A presidential endorsement of Barack Obama run in The Optimist student newspaper at Abilene Christian University has lit a California-sized wildfire among ACU alums and others connected with the school that continues to burn post-election.
Most are angry at the paper’s support for a candidate whose abortion and gay marriage stances are worrying to conservative Christians. According to the Optimist‘s top editor: “Even after the election, we’re still getting e-mails. They use all caps in the e-mails to be angry.”
The editorial came in late October after the nine-member editorial board voted five to four in favor of Obama. The president of the university publicly stated that his main concern is that the preference of five students out of the 5,000 who are enrolled will place the university at-large in a negative light among its McCain-supporting alums and supporters.
As a guest column in the nearby Abilene News-Reporter notes, the controversy raises a larger question of whether a student newspaper with such a local focus should be tackling presidential-sized politics at all. In my opinion, yes, absolutely. Student readers may dig all-things-local first but the college rag can also play a bigger part in upping their national consciousness. Student pubs may not have intimate access to the presidential candidates but with the glut of news available on every minutia of modern elections it’s perfectly reasonable for editors to wade through what’s out there and take a stand.
It’s also important to remember: Endorsements, like all staff editorials, are not quantum physics. They are simply discussion-starters. It’s the paper adopting a stance, laying out its argument, and encouraging feedback, in the spirit of conversation not antagonization. To this end, the passion embedded in the cynicism that has greeted the Optimist‘s endorsement is a sign that it was successful.
By the way, here’s part of the endorsement, which I found to be very well-reasoned and the antithesis of inflammatory:
Two qualified men emerged from the exhausting nominating process as their party’s choice for the office of the President of the United States. . . . Sen. Barack Obama is a man whose rise in politics has taken the lawyer with a “funny name and big ears” to the top of his party. Obama’s unique American success story has reignited hope in government, and he promises to bring the change most Americans say they want to see in the White House. . . . In this precarious moment in American history, this country needs change. We believe Obama is the right man to bring that change, and is more prepared than his opponent to guide this country out of the perilous waters we have been sailing for the past eight years.
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