Politics IS Usual

The last couple days have been (for me) filled with stories that should have little to do with politics, but are so very political in nature. 

The first is the embarrassment that became the Rutgers commencement speaker. As my sister is graduating from Rutgers this year, I have a personal interest in this event. It has been sad and frustrating to sit back and watch my university become a continuous punchline in the media over the last 12-18 months, and what has occurred in the last few days is just the icing on the cake. What is the purpose of a commencement speaker? In theory, it is supposed to someone who has had success in their life and an ability to offer some advice, anecdotes, wit, and food for thought to a graduating class. Eric LeGrand absolutely fits this bill, and no one is more deserving of that honor than he is. I am happy he will be speaking, but the way the university handled it was a disgrace. LeGrand is the last person on the planet that deserves to fall into a dirty selection process. And no one could qualify better as someone to deliver life’s advice to everyone in attendance.

One thing a commencement should not be is a political circus. The speaker should not invoke politics. And the speaker’s political persuasion should be considered independently of their message. From this standpoint, Condoleeza Rice was probably a satisfactory choice to be a commencement speaker. Regardless of how you feel about her politics, she embodies a success story that this country needs more of. If students and/or faculty wished to express their displeasure over how the process in selecting her played out or the fee she was to accept, that’s fair. If you want to protest her politics, that’s fair too, but it seems that everyone judged her solely on her politics and nothing more. 

Climate change is a particularly political issue that shouldn’t be too. I tend to avoid it entirely in my professional life because I think it’s toxic. If you buy in, you’re a liberal nut. If you have questions and are skeptical, you’re a flat-earth conservative wacko. I fall into the latter camp. I don’t dispute that climate change is occurring. I personally believe the media and some advocating action use too much hyperbole and scare tactic headlines, and I wish more people would trust objective, middle-ground, non-partisan sources on the issue and come to their own conclusions. Headlines like “frightening,” “terrifying,” or “scary” don’t help the conversation. But too many people define their opinion on climate change based on their political persuasion and not based on the merits of the research. 

Which brings me to my main point here: Too often we look at individuals and issues from a political point of view. And that just isn’t fair (or healthy). Politics is an important part of our life. Having an open dialogue about political issues, engaging everyone in the voting process, and learning about issues that impact people in our country (but maybe not ourselves) is vitally important. But to judge an individual or an issue, political or otherwise, based on where they or it falls in the political spectrum is unfair to everyone and often acts contrary to the goals certain people seek to achieve. I think we need to be more objective in this world…stop framing everything as a political debate. Focus on the issue and the data…not the background noise.