidates. In past years, the primary focus seemed to be on the presidential debates, but with the media’s intense fascination with Republican Vice Presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, viewers around the world are expected to tune in on Thursday, October 2nd to watch her take on the Democratic party’s veteran senator, Joe Biden. In fact, for weeks now, the BBC website has had a permanent link to pre-VP debate information on their main page.
Considering this new found attention for the VP debate, I thought I would offer some observations on how this extravaganza is affecting the lives of those at its host university. After twice holding the presidential debates in recent year (1992 and 2000), Washington University in St. Louis was awarded what many originally saw as a consolation prize: the VP debate. Now that things have changed in regards to vice presidential “importance,” our campus is flooded with reporters, items are for sale everywhere (t-shirts, mugs, pens and even sweat pants…), and the grounds and maintenance crews are working overtime repainting walls and curbs, replacing dead flowers, and surrounding campus (and it’s a fairly big campus) with temporary aluminum fencing, pounding stakes in for secondary vinyl fences, and creating a protest pin (which members of the local Catholic Worker have already pledged to be in). The Athletic Complex, the actual venue for this shindig, is already closed for preparation that will include bomb squad sweeps, secret service details, and other anti-terrorism activities. This means that students will be unable to use the fitness facilities until October 6 even though the debate will be over on October 2. On the day of the debate itself, traffic, including the public bus I take to and from campus, will be banned.
Now, I would not mention these inconveniences if the benefit of this debate truly outweighed their annoyance. For all that the staff (so many maintenance workers have been in the grueling sun for days!), faculty and students have to do or put up with for this debate, getting to attend such an affair would make it all worthwhile. But of course, there is a catch. Of the thousands of tickets available for this debate, it is estimated (though not guaranteed) that only 200-300 will be given to the university. Over 7,000 of the 12,000 students have entered the ticket lottery for one of these coveted tickets, and odds are obviously slim.
Now, even if I were “lucky” enough to be selected in the lottery for a ticket, the debate will be nothing more than a pre-fabricated, staged dialogue between two candidates who have been given the questions ahead of time and have exchanged answers with the other political party. A moderator is asking questions, and in effect there will be no debate. It is just two politician-actors putting on a show. The candidates won’t even engage one another; they will perform for the audience and “smile pretty” for the camera. For more information on the death of the American Presidential Debate, see PBS’s website.
So what on earth does this have to do with being a young adult Catholic? Reports are estimating that the Millennial Generation will have the largest showing ever in history in representing young adult voters who have traditionally been the least likely to show up at the polls. As Catholics, we are called to live out the Gospel of Jesus in all we do and work for a better world as we glimpse the Reign of God. One primary way of having a voice in the world today is by voting. So if you haven’t yet registered to vote, please do so, and make democracy really happen…not just a lot of show like this debate is bound to be!
Becky Schwantes, a Minnesota native, is currently a Master of Social Work candidate at Washington University in St. Louis. She earned her M.A. in Theology from the University of Notre Dame in 2008 and has worked as a parish faith formation minister, social worker and in college campus ministry. Becky also holds a B.A. in Theology and Social Work with a minor is Social Justice and Peace Studies from the University of Portland, Oregon. Her primary areas of interest are Christian Social Ethics, Eco-Feminist Theology, Mental Health and issues of Aging. In her free time, she enjoys traveling the world, walking labyrinths, singing, and laughing with friends. Her favorite saints are Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal.