So the mid-term elections are only a little over a week away and folks, it is now time to get serious. As the political hyperbole, half-truths, distortions, and personal attacks mount to a furious crescendo in advance of November 2nd, citizens now get their opportunity to thumb their noses at the pundits, consultants, and yes, the politicians themselves and perform that most precious of democratic exercises: namely, vote.
Each election cycle is strange in its own way and rarely is there an election that does not warrant bombastic boasts such as “this is a watershed year”, “this is the most important election in our lifetime”, or “the caliber of the candidates is worse than anytime I can remember.” Truly there is electricity in the air and a level of anger that is substantial. How this translates into the wishes of the electorate manifesting themselves in a revolutionary way is unclear and will not be known until after all the ballots are cast. But there can be little doubt that many of the contests being held offer a stark contrast of perspectives, style, and ideologies.
What strikes me as significant in this current election year is the number of candidates who have made conscious and very public decisions to shield themselves from even a hint of scrutiny and who blatantly avoid the slightest degree of inspection in the public arena. I have always believed that while opening one up to public inspection and scrutiny carries significant risk, it also prepares the candidate for the rather rough and tumble world they are attempting to break into. Public service is just that — public — and opens up the individual to a very high threshold of criticism. The nature of the political world is to put yourself in the position of having to make difficult decisions on matter of great importance, hence the reason why you receive the benefits and perks that accrue to these positions of power.
If these individuals are unable to withstand the pressure now, how will they be able to withstand the pressure of having to actually be accountable to the public for their actions once they are in office? Political contests do provide a public service in themselves in that they act as the proving grounds or a training program of sorts for the difficult job that lay ahead. Yet we see many candidates employing the unusual tactic of insulating themselves from the rigors of the profession, which should send a cautionary signal to the electorate that maybe they are not actually up to the task they seek.
It would be similar to having your doctor telling you surgery is required, yet not telling you what the nature of the problem or the surgery is. Under these circumstances would you rationally submit to the surgery? Certainly I would not — despite how much trust I have in the doctor — no matter how badly I felt, no matter how insistent he or she was, I would demand that certain questions be answered.
So too it should be in our electoral decisions. Here are a few questions we all must ask ourselves before we cast a vote. First, has the candidate given me every opportunity to explore their strengths and weaknesses, either through debate or public interview? Second, has the candidate effectively talked about what I perceive to be major problems and come up with effective and detailed solutions that I agree with? Third, once the emotionalism of the campaign dissolves, does the candidate exhibit an ability to govern? Lastly, if my candidate is elected, does the system benefit from he or she being a part of it?
Look, there is a significant degree of anger out there and it is wholly justified, but when all is said and done, do we run the risk of further polarizing the society and reinforcing inaction by choosing candidates based on raw emotion? Do we run the risk of exacerbating the frustration level and worsening the situation?
We have candidates spewing nonsense about cutting spending, yet refusing to identify what exactly they would cut. Some are disingenuous; others are just flat out whacky. Too often there is no discernible strategy for governing, just an eagerness to mimic frustration and play to your fears. We have seen a glimpse of the politics of paralysis and I fear we might be about to get a larger dose of this reckless reality unless thoughtfulness and rationality take hold and a tidal wave of voters who have taken the time to ask and answer these questions honestly descend upon the voting booths.
The maxim “be careful what you wish for” is instructive here. To my conscientious friends from all political stripes let me offer the following: to Democrats, “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater”; to Republicans, “those that sleep with dogs get fleas”; to liberals, “you can’t always get what you want”; and to conservatives, “change for the sake of change may not be in your best self-interest.”
This election is important, but every election is important — treat it thusly.