Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


The Eye of the Beholder

By Kelli
You say “potato,” and I say “potato.”
You say “tomato,” and I say “tomato.”

Ok, so maybe that doesn’t translate into print as well as I had hoped.

The point is that we all see things differently, even when we see the same thing. We all watched the same debate. We all saw the same two candidates. 52.4 million of us watched, but yet there are probably at least 52.4 million different takes on the evening (some of us have gone through several different opinions as we process everything). As we all talk around the proverbial water cooler (which currently probably means posting to our friends’ Facebook walls), it becomes apparent that even if we agree on who the winner of Friday’s debate was, we all saw different things, and have different reasons for our judgment. And the farther we are from each other on the political spectrum, the larger the differences loom. While some saw Barack Obama conceding to John McCain by agreeing with him on some issues, others saw it as a bold move to put his money where his mouth is and actually listen to what his opponent had to say, without the usual knee-jerk polarization. On Obama’s stance on Iran, some heard “diplomacy,” while some heard “weakness.” Both seemed to dodge questions about the economy, but depending on your perspective, some dodged better than others.

As the media is so fond of telling us, with their color-coded red and blue maps, the country is becoming ever more polarized on issues. These polarizations come from the fact that we all bring something different to the table when we watch a debate – or even when we watch American Idol. That’s the wonderful thing about living in such a large, diverse country, a country with a strong basis in freedom of thought and speech, where we can express ourselves and our differing opinions without fear of repercussion. At least, not repercussions from the government. There will probably be repercussions if you tell your colleagues you think the next debate should involve dunk tanks. Trust me on this.

With all of these issues, and all of these different opinions, it becomes increasingly important for us to do our job as citizens. That job is at the same time the hardest and easiest job you’ll ever have. That job is to think. Because we all can watch the same debate, listen to the same speech, read the same report, and come up with very different views, why would you trust someone else to make those judgments for you? This election year, and every year, we need to inform ourselves and think for ourselves. We can’t just listen to the pundits. We can’t just listen to the sound bites. We can’t just listen to (dare I say it?) the blogs. We have to know what we think, ourselves. Maybe we find we always agree with Bill O’Reilly – or Ariana Huffington. But we have to know why we agree, and that means not just taking their word for it. The pundits are human – just as human as you, or me, or even that weird guy in accounting. We all have our own take on things, and we should know what that take is, not just adopt someone else’s. Our democracy, our country, is built on dissent and discussion, and being an informed, active citizen, in this election season and going forward, is how we’ll all become stronger.

But don’t just take my word for it.


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Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at

Dave Anderson
Vice President of Civic Programs
McCormick Foundation

Tim McNulty
Senior Journalist
McCormick Freedom Project

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