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My New Political Understanding

Res Publica

August 2013

by Alex Jones

In January 2009, the day after the worst snowstorm of the year, I came to Ashland University. I had known for a long time that I wanted to study politics in college, and it seemed that Ashland and the Ashbrook Center were the perfect place for me. I arrived as a bright-eyed 18-yearold looking to soak up as much about politics as I possibly could. For me, politics meant polls, number-crunching, demographics, voting trends – in short, how to win elections. I quickly learned, however, that my perception of politics was not how the Department of History and Political Science at Ashland viewed politics.

I began my studies at Ashland with an introductory class titled “Understanding Politics.” Instead of learning about my understanding of politics, I learned about the theoretical, philosophical side of politics. I started with selected readings of Xenophon, Plato, Machiavelli, Locke, and Tocqueville. I was confronted with the nature of justice, and asked to think seriously about it for my four years here. The focus of my studies was not on how best to win an election; rather, it was focused on the proper relationship between the state and citizen. For the first time in my life, I was given the opportunity to think about Politics.

It seems like a minute difference between Politics and politics – a simple matter of capitalization – but it would prove to be one of the biggest distinctions in my life. Fast forward from 2009 to 2012, and the bright-eyed, eager college freshman is now a worried college senior. Despite my hopes to the contrary, there were no employers beating down my door looking for a liberally-educated young man to fill the copious amounts of job openings they had. I assumed my Bachelor of Arts degree with majors in History and Political Science was not going to take me too far in the real world on its own.

If my opportunities were going to be slim, I knew that I had to make my own opportunities. I decided to run, and eventually won the election, for chairman of the Erie County Republican Party. In essence, the chairman plans and runs the campaigns of the county candidates, communicates directly to the local press, and is the middle man between the County Party and federal candidates and the Ohio Republican Party.

My life has come full circle. After four years of studying Politics, I was put into a situation where politics was suddenly important again. The transition from what I expected politics to be coming into college opened my eyes to something new. The transition from studying Politics back to real-world politics was equally eyeopening. Coming into college I was astounded at the disconnect between politics and Politics. Going back into the world of politics officially, I was determined to join the two worlds.

I knew that most of the people I would work with as chairman would not appreciate the finer aspects of Politics, but I could not abandon all that I had learned. There were three areas specifically that believed I could find common ground between the theoretical Politics and the practical politics.

First of all, I knew that if I was to succeed in politics I would have to be a moderate and prudent chairman. Although my decisions were not always popular, I would need to do what was best for the party. As a young person, the eyes of my elders were fixed on me. More often than not these eyes weren’t waiting to find something to praise me for, but rather something for which to criticize me. My education in Politics taught me that the statesman must use moderation and prudence to direct his decisions. When others’ passions flared, I made it a point to make reasonable decisions. During the previous election, one member of the Party called for a “condemnation” of a respected member of the Party for publically supporting an independent candidate over the Republican candidate. Rather than issuing a statement condemning that member for using his freedom of speech and conscience, I issued a statement reiterating the Party’s support for our ticket of candidates. At the time this seemed like the best middle ground between doing nothing and doing too much.

Secondly, I finally was able to meet “The People.” So often political science students hear about the People – the will of the People, the passions of the People – without ever getting to meet them. I found out that the People actually exist, and they have much to say. I quickly learned the value of being close to the People. Knowing what Republicans in Erie County wanted out of the Party made it much easier to guide the Party. My job as chairman was to take my vision for the Party, balance it with the vision of the People, and come out with a clear plan of action. From the candidates’ messages, to what functions the Party would hold throughout the year, Politics has taught me that to be a statesman, I had to effectively balance the will of the People with my vision for where the Party should go.

The final, and possibly the most important, part of my education in Politics has been my attempt to grapple with the true nature of justice. I have no doubt that my understanding of justice is weak and limited, but I have tried to let this understanding guide my actions. Politics can easily become a game of favorites. Take Cuyahoga County, for example, where corruption has become a serious problem in county government. The opportunity for shady deals in a smoke-filled back room is ever present. Justice is not dead in politics. I set out in my political endeavors to do what was right, not what was popular. Being successful was always at the top of my political priorities, but my education in Politics taught me to be right before being popular. This doesn’t always make people happy, and I have made my fair share of enemies for it. No matter where politics takes me, however, I need to know that I did what was good and just.

Politics is much easier to undertake than politics. I would rather read a treatise on the nature of good governance than build a majority. I would rather write a thousand papers on Constitutional principles than ask someone to donate a thousand dollars because we share the same principles. I would rather talk to any professor in the department than have to spend a day making business calls. However, there is only so much good I can do in a classroom. Eventually there is a higher calling to lower-level politics – a calling that I have felt compelled to answer.

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