Professor Knoll’s “Five Lessons of Politics”

Today was the last day of classes for my Spring GOV 110 Introduction to Politics course. As part of our course review, I told my students that there are five things that I hope they remember long after they graduate from Centre College. 

  1. In the United States, 90% of voters vote for their party’s candidate, most Independents aren’t really independent, and the economy explains most of what happens in presidential elections. The twists and turns of campaigns do matter, but not near as much as everyone seems to think.
  2. Avoid “bumper sticker politics.” You’re educated about political arguments and ideologies, now. Don’t let people get away with stuff like “Obama is a socialist” or “Republicans hate poor people.” And please don’t ever resort to that yourselves. Remember the arguments, values, and philosophies that political positions are derived from and engage the arguments with the appropriate level of sophistication that they deserve.
  3. Our ideological debates (liberals vs. conservatives) take place on an extremely narrow slice of the global and historical political spectrum. Try to keep things in perspective when when we’re fighting an apocalyptic, shut-down-the-government epic battle over a 3% rate difference for a certain tax bracket.
  4. There’s right, there’s wrong, and there’s simple differences of opinion. Most of politics (not all, but most) is about differences of opinion. Remember that someone can disagree with you and not be bad, wrong, or stupid. They just have a different opinion than you, and that’s okay. You can still be friends. As Mike Huckabee used to say: “I’m a conservative, but I’m not mad at anybody over it.” Good advice to internalize!
  5. Be involved. Democracy only works when people participate. That’s disgustingly cliché, but it’s also true. A Centre College education gives you the tools, as well as the obligation, to make the world a better place. Hopefully you’re better able to do so now as a result of taking this class. 
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