Last semester, Hamilton students enrolled in Professor Phil Klinkner's Government 223 class were educated on the political dynamics of the presidential nomination process, paying special attention to the 2016 election cycle. The class presented students with the unique opportunity to earn half of the class' credit in the traditional classroom setting while earning the other half credit by volunteering on a presidential campaign over their winter breaks. Brian Ferrell '16 worked on Republican Jeb Bush's campaign in Iowa and Mike Verostek '16 was a volunteer with Hillary Clinton's campaign in New Hampshire. Today and on Monday, Jan. 25, their articles recount the experiences of just two of the students who took advantage of this extraordinary opportunity.
First I want to recommend that anyone who is even remotely interested in politics volunteer on a campaign. I do not see myself as someone pursuing a career in Washington, D.C., just a person who watches “Morning Joe” and reads the newspaper every day to see what is happening in the world. Although I would never say that I am politically disengaged, I do not want to make my career via politics.
Yet, I would recommend that anyone who holds political beliefs work for a campaign whose candidate has differing views and ideas from their own. While I am a registered Democrat, the people I met while working on Governor Jeb Bush’s campaign in Iowa were some of the most compassionate and welcoming people I have ever met. Growing up in Seattle, and attending boarding school in Massachusetts (and then Hamilton College), I received an overwhelmingly liberal education and I grew up viewing Republicans as the antithesis to everything that I believed. After my intro sociology, women’s studies, and Africana classes at Hamilton, I had gone back home and told my father that “I hated Republicans” over a dinner table conversation.
Up until I traveled out to Iowa for Governor Bush’s campaign, I only knew a handful of Republicans personally. While Hamilton does offer a class on conservative thought, I had never really engaged in any sort of discourse across the aisle. Through phone banking for the campaign, I was required to ask people what their most important issues are in the current election. I would argue that this is single-handedly the best learning experience I had out in Iowa. It is one thing to learn in textbooks about what demographics or interests tend to vote for, and it is another to actually talk to people and learn their individual concerns.
Many of the individuals raised issues that had been completely glossed over during my education at Hamilton. For example, when I asked a farmer what his most important issue was, he responded by asking me, “What do you think about ethanol? Do you know what it is?” I responded by giving the simple answer related to fuel or the favorite beverage at a typical college party, yet as I listened to him elaborate on his concerns, I realized I really had no idea about what his life was like or the issues that touched him.
While I did not agree with everything I heard, my major revelation was how much I was able to learn just by speaking with people whose views differed from my own. Going into Iowa, I had already solidified my stance on certain issues without ever listening to what those on the other side had to say. Now, I am not a converted Republican, but I do plan on reregistering as an Independent.
My time on the campaign trail in Iowa really opened my eyes to the polarization and unwillingness to compromise in American politics. Although many of the Republican voters I spoke with indicated that their major concerns were issues like “securing the border, defeating ISIS, and repealing Obamacare” there were many of them who also shared common ground with Democrats in that they wanted to see politicians more willing to work together and end the political stalemate in Washington D.C. In order to make this happen, we need more cross-aisle discourse, open minds, and open ears.
- by Brian Ferrell '16