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Emily Booker Headshot

Tales From the Election: Poison, Pinheads and Partisanship

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As far as I know, no one has ever accused political campaigns of bringing out the best in people. This election cycle is the first I have really been plugged into -- though I've always been interested in politics, having just completed my political science degree, finishing a second major in journalism and interning with the political department of the Obama campaign, the past year has been one giant crescendo to Nov. 6.

My classes at UNC-Chapel Hill offer insight into campaigns through the academic lens... but interning, being a news hound and a student paint a terrifyingly polarized political climate.

Two weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to help work a stump speech and visit from Michelle Obama at a neighboring university. While checking in visiting congressmen and local officials, a man came by and offered our table a Panera pastry ring. Without a second thought, my fellow intern and I said thank you and dug in -- at this point we'd been standing for five hours and were not about to pass up free cheese Danishes. Ten minutes later, our bosses rushed over, asked where the food had come from and were horrified to learn we had accepted food from a stranger.

"What did this man look like, this is a political campaign! There could be strychnine or something in that! Let us know if you're not feeling well," they said. My colleague and I stood there agape; surely no one could be that malicious.

The very next day, Fox Business Network's John Stossel and former Democratic National Committee and 2004 presidential candidate Howard Dean met for a debate on UNC's campus. Hosted by UNC College Republicans, attendees seemed to be more conservative than the usual demographic of Chapel Hill (considered to be a liberal enclave in North Carolina).

A baby boomer sat in front of me, and instead of listening to the rather lucid dialogue between the guests, opted to make sassy comments to her husband about Dean and clap wildly and whistle whenever Stossel spoke. When the moderator said there was going to be fifteen minutes for audience questions, the woman rushed to the microphone and delivered this gem:

"I read a study today that says marijuana use in early adulthood leads to dulled intelligence. I was wondering if that's what you think happened to Obama."

... and sauntered off with a self-satisfied bow and smug wave. I always expect one or two crazies, but they're usually freshmen radicals, not a well-to-do older woman. The crowd mostly groaned, some clapped, and I fought the urge to tell her to grow up.

In both my journalism and political science classes, we frequently have discussions about the rise in viewership in "leaning" news outlets such as MSNBC and Fox News and the explosion of partisan mixed news. Though the death of CNN is greatly exaggerated, as the first all-news channel its decline is worth noting. Is this just the evidence of a rapidly polarizing electorate?

From now to the election, I'm fully prepared for the barrage of Facebook posts such as this treat -- such is the discourse on social media -- that one is actually pretty funny. I don't expect my Facebook friends, who range from high school peers, family and current classmates, to be particularly informed. I assume they think the same of me, so the only "political" posts I make are encouraging my peers to vote and to be aware of the issues at hand.

I one hundred percent see why people are turned off to politics -- one of my professors stated pointedly just today that the only time he votes is when he's not completely pissed off at both parties, and that's never. I lose sight of the ridiculousness of it all because I find the dynamics of almost every aspect of the political process fascinating, but that doesn't mean the system isn't broken.

After hearing of the woman from the Stossel-Dean debate, my mother said, "In the past, stupid people knew they were stupid, and stayed out of political debates. Now Facebook and Twitter only give them a platform to be stupid and get affirmation for it."

Sounds harsh, but I'm not sure I disagree.