Picture this: the year is 2022. You’ve graduated from college and your postgraduate program; you’ve gotten married and had a couple of kids. Your better half received a call a couple of months ago that a work relocation would soon be in the cards for your family, so you’re moving to St. Louis in the next couple of months, basically as soon as you can sell the house and find a place for your five-year-old daughter to start kindergarten.
You’ve got a problem, though. It’s not that your family is of limited means or anything, you’re both working and you live comfortably, but the $20,000-a-year price tag for private schooling is a little steep even with inflation factored in. Private schooling isn’t really an option, so you look around for public schools; after finding a housing subdivision that looks promising, you remember from Intro to Sociology during undergrad that the public schools that typically serve the nicer subdivisions are also of a higher quality, and you go to sleep that night feeling the buzz that comes with accomplishing something important.
Fast forward a month and a half. You and your other half have decided to see off your daughter on her first day of school. You walk into her classroom and your mouth falls open in shock.
Imagine what it would be like for a kindergarten teacher to have to manage a class of 3,000. She would have to have a small army at her disposal; she would be lucky to learn the names of five percent of her students, let alone all of them. Forget about walking around the room and checking on each student individually. There’s only one of her. When the time comes to resolve conflicts, broker sharing agreements, or file everyone in after recess, the logistical nightmare only compounds. To keep herself from going crazy, the only thing she can do would be to let some of the lesser problems fall by the wayside. Hiring more assistants would only cost more money, in which case the reasonable thing to do would be to cut class sizes, though spatial constraints within the school itself no longer allow for this. She’s stuck, along with every single one of her 3,000 students.
The private schools aren’t much better, though. At 135 students, the class sizes are much smaller, but they’re still overwhelming for the teachers who are being forced to accommodate not only more students but more students from backgrounds they’re not familiar with. What is to be done? Home schooling? But that’s impossible—you and your better half both have full-time jobs, and even if home schooling hadn’t been outlawed seven years ago, it would have been impossible without one of you quitting your job.
This model is overly reductionistic and full of holes, I acknowledge that. Still, how do we address the problems of a class of 3,000 kindergarteners who have only one teacher? Think of your high school: it probably had around 2,000 students. How many different learning and health problems did the students in your school face as a whole? Considering the scale of her classroom, how would our teacher organize the classroom, distribute resources? How would she care for her students if they were injured?
Solving these problems is similar to what Americans had to do in yesterday’s election. Yesterday, we chose Obama to serve another four-year term—democracy in action. What might that mean for us laypeople, then?
For my conservative friends, last night is obviously a loss. This year’s election was very close; when I arrived in at work this morning, many of my coworkers remarked that they were genuinely surprised our president was re-elected last night, and rightfully so. Clear through mid-afternoon, both candidates were alternating ahead of and behind each other in electoral votes and little was clear until the evening, when more of the Western and swing states dyed their valuable delegates blue. Thus, it’s fair to feel disappointment—my liberal friends would be in the same position had things gone the other way last night and in neither case would gloating be acceptable. That said, I implore my conservative friends to find the light in this situation. Yes, Obama was re-elected, which means that the next four years of American policy will probably look very much like the previous four. That’s not all bad, however: Obama is quite strong on a number of social issues, even on a couple of economic ones.
The most common points of contention I hear from my conservative friends against Obama are that his health care plan is socialist, that he supports abortion and gay marriage, that his foreign policy is too conciliatory, and that he is too soft on illegal immigration. I’m going to abstain from responding to the claim about health care for the time being, as I’m going to address it later. As for the other contentions, it’s important to consider the other side before making too hasty a judgment or condemnation of what they’re really about. For example, illegal immigrants are typically resented by conservatives because they’re a. believed to be taking away jobs from legal American citizens and b. a major responsible party with regard to recent increases in drug-related criminality. While the drug violence claim is valid, the labour claim is not: by and large, illegal immigrants take jobs most Americans believe they’re too good for. In fact, most illegal immigrants are finding themselves working in agriculture and domestic housework for far less pay than a legal citizen would demand, filling the positions that slaves would have filled in the 19th century and low-income blacks in the first ¾ of the 20th century. Consideration of work conditions only further underscores the comparison—perhaps, then, illegal immigration should be stemmed not because immigrants are taking jobs but because it constitutes an injustice to allow them to work in the positions they do in such deplorable conditions?
There are similar arguments for the other sides of the gay marriage, foreign policy, and health care issues, for those who would like to hear them. This post is already quite long, but I invite discussion in the comments or on Facebook, for those who are interested. Now, though, for the other side: my liberal friends, for whom last night was a victory.
As I have urged my conservative friends to consider the light at the end of the tunnel with Obama’s re-election, so too do I implore my liberal friends to consider Obama’s re-election sober-mindedly, for with every victory comes its drawbacks. In this case, the drawbacks are largely economic. As for my appeal to reason? It’s simple: it’s profoundly irrational to look at what the national debt was in 2008, then to look at it again in 2012, and blame it all on the President who came before the one we just had. The discrepancy between the two numbers is in the tens of trillions—it doesn’t matter how much you hated Bush Jr., it’s not possible for his policies to have created that kind of a fiscal collapse because of the simple fact that Obama created policies of his own. It is the foolish man who builds his house on the sand: in order for Obama to have reduced the deficit, the last thing that he would have wanted to do would be to create more well-intentioned Federal programs that cost more money to run. Nothing in life is free, so matter how you frame it, our newly re-elected president’s policies, for all the good they’re meant to do, are extremely expensive. The one that jumps to mind is health care. His drive to initiate social equality and change are admirable, but his recourses to do so are empty promises without the means to fulfill them, which is where we are currently. Thus, the social implications in Obama’s win should be taken with a very large grain of salt; no one field of institutional policy is the catch-all, they must all be considered together.
What I’m trying to get at with this, which perhaps has not been very clear, is that in this election there is no winner and no loser. With either candidate came a bevy of strengths and an even greater assemblage of weaknesses. The country is not doomed nor is it saved because Obama was re-elected. That said, while things are always going to get worse before they get better, it doesn’t ultimately matter who sits behind the desk in the Oval Office because God is in control.
No matter which side of the aisle you sit on, remember to pray for the Romneys and the Obamas as their lives start to settle down again, and remember to treat your fellow human being with respect. Pray for our leaders and for our country.
Shine on, friends.
p.s. A couple of credits due: title borrowed from a lyric from House of Heroes, “God Save the Foolish Kings.” The photo is to commemorate 100 years of women’s suffrage in my home state of Oregon.