What, exactly, is the role of “We The People” in our democratic government today? Is it the same as it was when the Constitution was ratified some 229 years ago? Is it the same as it was 100 years, or even 50 years ago? The Preamble to the U.S. Constitution reads “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” Does our current system meet these criteria today?
Years ago, even as recently as fifty years ago, political candidates seeking offices in federal government, whether in Congress or the presidency, sought votes based on a political platform. A platform, as defined by Wikipedia as “is a list of the values and actions which are supported by a political party or individual candidate, in order to appeal to the general public, for the ultimate purpose of garnering the general public’s support and votes about complicated topics or issues.” Note that nowhere in the definition does it mention based on how wealthy a candidate is or isn’t, whether an opponent may have allegedly been indiscreet in his/her personal life, whether an opponent is liked or not liked. It mentions “complicated topics and issues” as the basis for a platform.
When we decide on which candidate we prefer, are we making that judgement based on what we know about how they would handle various issues that are important to us today, or are we being told what to think by the candidates, religious leaders and the press? Back in the day, the press did the hard work for us. They researched, dug and found the truth. They reported how the candidate had voted on important issues in the past, what the candidate had done or failed to do to support our values in the past. They helped us to understand some of the most complex issues and the ramifications. They reported very little on a candidate’s personal life. It is now well known that John F. Kennedy engaged in multiple sexual liaisons that the media were aware of, yet we never saw more than the slightest hint of it in the mainstream news. The press in the 1960’s still believed that even politicians were entitled to privacy in their personal lives and that the citizens were far more concerned with the abilities to govern the nation than how that person conducted his personal life. When did that change? A better question, perhaps, is why did it change? Have we, as citizens, become so shallow that we care more about candidates past sex life than his beliefs and ideas about how to ensure that our young people are provided an opportunity for a good education? Do we care more that a candidate’s father may have been born in another country than we care about finding ways to feed our poor, to provide medical care to all citizens, to stop the damage to our environment?
I know that many people today are disillusioned with the entire crop of candidates vying for the highest office in the nation, and I cannot say that I blame them. I share in that disillusionment. This election “year” has gone on for far too long and has been far too ugly with too many candidates spewing vitriol and hate. So yes, we are tired. We are disillusioned. We want it just to be over. We must think, though … what happens when it is over? Whoever is the next president will immediately face many serious problems: the environment, immigration, the economy, global terrorism, Russian expansionism under Putin, the war in Syria, and healthcare, to name just a few. Since we cannot rely on the candidate’s rhetoric to help us know how they would deal with these situations, nor can we rely on the media to research and try to provide us with insight into how each candidate is likely to respond to the issues, it is up to us to dig in and do some research. We simply cannot afford to listen to the rhetoric and make choices based on what we are told. The internet has made it reasonably easy to find answers about how candidates have voted in the past (those who have held or currently hold positions in Congress). One accurate, user-friendly site for such research is http://www.ontheissues.org/default.htm. Here you will find voting records as well as comments that each of the candidates has made regarding most of the major issues. Another that I find helpful is http://www.politifact.com, which is useful for separating fact from rhetoric.
It is by no means my intention to tell anybody for whom they should vote. I simply want to ensure that everybody votes based on something other than the fear and panic that is so often stirred up by the candidates and promulgated by the press. Study the candidates, their past record, their views. Listen to what they say, then take it upon yourself to check it out and see if what they say matches what they have done in the past. It only takes a short time and has much more value than watching the debates and the campaign swaggering. And then, most important of all, on Tuesday, November 8th, go out and vote for the candidate that you honestly believe is the most capable of dealing with the complex issues facing our nation. We all owe it to ourselves and to future generations to do so.