I am a young woman, and a first-time voter this year from Arizona, recently known as a hotbed for extreme conservative policies but identified as a swing state in this election. However, for the past four years I’ve watched Arizona politics from the sidelines as I’ve been away at a notoriously liberal school in the northeast. To make my vote really count, though, I’ll be voting in Arizona.
To complicate my situation further, I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Fellow Mormon Mr. Romney has been careful in how he mentions Mormonism and has developed the generic Christian rhetoric that most presidential candidates acquire, but his religion is still on my mind and likely the minds of other Mormons and non-Mormons alike.
Almost all my friends at school in Massachusetts would scoff if they knew I am actually considering voting for Romney, except my group of 30 Mormon friends who seem to be split about fifty-fifty. The sizable group of Romney interns sitting in my congregation, many fresh in from Brigham Young University to work for his national campaign headquartered in Boston, would be astonished if they knew that the girl in the pew next to them might not vote for Mitt.
Hence, I am feeling just a little tense about this election, almost like I am being cornered into choosing which parts of my identity I value. I have tried to counter any proclivity for simply deciding my vote based on which candidate I most identify with by staying very informed. I am reading the news more than ever, watched all the debates, and I even study political science, so I feel like I should have an objective idea of who would be better to lead our country for the next four years.
But honestly, I haven’t yet come to a decision. I am in the position of perennial devil’s advocate, defending the counterbalancing influences in my life against each other. You can imagine that this has worked wonders for my popularity. When my Harvard friends begin slamming Romney, I cut in to remind them of Mr. Obama’s own failures in creating real reform in immigration, the economic renewal he promised, and compromise in Washington. “Another conservative Mormon Romney lover,” they surely think to themselves.
My family, on the other hand, thinks I’ve been lost to the liberal leanings of college. Little do they know my vehement arguments against Romney (out of touch, flip-flopper on most important issues, heartless aristocrat), could all be countered by my own disappointments with Obama.
I guess I’ve positioned myself here in undecided voter limbo because what I’ve found to be most frustrating about the election, and the last four years, are not the individual positions of the candidates or their parties, but the growing distance and animosity between them.
On the right, I have seen an array of incumbent candidates unseated by rivals who criticized them for working across the aisle. I have seen Republicans take apparent revenge on the ridicule that defined George W. Bush’s second term by fixating on petty demands to see Obama's birth certificate.
On the left, I have watched Democrats play the blame game, continuing to fault Mr. Bush for the current economic ills. And I have watched officials jump on the bandwagon to demonize the entire Republican Party based on the misguided comments about rape and abortion by two Senate candidates (Tom Akin of Missouri and Richard Mourdock of Indiana).
In sum, I have seen a government that is quick to criticize and slow to compromise. Politicians rarely define themselves by their own values but instead by party lines, special interests, and voter fears and frustrations. And I have seen two presidential campaigns invest millions of dollars from supporters on defamation rather than educating voters about the issues or their platforms.
This state of affairs doesn’t leave me any more decided or excited to cast my vote, but of course I’ll do it. Maybe, just maybe, a few more conversations, a second look at the Romney and Obama websites, a couple more blog or op-ed reads, and a little more self-reflection will do the trick.
Amid my current state of “undecidedness,” this whole process has left me with one sure reality: The president will not be the person to single-handedly solve our wide array of domestic issues.
Joblessness, poverty, large classroom sizes, gender equality, etc., these areas are ones that all of us – not just Congress or the White House – must take on. Voters seem to want the candidates to give them some enlightened plan to solve all of America’s problems, and it’s frustrating when they don’t. But in spite of Obama’s and Romney’s best efforts to convince voters of their supreme competence to solve the nation’s problems, neither man can do it all.
American voters should stop seeing their power as confined to deciding this election. Be we young, female, Mormon, conservative, part of the liberal academic youth, or any other demographic, we can be a powerful force for good in spite of the broken nature of politics today. That responsibility may begin with casting a single vote, but the actions we take once we leave the voting booth are likely to have far more of an impact. What we do each day to improve our communities is what will spur America’s recovery – and progress.
Crystal Trejo will graduate from Harvard University in May 2013 with a degree in government and Spanish. She has been active in student government and is a research partner at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.