November fifth started like any other day. It ended pretty much the same way: Clinton tucked himself back into the White House and Oberlin kept chugging along, not allowing the national election to ruffle the town's feathers.
Jere Bruner, associate professor of politics, was one of many Oberlin residents and students who expressed their disgust with this year's campaign. "I think this was the most disgusting campaign since 1920. The sheer emptiness of what was done turned people off."
No lawn signs were posted promoting any one candidate, no signs hung in store windows and no rocks were painted in Tappan Square. "[The town] didn't get very excited, primarily because no one was infatuated with the candidates," said town resident Alan Gage. "It's a total fiasco. [The campaign was] all hogwash and politically correct." No one in Oberlin seemed to care.
John Strayer, another town resident, agreed with the town's apathy. "There didn't seem to be as much fire as there's been in years past. It's the first time in years where there hasn't been talk at work about the issues and candidates themselves."
"No one's interested," said college custodian Marcus Cann. "The ambition's not there." Dole and Clinton took a middle-ground stand on the few issues that were raised during the campaign. So there was little to debate about.
The campus didn't seem any more active than the town, even though the college is touted as more liberal than its surroundings. According to Ella Waters, another college custodian, the town has always been lackadaisical politically. "The College doesn't make a dent in town apathy," said Cann. "But it should."
"It was not an exciting or compelling campaign," said President Nancy Dye. She was not surprised by the lack of student activity on campus, but thought that "students were reflecting society as a whole."
"The last big rally was when president Kennedy was elected," said Waters. "But of course you can't talk to anybody that didn't like him."
College senior Ginger Pomiecko said she didn't get a chance to follow the election once she returned to school because she didn't have a television, something many students cited as a reason for their lack of interest.
"There was some guy dressed up as Uncle Sam in the snack bar who got up and said `I want you to vote' and everybody kind of laughed," said sophomore Holly Mack-Ward.
College first-year Tuukka Hess thinks that Oberlin was more active than surrounding areas like Cleveland and the suburbs, but that the activity is lopsided. "The people [at Oberlin] are all liberal so all the political action we see is one-sided. It could be more active if there were two-sides and people got angry at an opposing side."
Some of the disinterest is due to lack of options. "[Oberlin] definitely does attract liberal-minded people, but not everybody takes a liberal view on every issue every time, so there is an opposing side on specific issues," Hess said.
Many people think that action on the grass-roots level or increased interest in third parties could boost interest in politics.
"It's exciting to be able to vote for a third-party candidate and not feel guilty because Clinton's got enough of a lead over Dole. I think a lot of people feel that way," Pomiecko said.
A number of town residents, faculty and students said that their interest in third party candidates was largely sparked by frustration with both Dole and Clinton. "It's depressing that this year Perot didn't get into the debates. [Third parties] need more exposure," said Pomiecko.
"Between the two candidates, Dole doesn't impress me and never has, and with Clinton we already know what his track record is and he can't screw up more than he has," said Sharon, a town resident who would not divulge her last name. "If Perot was given the opportunity he'd give both of them a good run for the money."
Strayer said, "Some ideas [of third party candidates] I take seriously, but they represent themselves as fringe lunatics." Strayer said he thinks that Perot ran primarily to bring attention to issues that need more focus, such as how both candidates obtained campaign money.
Other people think that third-party candidates are just a distraction to the campaign. "All third parties steal from other parties so it's not who will win but who they'll damage," said Gage.
"I don't vote for third party candidates because I believe one of the great inventions of the civilized world is the two-party system," said Dye.
"People said they'd vote for Ralph Nader and I think that's just throwing your vote away," said Mack-Ward.
Rockin' in Cleveland: Clinton and Gore excite the crowd with their speeches. (photo by Susanna Henighan)
The Vote '96
Copyright © 1996, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 125, Number 8; November 8, 1996
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