I had a perspective-changing conversation in a laundry room late at night in my first year of college, a conversation to which I continually refer. Though my conversant and I touched on many topics, the tidbit we both remember vividly concerned our political labels. I called myself “liberal” and my friend “conservative,” to which she asked, “What does that even mean?” I remember floundering and attempting to describe our fundamental differences, realizing that labels are often an obstacle to clear communication. Now, I wonder whether labels and other political jargon are an obstacle to my generation’s political engagement.
Last month, I read articles in the New York Times reporting on elections in Andalusia and British nuclear submarines. The reporters’ description of the political parties surprised me. Instead of painting the parties’ priorities with broad strokes – liberal versus conservative, left versus right – the parties were described in terms of what policies they want to enact. I realize these aren’t the first reporters to call parties pro-this or anti-that; a lot of media coverage on Greece’s elections during its recent bailout also employed this tactic. However, most coverage and analysis of domestic politics uses “Democrat,” “right,” or “libertarian” to describe politicians. Peers, classmates, friends that discuss politics more often cite the confusing labels and pundits’ jargon as motivation to disengage with politics.
Campaigns for presidential candidacy 2016 are in full swing, as I’m sure you know. This season, let’s try to describe our politicians in terms of their platform instead of the emotionally charged, vague labels media normally use. We each have a vote. Without using that vote, talking with our officials, or running for office, what voice do we have to change how we are governed?