This story was written by Kevin Roose, Brown Daily Herald
Well, we did it. Barack Obama is our certified president-elect. For the Brown students who worked tirelessly on Obama's behalf -- driving to New Hampshire to canvass, calling swing-state voters, getting hung up on by swing-state voters and generally losing our minds over this whole thing -- Tuesday's victory couldn't have tasted sweeter. Congratulations, guys.
Now, it's time for everyone to chill.
Last week, in a fit of pre-election hysteria, I called Brian, my token conservative friend. Brian, a bright, wonky law student, did his undergraduate studies at Liberty University, the late Rev. Jerry Falwell's "Bible Boot Camp" for young evangelicals (where he was an officer in the College Republicans) and spent much of this fall volunteering for the McCain campaign.
"I want you to tell me how a reasonable person with a functioning cranial cortex can support this guy," I told him. "Give me stats, give me talking points, give me anything. Just tell me how it's possible."
Brian laughed, but I was serious. I hadn't called him because I wanted to belittle his candidate; I called because, in the weeks leading up to the election, I honestly forgot for long stretches of time that you could be a decent, politically-savvy American with a full set of teeth and no overt racial biases and still supportJohn McCain. Moreover, I don't think I was the only one. At various points during this election cycle, I heard a few of my Obama-supporting friends frame the presidential race in roughly the same terms: Rational Humans for Obama, Racist Hicks for McCain.
Why is that? How can a political campaign compel cool, even-tempered people to behave like British soccer fans? Why can't we support a presidential candidate without thinking of the other candidate's supporters as a bunch of morally stunted troglodytes?
A few weeks ago, Slate published an article titled "How Running a Campaign Is Like Building a Megachurch," in which author Bill Bishop likened voter mobilization efforts to the classic techniques used by megachurch pastors to grow their congregations to massive sizes, including neighbor-to-neighbor contact and political "witnessing." It's a convincing argument, and I think it may help to explain why this election cycle has caused such extreme political polarization among base voters on both the left and the right.
Fairly recently, I spent a bunch of time attending a Baptist megachurch (long story), and what I found during this election cycle, in short, is that the things I liked and disliked about that megachurch are the same things I've liked and disliked about this year's presidential race. At the megachurch, I admired the way ordinary people were inspired to devote themselves to a cause greater than their own self-interest (to borrow a McCain catchphrase). I liked the way the megachurch brought new converts into the fold and immediately gave them a role, just as I've admired the way the Obama campaign has given huge numbers of first-time voters an entree to the political process. I liked the feelings of communal purpose, the long hours spent sharpening my views and the free chastity bracelets in the lobby. Okay, maybe that one was just the megachurch. You get my point.
But the megachurch experience wasn't all fun. I remember hearing one sermon in which a pastor told the congregation that "the world is divided into two kinds of people -- Christians and everyone else." Who among us can say truthfully that this election hasn't made us feel -- at least temporarily -- like we're engaged in a battle between our candidate's voter base and "everyone else"? What Obama supporter hasn't seen one too many McCain yard signs and felt a barely-controllable urge to egg some houses?
Megachurches and heated political campaigns oth have a vested interest in creating stark "Us" vs. "Them" distinctions and mobilizing the "Us" to take on the "Them." That's fine, but now, after the election, our job is to undo the dangerous binary-think many of us have developed unconsciously over the last few months. No matter whom we voted for, we all need to remind ourselves that there's more to life than polls and plumbers, Wall Street and Wolf Blitzer.
So start healing the wounds. Call your Republican friends, e-mail your Nader-voting Uncle Harry, sit with the Spectator kids at the Ratty. Do whatever you have to do, but let's start treating each other like humans again. I know I'll be spending some quality time with my friend Brian over the next few weeks. And when I do, I'm going to tell him that although we don't agree on gay marriage or supply-side economics, I still think he's a good guy.
That is, after I finish rubbing the election results in his face.