Abstinence: Not Just for Sex Anymore

Political pundit Jacques Berlinerblau of Georgetown University is not voting this year. Does that make him an ungreat American?

He’s exercising “ballot abstinence” to emotionally distance himself from the election and offer an objective point of view.

“The best political analysts, I think, are the ones whose criticism is omni-directional, as opposed to focused on one party or idea or candidate,” Berlinerblau says. He’s all about being able to put himself in someone else’s shoes, to examine diverse perspectives. He wanted audiences to trust him and not pigeonhole him as a radical Leftist university professor. That image, he says, is a growing perception the public holds of scholars.

Put Yourself in My Shoes, They All Say

Berlinerblau’s perspective reminds me of Purdue University’s Mohan J. Dutta, who spoke to my graduate PR class two years ago. Dutta advocates a culture-centered approach, in which you try to understand the point of view of the culture of the person or group you seek to influence. To truly listen to someone, you must be willing to fully consider her point of view without unyieldingly grasping your own as if it were sovereign. Dutta speaks of coming to the Unites States from Calcutta and realizing the Eurocentric hegemony evident in U.S. scholarly work.

The U.S. culture is now becoming so polarized, dichotomous. You either believe A or you believe B. I see politicians like Palin going from city to city telling people how she is just like them, how McCain is just like “you and me” and how Obama is not. What does she mean? I’m the daughter of Indian immigrants. Do I count as “you and me,” as that patriotic American? Whenever politicians seek common ground with a community — talking about their hunting or beer-slugging traditions and the like — I’m never part of that common ground. I don’t expect to be, so I’m not complaining, and I’m not bothered. 

Forgive me if I come off as ignorant here, but I know I’m not alone in this line of thinking: I remember after Obama’s comment about people clinging to their guns and religion, I wasn’t fazed at all. I was surprised by the uproar. I had figured it was commonly accepted knowledge that his statement was true. What was there to get upset about? Then, based on public reactions,  I had to step back and realize that my thinking was potentially too assumptive, maybe even racist.

In a political marketing class I took with Richard Murray at UH, until the end of the semester I was unaware of his personal political beliefs. He was able to step back and look at candidates from both parties even-handedly. One of the few non-Right Wingers I’ve ever heard say something positive about President Bush. 

NBC’s Brian Williams doesn’t reveal his presidential pick to even his wife, in an attempt to maintain the appearance of impartiality.

What do you think about Jacques Berlinerblau’s choice to abstain from voting? Do you believe journalists and political pundits should abstain? Would you find them more credible? Should they be able to emotionally distance themselves from the elections and offer omni-directional criticism?

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4 thoughts on “Abstinence: Not Just for Sex Anymore

  1. In my opinion I think it is a shame that someone would feel that they have to give up one of the most precious rights we hold as Americans just to prove that they are able to be open-minded and unbiased. I do not think that it should be so out of the question that a person would be able to refrain from allowing their own opinion to cloud their ability to offer omni-directional criticism. I think as a people in this country we are becoming less open-minded, especially when it comes to speaking about politics. Do you think it maybe has to do with an overall crisis in losing our ability to listen?

  2. Ashley,

    Very good points. There is so much skepticism coupled with fears of hidden agendas, that the willingness to really listen becomes clouded. When you can’t relate to someone, it’s easier to assume the worst.

  3. I don’t think it matters what he does; those on the opposite side aren’t ever going to beleive he’s non-partisan anyway.

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