Sunday, January 31, 2010

Who is qualified to vote?

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how the national elections this year could be the tastiest we have seen in many years.

The Democrats have majorities in both the U.S. House and Senate, and because of this, President Barack Obama has been able to enjoy legislative successes. Nothing helps a president more than having a friendly Congress.

However, everybody in the House and a significant amount of those in the Senate are up for re-election this year. With Congressional approval ratings hovering in the 20 percent range, the possibility of a sizeable shake up exists.

Though the November elections are only a blip on the radar now, it is never too early to begin paying attention to what is going on. In a perfect world, we would be paying attention each day, but politics often hold our attention for only short periods of time. I do not know why that is, but it seems that way.

Because of this, we should all begin considering now the issues that will be most important to us when the election season begins in earnest. Too often, we approach elections like students who wait until the night before a big exam to begin studying.

We try as best we can to cram as much information into our brains at the last second, but it does not work. When we do that, we feel overwhelmed and frustrated when we start considering the challenges our nation faces. This drives many not to vote at all.

While we focus a lot on the qualifications of those who run for office, I wonder if we should focus more on the political literacy of those who vote. No, I am not advocating that we try and keep people from voting who do not follow the issues. People have a constitutional right to vote even if it is an uninformed vote.

Still, we can make sure to apply subtle (or maybe not so subtle) forms of pressure to people so they can take this year's elections seriously. Good old fashioned peer pressure was certainly effective on us when we were growing up. Maybe the same tactic can work now.

This may sound a bit harsh, but it is necessary. For something as important as electing our leaders, it is unfortunate that the process of doing it turns off so many. And I can certainly understand why so many get turned off.

It can be a difficult process to observe sometime. It is kind of like making sausage. We like eating it, but we do not necessarily like watching it get made.

The same goes with politics. We like the benefits our elected officials can bring us. However, the process can make us a little queasy.

The bottom line is the concept of accountability needs to be applied to the public, too. For all the hand-wringing people do about elected officials, many voters conveniently sugar coat their role in the process. Elected officials do not take office simply because they have been sprinkled with magic pixie dust.

We put them there, and if we keep complaining about their performance, maybe we need to re-assess our approach as to why we vote for someone.

I am picking on the people who actually bother to vote, and that may be unfair. The biggest criticism should be leveled at the people who do not bother to participate. Often, they are the ones who complain the most and the loudest.

Remember, we get the government we deserve. If we work more at it, just maybe we will be surprised at what the result will be.

1 comment:

Joltin' Django said...

Great post.

Reminds me of a particularly testy argument I had with a cousin back during the 2000 presidential election.

I, of course, was supporting George W. Bush; my cousin was supporting Al Gore, even if she couldn't really explain why she was supporting Al Gore.

I posed several election-specific questions ("Are you aware Gore gore wants to do X,Y, and Z?"), all of which she was clueless to answer. Then I moved on to more general questions, if you will, such as ...

I asked her to name one Supreme Court justice, or one important Supreme Court decision, and she could do neither. As big a Democrat as she claimed to be, I was certain that she could at least say "Roe v. Wade." Well, she couldn't.

Exasperated, I finally said, "Please, do us all a favor and do not vote." I meant it, too. I mean, it killed me to know that someone so clueless about basic civics would be, in effect, cancelling out my vote.

Now, I don't expect everyone to be a political junkie like me. Nor do I expect folks to be able to name every member of Congress and every Cabinet official. What I do expect is for people to be at least moderately informed about the issues of the day. That duty is, in my opinion, as important as the duty to vote.

So there.