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Musings From Columbus

I stepped off a cramped regional jet onto the tarmac – it seemed like the hundredth such time – and quickly transformed into my Ohio persona. Ah, Columbus. Jokingly known in my family as Cowtown, the city again greeted Buckeye football season with a euphoria indescribable to those indifferent to Big Ten football. Don’t get me wrong – I know next to nothing about the sport. Admittedly aloof, I took pride in the fact that I spent last Saturday afternoon at my sister’s baby shower instead of glued to a television to watch the Bucks annihilate some podunk team.

“You’re so high-strung,” Mom declared to me that weekend. She revealed to me during lunch her concern about the upcoming presidential election. (This coming from a Perot ’92 voter?) Cowtown, a littered landscape of Wal-Mart and Wendy’s, may very well determine who occupies the White House this January. The city has the largest concentration of political advertising dollars in the country and the state is bombarded with staged bus tours and contrived town hall meetings. Ohio seemingly matters only every four years, yet residents still cover their bumpers with stickers and prop up innumerable yard signs. Who knew so many in the Fly-Over Zone were paying attention?

I engaged in a candid conversation with my family, few of whom have college degrees. Refreshingly, most were cognizant not only of the conflict in Iraq, but also of a host of other issues. They resent Beltway pundits who write them off as single-issue or generally uninformed voters. In fact, they look forward to proving the pollsters wrong. As discussion progressed, my notion of not being able to relate to these people subsided. But how many of us still dismiss the Midwest as a simple-minded, cul-de-sac backwater? Who knew that my schoolteacher cousin, who receives hefty incentive compensation on student test results, dismisses No Child Left Behind because it doesn’t work? (Even if it means giving up a handsome bonus every year). Or, that my sister’s hairstylist remains committed to the GOP regardless of the party turning its back on his “lifestyle.”

My generalizations challenged, I returned to the bubble of HBS and strangely felt embarrassed by the presence of Spangler’s in-house sushi chef. How do we remain relevant in the insulated bastion of privilege? I have yet to engage with RC’s in a balanced discussion about the election’s effect on social issues, industry, and everything in between. I encourage all of us to step up to the plate, challenge our own notions, approach political discussion with an open mind, and most importantly – vote. Offer that relevant regulatory or political point during case discussions. For a sense of balance, chat with your parents and friends back home to gauge what’s on their minds. Stick your neck out a little – you may surprise yourself.

September 27, 2004
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