You may or may not follow politics or the current campaign for U.S. president.
There are manifold reasons to be turned off by the unrelenting charges and counter-charges of politicians vying for the Oval Office. The evident bias of media sources – on both the right and left – does nothing to inspire interest among those who still believe democracy is about “we the people.”
In my opinion the run-up to the U.S. general election in 2016 has been the oddest in recent history. Even though I spent 20 years of my professional life in and around politics and government, over the past 12 months, I have been consistently wrong in predicting how the Republican and Democrat primaries would shake out.
And where are we? As the voters in New Hampshire cast their ballots tomorrow, Businessman Donald Trump and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders stand at the top of the heap of the polls. I didn’t see that coming.
Nonetheless I decided to put aside my responsibilities as president of Ave Maria University and take personal leave to accompany my friend, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who is seeking the Republican nomination.
For the record, Jeb Bush is the only candidate for president of the United States who is an Ave Maria University alum (he spoke at graduation in 2012 and received an honorary doctorate)!
I accompanied him in the Granite State on his campaign bus to a number of stops, as well as to a Vigil Mass on Saturday at St. John the Evangelist Church in Concord.
On Friday I had the privilege of traveling with his wonderful mother, former First Lady Barbara Bush, who continues to be among the most beloved Americans of our time.
Her presence on the campaign trail attracted citizens of every age, and watching her make her way through a blizzard (with the wheels of her walker plowing through the snow) to get into a Derry, NH diner to campaign for her son, left me with a lasting impression on the lengths to which a loving mother and devoted citizen will go to help her son and country. You’d never know that she was 90.
For his part Jeb did all he could to lay out his vision and secure their votes. He works harder than anyone I know.
His quest for their support went beyond handshakes and baby kissing. As we went from town to town, his campaign staff lined up interviews with television networks and key media outlets, including Fox News (Brett Baier came on board, and I grabbed the chance to ask him to come to the University to speak, and he said he would!), CNN, The Wall Street Journal, and Politico, as well as numerous New Hampshire broadcasters.
My favorite day of the trip was Saturday because first, there was no snow storm like the day before, and second, because Columba Bush, Jeb’s wife, and sons Jeb Jr. and George, were on board. I love their family (and was missing their daughter Noelle who was in Florida).
Columba had visited AMU’s campus and loves the University and our students, and I brought AMU apparel for the family. I asked the Governor if he would wear the Ave Maria University cap on stage at the debate (I know, shameless; he laughed so that was good), but I settled for Columba donning it for a photo.
That morning Jeb spoke to an overflow crowd at a town hall in Bedford.
Saturday concluded with the nationally-televised debate in Manchester. If you watched it, you weren’t disappointed.
I have to say that New Hampshire citizens must be among the most educated and engaged in our country. They were out in force at the debate, and more impressively, they showed up by the hundreds to town hall gatherings in every corner of the state. Because seven Republicans and two Democrats were crisscrossing a territory only four times the size of our own Collier County, residents had ample opportunity to meet the next president of our country.
The questions asked and the stories told at the events I attended ranged from interesting to odd. One guy claimed that climate change was responsible for elk ticks not dying and thus destroying his elk calves. I was surprised to learn at one meeting that about half of New Hampshire residents personally know of someone with a heroin addiction. That’s a staggering stat.
One woman told Governor Bush a story of how her father, who had once served in the U.S. military, was recently declared dead – the Veterans Administration even sent her his death certificate. He was seated there next to her. She said it took the VA nine months to correct the error and restore his benefits.
Tomorrow after the votes in New Hampshire are counted, the race heads our way. Within a month or so voters in Florida will be casting ballots.
Presidential elections have consequences. When our current president was campaigning at this time 8 years ago, he wasn’t talking about how after his election to high office he would attack religious liberty in ways unprecedented. No one asked him any questions on the subject. He got a pass. We are now paying the price for his. Faith-based universities like Ave Maria are now fighting to protect our First Amendment rights and follow our conscience. When the presidential campaign was underway in 2008 we didn’t know at the time that soon thereafter Ave Maria would have to go to Federal Court to fight the Obama administration (and now the dispute will be settled this summer by the highest court in the land).
So I urge you students to be vigilant. Study the issues, use social media to demand that the candidates’ campaigns state clearly where they stand on religious liberty, the right to life, immigration, terrorism and other issues you care deeply about, and get behind the candidate you feel best represents your views.
The upcoming election has a great deal at stake. Regardless of which candidates you love or dismiss, you have to get involved. Florida students should register to vote. The Office of Student Affairs will help with free transportation to get you to the polls. Don’t be a spectator. Get educated on the issues and where candidates stand – and get involved.
It is true that Ave Maria University places its hope in God, not government. But that does not absolve us from our civic responsibility to participate in the political and electoral process. As I learned over the weekend, we can learn a lot form the folks in New Hampshire.