Last night, St. Olaf was lucky enough to have to fantastic speakers – Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean and Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele. And, better yet, the powerhouses actually DEBATED.
I went in completely expecting this for to be a one-sided debate (after all, they’re at a campus that voted over 85% Obama in 2008). PAC promoted the entire event as a sort of “pick a side” event – they even passed out donkey and elephant temporary tattoos, encouraging students to wear whichever side they supported. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find my fellow Oles taking BOTH sides into consideration, weighing each argument instead of blindly following one. At the same time, both Dean and Steele engaged in friendly banter and good-hearted teasing. And – even more impressively – both actually gave each other credit and dared to AGREE in public. When Dean pointed out that he didn’t think politics should have any say in who one marries or what they do with their own body, Steele was quick to agree, noting that “politics has no place in the bedroom”. Both made the case for an all-together more progressive future, with the two parties focused more on economic issues rather than the social causes that dominate much of the national attention right now.
And, after the event ended, I was proud to see my fellow Oles lining up for pictures with BOTH the speakers. This seemingly small detail – that attendees would snap a picture with Steele and step right over for another with Dean – struck me the most. It gave me hope that our generation will step away from being so divided between party lines, and begin to focus more on the individual issues. And, if we’re lucky, leaders like Dean and Steele will begin that change sooner rather than later.