A few weeks ago I was honored to deliver the graduate degree commencement address at Indiana University. Here is a much-abbreviated version:
Did your mother ever tell you that you should not bring up religion and politics in polite company? Today, we can’t afford to omit these discussions. Politics and religion are interwoven, particularly in Indiana, and are integral to the election decision-making process.
I will ask you two questions— questions that have been suggested by Dennis Sasso, a respected rabbi in Indianapolis. They are: Do you care? Do you dare?
Politics today is in crisis mode. While public service is and ought to be a high calling— a marriage of pragmatism and idealism—it is hard to escape the conclusion that much of what passes for contemporary politics is much debased. For example, a few weeks ago Ted Cruz and John Kasich met to divide up primaries like the Mafia assigns their numbers rackets on the streets of New York. As a result, Kasich agreed not to campaign here. That is demeaning and hurtful to Hoosiers.
Instead of issue-oriented discussion, the Republican Party presidential debates have been largely characterized by personal invectives, spousal attacks and cruel innuendos. We have rewarded clever, but empty, people who are good at taking enormously complex issues and summing them up in a way that appeals to one or another visceral prejudice. Scandal and sleaze has permeated campaign rhetoric.
We should all care. Our democracy is messy, boisterous, inefficient and frustrating. But it’s the best in the world, and we need to care enough to perpetuate this wondrous form of government. It is our civic duty.
Indiana is in its bicentennial year. Two hundred years ago, we became a state. During that year, 1816, and the decades that followed—when the United States was a brand-new country, a country in formation—discussions of politics at the quilting bees and barn raisings were likely to be particularly lively. The slavery issue was paramount. The United States had just survived the burning of the White House. IU was founded in 1820. Indiana went bankrupt in the mid-1800s. Those topics dominated conversations of the day. People cared.
What about you, our finest and best educated, the leaders of our future? Do you care?
Let’s talk about courage, specifically the courage to engage in political dialogue and to demand a major role in the political process, actions that may put you crossways with your parents, religious leaders and friends. Your active participation is desperately needed to preserve our democracy and way of life.
Do you dare?
If you believe hijacked religion can have a corrosive effect on our civic life because it creates an uncompromising and intolerant political atmosphere, speak up and speak out to those who interpret the Bible to rationalize bigoted behavior toward our fellow man. On the other hand, if you feel that our country was founded on biblical principles— a nation under God—and that any limit to the freedom of religion regardless of its effect on others is unwarranted, then so advocate.
If you are convinced Hillary Clinton is the only candidate with real experience, having served as senator and secretary of state, and the only candidate who can be trusted at the helm of this nation, support her. If you feel Hillary Clinton is a scandal-dogged Democrat with whom you cannot relate, and that her presidency will set ethics back another generation, let the world know.
If Donald Trump is your idea of a perfect candidate who speaks his mind and is unencumbered by normal political restraints and thus can take this country in a new and positive direction, campaign for him. If Donald Trump is perceived by you to be a reckless amateur whose only foreign policy is “Bomb the _____ out of ISIS,” join his opposition. Be passionate about your position.
Promise yourselves. Promise that you will have courage, use the education IU has given you, and dare. Attend rallies, attend protests, vote, lobby and engage in vigorous but civil debate. Raise your voices. Support your favorite candidates who run for office. Run for office yourself. Promise all of this. If we can all vigorously participate in the political process, we can ensure our democracy will endure.•
Maurer is a shareholder in IBJ Corp., which owns Indianapolis Business Journal. His column appears every other week. To comment on this column, send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.