09/14/2008 02:53 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

A Little Nervous

My kids are starting to get a little nervous when we discuss politics. In fact, they prefer we don't. It's not that they don't care -- they do. Three of our four kids can vote, and the fourth knows whom she would vote for if she could. They all have opinions, and know, in general strokes, what's going on. But lately, the stress generated by political discussions, and the discomfort that is caused by watching the sarcasm and mockery delivered by aggressive news coverage of political discussions, is becoming palpable.

My husband and I used to be united in our beliefs, and pretty consistent in our approval or disapproval of candidates. Our monetary support of the political system has mostly swung to the middle -- okay sometimes toward the left, and has, with a few notable exceptions, been staunchly democrat. But things have shifted. The clarity we once felt has been replaced by a confusing fog of guesswork, hope, and what if's. The dinner table can be a battlefield of overlapping and opposing beliefs. There are plenty of emotional debates that end up feeling a little too much like arguments. Thank God we love each other, and have never let these "discussions" escalate into bad feelings between us. But still -- it's strange.

And our household is not alone. I've heard of friends throwing tantrums. Intelligent individuals, who can normally make it through a dinner party with all their manners intact, are getting into screaming matches, throwing down their napkins, and leaving the table. Not admirable behavior obviously, but perhaps under the circumstances understandable, and maybe even inevitable. This election is important to us all; everything is at stake, and there are no perfect answers.

I am an idealist. I dream that people can all come around the campfire. And even if they can't sing Kumbaya, at least they can find a way to communicate. But then, I woke up. Clearly such a utopia doesn't exist. There are murderers in the world that hate us so much that they'd blow themselves up just to take some of us down with them. It's a mindset that is so incomprehensible to me that I can barely wrap my mind around it. Yet, this hatred started with a difference in opinion; a polar opposite way of thinking, and the refusal to respect or acknowledge the coexistence of a difference in beliefs.

When opinions clash, when individuals don't agree -- and in fact take polar opposite stances, it's hard to find a calm, respectful, peaceful place, and it is unnerving. I know our kids feel it -- and I'm not talking about family debates. I'm talking about the bigger picture. I mean, if we can't find the middle ground and get along here in our own country, how can we expect to export our brand of government, our concept of peace -- our virtuous vision to the world at large? How can we be taken seriously out there if we're so divisive in here?

I'm not going to get into any more debates. The truth is, I don't have all the information I need to unequivocally make my case. I need to hear more nitty-gritty details, straight answers, and presidential thoughtfulness. I want to know how our candidates will ensure that our unique and special nation will continue to be strong and able to defend herself and her allies. How exactly. Since much of our strength comes from leadership and diplomacy, I want to get a feeling in my gut that the next president is going to be capable of mending botched friendships, and forging new ones. I want to feel confident that our president (and our congress) will be clever enough and bold enough to take an unwavering, mighty stance against braggart nations that would seek our destruction or the destruction of our allies. And then I'd like to know how that stance would manifest itself, because throwing our weight around like a top dog isn't working.

I'm worried sick that our government, as big and unwieldy as it is, has lost its way in terms of marshalling efforts for the greater good of all our citizens. In fact, the Republican message lately has been that Washington is broken. Perhaps it is. But the way this message is being delivered implies that the current Republican candidates have nothing to do with this. Hello, get real. Are you forgetting the last eight years? You all have a part in this. We all have a part in this.

It's true that our government has wasted a lot of money. How many times have we read about the millions of dollars wasted by bureaucratic inefficiency? What about the millions apparently lost in Iraq and the fact that it took so long for our soldiers to get the proper armaments and protection? We need to take a harder look at how our national bank account is being managed. And that management will depend on the ideology of our leaders. Take for example, the $1.5 billion the U.S. has spent in the last ten years on abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. Mounting evidence has proven again and again that these programs don't work; yet the money keeps pouring into them. Come on.

And here's another twist. Though there are certainly programs that should be scrapped, there are other costs that should be covered. How, for example, will our next president impact the funding for crime investigations? Will cities and states charge victims for investigatory work? What about rape kits and forensic examinations for rape and assault? Should these items be billed to insurance companies? To the victims themselves? Please. This is ridiculous.

No matter who wins the prized position, I hope Governor Sarah Palin will apologize for her aggressive mockery of Senator Obama for his participation in community activism and reform, because all of us who do volunteer work, and who give back to and advocate for our communities think it is important, valid work. She's a community activist too, apparently, so why the put-down? The good news is that both Senator Obama and Senator McCain encourage civil service, community service and volunteerism as one of the ways to get our country back on track.

But that said, how would our next president deal with the serious issue of healthcare, and disease prevention? Individual donors and private philanthropy alone can't fix the problem. Cancer kills 565,000 Americans a year - more than any war. Estimates show that cancer costs the U.S. economy $200 billion a year in lost productivity. Will our new administration encourage NIH to fund more cancer research? Will we have an administration that understands the value, validity and necessity of stem-cell research, or will we be thwarted by ideological differences that hold us back, or worse, take us back?

See? I said I have a lot of questions. Now I'm waiting to hear the answers.