Hinckley Institute of Politics: Political season in full swing

By Kirk Jowers and Bryson Morgan

With the Utah presidential primary in our rearview mirror, it’s time to take stock and give thanks for an already incredible 2008 Presidential Election. The Hinckley Institute of Politics exists to bring students and the community into politics and government. We have a significant tailwind at the moment, thanks to the tremendous individuals who broke barriers and gave us reason to truly care about the candidates, issues and outcomes of this presidential contest.

Excitement is not only in the air, but in the numbers, as well. To date, more than 33 million Americans have cast votes in state presidential primaries and caucuses. Young voters are doubling and even quadrupling youth voter primary election participation rates in most states, and Democrats have more than doubled their voting participation from 2000. More than 400,000 voters participated in the Utah presidential primary — up from 108,000 in 2000.

Also, a record-breaking total of $582 million was donated to presidential campaigns in 2007 (Barack Obama received contributions from more than 650,000 Americans in 2007 — trouncing Howard Dean’s record of 280,000 in 2003). Utah distinguished itself, donating more money per person than any other state (including more than $5 million to Mitt Romney’s campaign alone).

Accordingly, before the Republicans’ and Democrats’ transition from intraparty to interparty battles, we should pause to celebrate and reflect upon the state of American democracy and the quality of its primary participants.

No candidate is more familiar with what it takes to be president than Hillary Clinton. Upon graduation from Wellesley College and Yale Law School, she became an attorney for the Children’s Defense Fund and the House Judiciary Committee before marrying Bill Clinton. In Arkansas, she ran a legal aid clinic and organized Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families. She was twice named one of the 100 most influential lawyers in America and guided her husband’s meteoric rise in politics to the White House. As first lady, she led the push for health care reform and played an active role in the Clinton administration. As a U.S. senator, Clinton has become a respected leader who has reached across the aisle on major initiatives while continuing her forceful advocacy of key issues.

Obama’s ability to inspire and unite has led many to refer to his candidacy as not merely a campaign but a social movement. The son of a Kenyan father and Kansan mother, Obama graduated from Columbia University and Harvard Law School, worked as a community organizer and became the first black president of the prestigious Harvard Law Review. Obama returned to Chicago to practice as a civil rights lawyer and teach constitutional law. Obama was elected to the Illinois State Senate in 1996, and in 2004 he became the third black person elected to the U.S. Senate since Reconstruction.

John McCain is a true American hero. After graduating from the United States Naval Academy, he served his country in the Vietnam War. In October 1967, his plane was shot down. He broke both his arms and one leg and was taken prisoner at the infamous “Hanoi Hilton.” For more than five years McCain suffered brutal treatment at the hands of the North Vietnamese. He was awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Legion of Merit, Purple Heart and the Distinguished Flying Cross for his service. Elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and then U.S. Senate, McCain has been at the forefront of nearly every major legislative battle in recent history because of his willingness to work with Senate Democrats.

Each leader deserves our great admiration for their sacrifices and unprecedented abilities to energize, inspire and mobilize us.

Kirk Jowers is the director of the U’s Hinckley Institute of Politics and a partner in the Washington, D.C., law firm of Caplin & Drysdale.

Bryson Morgan is the communications director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics.