(Note: The following write-up is a slightly redacted version of an editorial appearing in my school newspaper that was coauthored by myself and Anna. It has been reprinted with her permission and is copyright 2004 by both of us.)

Polarization

The current presidential administration has been characterized as a divisive force in American politics. The polar opposites of the spectrum are constantly up-in-arms against each other under President Bush. Each debate in Washington has become a personal issue; it's exceptionally rare to hear debate on an issue uncolored by partisan rhetoric. Things have gotten so bad that courtesy is a scarce commodity in the halls of power: last year, Democratic state senators from Texas fled their state to evade a battle with Republicans over electoral redistricting; Republican Senators staged a 30-hour filibuster to protest Democratic obstructions in the nomination of several conservative judges to the federal bench; and House Republicans even attempted to arrest Democrats who walked out of a contentious committee meeting. According to political pundits, our nation has not been this divided in recent memory. They may be right about the politicians populating the Capitol building and the White House, forever struggling for governmental dominance, yet mainstream Americans--the couple hanging out in a coffee shop, the businesswoman getting her nails done, the high-school students sitting in history class--are not so polarized that we lose sight of our ultimate goals.

If We Can Do It...

The best example that this view of American politics is an oversimplification comes in the form of two students at a small high school in central Jersey. While these two differ in political beliefs and are at opposite ends of the political spectrum, how different are they when they get down to what really matters? First, who are they exactly? Well, who else debates louder, represents conservatives (neoconservatives and civil libertarians to be exact) better or admires Mr. Bush more than me, Anthony? And then there's me, Anna, embarrassed by our president's actions on behalf of the United States, organizer of a protest against the War in Iraq and a left-of-center liberal. We seem to disagree on everything, from our choice of leaders to policy specifics. Yet, after thoroughly discussing our respective ideologies, we realized something monumental: we (unbelievably enough) share a common vision on the world's long-term future.

We are both opposed to the death penalty and in support of full gay marriage rights. We--despite our differing feelings about the necessity of American involvement in Iraq--see that the United States must now ensure a stable and democratic Iraq emerges from the ashes of the Ba'ath Party dictatorship While some liberals cry, "Bring the troops home," we both believe that this idea is impossible and detrimental to international stability. We both understand that a Palestinian state is the only feasible outcome of the current Middle East crisis. (We also find that both sides share a portion of the blame for the disaster there.) We both worry about authoritarian rule in developing countries and the growing problem of human traficking. We both agree on the best method for reducing the power of terrorism: democraticizing, liberalizing and industrializing the repressive regimes of the Middle East (though our opinions on using war as a tool to further these goals are completely different). Though our views aren't necessarily representative of our ideologies, it's heartening that two people can agree on such important issues despite the partisan rhetoric our elected officials spew out.

Then They Had Better do It

As we continued our discussions on foreign and domestic policy throughout this year, we came to realize that--despite our differences in method--we shared a common vision: access to affordable healthcare, a stable world environment, freedom of thought (or else we'd both be in trouble) and religion in all their myriad forms and, most important of all, the need for greater attention to be paid by the American people to domestic and international affairs.

Universal Brotherhood and Such

In our opinion, these goals are universal. Who, after all, can disagree with the idea of liberty for each and every person? Unfortunately, our elected officials seem to be forgetting that they are representing their constituents and not the rhetoric of their political parties; the current atmosphere of mutual disrespect and distrust serves only to retard the functioning of America's governmental institutions. It's time for them to begin working together, putting aside petty differences for the sake of progress and unity. After all, as Maya Angelou once wrote, "We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike."

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