Best friends, roomies and loved ones: voting for the other guy

By
Wednesday, October 29, 2008

When Caitlin Clark ’11 purchased an inflatable John McCain doll for her common room, seven eighths of her Chapin House suite approved. But Whitney Sparks ’11 was quick to remind her roommates that they lived in a “bipartisan suite.”

For those who room with or date a person of opposite partisan persuasion, political difference is a part of everyday life.

But with the presidential election only days away, roommates and couples at political odds with one another have had a lot more to talk about in the dorm room.

“In a lot of conversations, we are sure that one of us will change the other person’s mind,” said Julie Mohamed ’11, a liberal, about her relationship with conservative Graham Rogers ’11.

“Even if we don’t change each other’s mind, we come out understanding (the other’s opinion) more,” Rogers said.

At the beginning of their relationship, “our conversations about politics were really heated,” Mohamed said. “It was hard to see where the other person was coming from. I guess we’ve learned to deal with it.”

Though it almost certainly fosters debate, political disagreement does not necessarily mean incompatibility. For the Chapin suite of girls – Clark, Sparks, Abby Hinds ’11 and Shannon Stacey ’11 – their conversations take the form of roundtable discussions. While Clark, Hinds and Stacey are liberal, Sparks is conservative (at least fiscally).

“When social issues are brought up, we are very much on board with each other,” Sparks said, so political discussion does not get too heated among them.

That said, “we argue out points out to the fullest,” she continued.

Though living with someone of a different political persuasion may offer a more intimate look at another view, neither group’s opinion has been changed by living with each other.

For the suite of girls, it has been more of a process of educating one another.

“You definitely see the other side a bit more,” Sparks said, adding that her views have been influenced by the current financial situation rather than living with liberals.

“We feel like we learned a lot about each other,” Stacey said.

For Mohamed and Rogers, their political disagreement is over philosophy rather than the upcoming election and its candidates. They disagree slightly on foreign policy, but more so on health care and the economy. “That’s just a fundamental difference,” Rogers said. “It’s a dogmatic difference on certain important issues.”

In the girls’ suite, the major point of contention is over taxes. Some political tension arose during one of the debates when Clark bought Stacey the inflatable McCain doll and put it in the common room. “And then we put an Obama sticker on (Sparks’) door,” Clark said.

“It was really hard for me to pick someone to vote for,” Sparks said. “I kind of needed my own McCain perspective – and that around did not help.”

“I didn’t tell (my suite mates) who I voted for,” Sparks said.

“But we know,” said Hinds.

For all their disagreement on philosophy, Mohamed and Rogers feel fairly similarly about the upcoming election. “McCain is angry,” Rogers said, “and he has a history of going both ways in Washington, D.C. Obama, I feel like, is so polished that I can’t connect with him at all.”

“I feel like he’s not fleshed out, his campaign is running on ideals rather than substance,” he continued.

“I kind of agree with Graham that both candidates aren’t my cup of tea,” Mohamed said. “It’s kind of a scary thing to let someone run a nation who might run things into the ground. That being said, John McCain would definitely run things into the ground.”

“What do you think John McCain is going to do to run the country into the ground?” Rogers shot back. “Do you think that America will cease to exist four years from now?”

Sparks also expressed her worries about the candidates in that “both are obviously qualified on merit,” she said. “It is sad that this could come down to a racial thing, or an anti-woman thing. There are so many factors that come into play.”

When with each other, Mohamed and Rogers said they can have candid political discussion; but the same candor is not as prevalent in the rest of the student body, Rogers said.

“I feel that it should be more open-forum,” Rogers said of the Brown community. “I don’t want to feel like by saying that I am going to vote for John McCain that I am starting a fight immediately.”

“Certain groups get looked down upon,” Mohamed said, “and that’s not fair, especially for a school that prides itself on being open.”

Sparks said she feels the student body would be receptive to conservatism if it were well articulated. “I think if you made an educated opinion, people would listen,” she said.

As for responding to off-the-cuff criticisms, Rogers said even though he wants his ideas to be respected, he does not jump in because “it’s just not worth the fight.”

Mohamed said she is more prone to jump in and defend a conservative opinion because she figures people are more likely to listen to a Democrat.

And though they may disagree, Mohamed and Rogers said politics don’t sour their relationship.

“I like Graham a lot even though he’s a Republican,” Mohamed said.

Rogers grinned. “I like Julie a lot even though she’s wrong.”