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Column: Election Revives Discourse, Love For Democracy

This story was written by Erica F. Rogers, Daily Nebraskan


Not so long ago, questioning government and the status quo was not a matter of radical liberalism but everyone's civic duty. To be patriotic meant to be invested, to voice and embody your concerns in the "marketplace of ideas."

In the early years of our country's history, this marketplace was often a literal space, where those in a township gathered regularly to barter, bargain and discuss the matters of the day. As technologies evolved, so did our sense of public space. Today it's virtual, what some term "Web 2.0," and it reaches far beyond our sense of home.

What I love about our country is that no matter how technology has shaped the marketplace of ideas, there always have been people willing and ready to come to it. Americans, for better or for worse, have not lost their sense of language and the power of expression.

It is so simple, perhaps one of those things we overlook because it seems common or ordinary, but it's nothing short of miraculous. Though our Western tradition of democracy trumpets "rugged individualism" and touts the alleged virtues of "puling yourself up by the bootstraps," our culture affirms a brilliant paradox: The quality of our individual lives depends on the quality of our public and communal exchanges.

Ideologies and affiliations aside, our textual lives are multi-layered and overlapping. Fierce political adversaries still come to buy the same bestselling books, attend the same concerts and even sit shoulder to shoulder in church pews on Sundays. We move in and out of discourse spaces, from classrooms to discussion forums on the Internet, and make our contributions to democracy through language.

During an election year, when we're choosing sides and sounding off, it becomes difficult to remember our commitment to communities beyond our political party. Even so, presidential elections make me downright sentimental. While engaging with candidates' platforms, reading the morning paper and talking with friends about the issues, I'm reminded most of my family - the people who sponsored my sense of political agency and literacy.

I think of my grandfathers, both war veterans, who built their lives through hard work and frugality. They were always informed, always questioning their national and local leadership because the Great Depression and World War II taught them how quickly one can go from feast to famine and how war wounds can take generations to heal.

I think, too, of how during an election, you get to see the best parts of your friends and have the kinds of conversations that remind you why you're close in the first place. When people are as excited about the political process as people have been this year, the exchanges we are able to have really matter. Even in our differences, we find a commonality in our sense of what it means to be an engaged citizen.

Despite ideological differences, despite who we will vote for today, I believe have entered a new era in which we can reclaim something we've lost. Through these last two months of the presidential campaigns, we have come to acknowledge even in our differences, a commitment to question, to change the world around us. Regardless of our personal ideologies, it seems the American public has rekindled its passion for civic responsibility through language - the words we exchange in the "fight to see who gets what."

As Sen. Barack Obama proved this week with his television commercial, as Sen. John McCain proved with his selection of Gov.Sarah Palin as his running mate, the "marketplace of ideas" has changed. There are new, perhaps ominous, implications from both parties' approaches to this election, and perhaps it's time for us to focus on the possibilities and problems that come with them.

This i what I love about America: Though democracy looks different to each of us, our faith in its promises continues. It seems like a small, common thing. It seems like something we could forget while pursuing and maintaining our party loyalties. But the din of discourse, the conflict and collision of ideas, these provide the vital lifeblood of our society. Lose our patience with difference, and we lose our claims to justice. Lose sight of the importance of conflict and its role in politics, and we succumb to ideological tyranny.

We must all do our part, even if that part is to object, push back, and refuse another's idea. This is what makes us strong. This is what makes us most able to provide a future for our nation. This is what makes us Americans. And that, I think, is what I love most of all.

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