Voting Comprehensively

Dudley Weeks, Ph.D.


It’s one of those things I know will probably frustrate me, but I do it anyway. It’s one of those things I know is important, yet I can’t muster up much excitement for doing it. It’s one of those things that should enlighten, inspire, and maybe even give warm, fuzzy feelings, yet none of those results occurs. And, finally, it’s one of those things that should remind me how fortunate I am. Thank goodness, that last one actually happens.

What am I talking about, what is the “it” so frequently and probably annoyingly repeated in the previous paragraph? Put simply, the “it” is asking people, at election time, what their reasons are for deciding which candidate they intend to support.

Here are a few of the reasons I am hearing as we move ever onward toward the presidential election of 2008. All are based on actual statements I have heard from a wide assortment of potential voters.
• “I don’t keep up with politics, but I’m a Republican (or Democrat) so that’s the way I’m voting no matter who the candidate is.”
• “This is my first time to vote so I’m letting my parents tell me who to vote for.” Or....”I’ll ask my parents who they’re voting for, then make sure I vote for the other candidate.”
• “I’ll take the advice of ______ “ (a particular TV political commentator, or sports star, or actor, etc. etc.).
• “I heard Candidate Z being interviewed, and what he said was okay....but I’m suspicious of anybody who ______.” (has a beard, has ‘shifty eyes’, has an accent, is unmarried or been divorced, is a lawyer, is a sloppy dresser, has false teeth, etc., etc., etc.).
• “I’m voting for Candidate X because he/she is a good Christian.” (or Jew, or VERY hypothetically in the U.S., a good Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, or Muslim, none of which I have ever heard mentioned by American voters)
• “Well, to be honest, I’ll probably vote for the taller candidate.” (I’m serious. I heard this one just last week.)
• “I may not vote because THEY can easily rig those newfangled voting machines to cheat me out of my vote. It makes the ‘hanging chads’ debacle in Florida 2000 seem like baby pabulum.” When I ask, “Who is ‘they’?”, the answer is “You know....THEM.”
• “Let’s just let the U.S. Supreme Court choose again.”
• “I won’t vote because the Electoral College system violates the hallowed principle of one person-one-vote.”
• “I may vote....if I’m not too busy, and it’s not raining, and it’s not too cold, and if I can get home in time to watch my favorite TV show.”
• “There’s an election? Who’s running?”
• “Me, vote? You’ve got to be kidding! They’re all just a bunch of clowns or crooks. You can’t believe a word they say.”
• “The election is all about _____ (a narrow, specific, single issue), so I’m voting for the candidate who agrees with me on that single issue.” [ NOTE: The staggering list of specific, single issues I am hearing as the sole basis for a vote includes a candidate’s stand on Iraq, the United Nations, immigration, reproductive rights, airport security regulations, gasoline prices, animal rights, WalMart, homosexuality and same-sex marriage, gun control, terrorism, policy toward Cuba, taxes, and ______ (fill in any of the multitude of other single issues on which a person might solely determine his or her vote) ].

Although all of the reasons listed above both inspire and tempt comment, I will focus only on the last one: deciding a vote solely on the basis of one specific issue. As I do so, I am in no way suggesting those specific issues lack importance. Rather, I am saying the following:

We live in enormously complex times. No candidate should be defined by only one issue, no more than any person should be defined solely by gender, race, nationality, religion, ideology, or worst behavior, or any group solely by its most disliked or dangerous member. There are much more comprehensive considerations we need to focus on in deciding for whom we vote.

Here are a few of those more comprehensive considerations I suggest are vital. How an elected official deals with each of these has a powerful influence on what American youth and adults condone as acceptable behavior in their own lives. I contend these considerations are far more important than any one single issue.

Diversity

How do the candidates deal with diversity? Do they welcome, seek out, and treat with respect opinions and suggestions other than their own, or do they consult only with like-minded people? Do they see diversity as a positive opportunity to explore alternatives, or as a threat? Do they show a commitment to understanding and respecting the diverse cultures within the U.S. and around the world, or do they act as though their own personal and national cultural priorities and patterns should be the norm for everybody?

Respect for “The People”

It is easy to say, “I respect all citizens.” But do the candidates competing for election demonstrate respect in their attitudes and actions, or do they constantly “spin” reality in an attempt to justify their own goals and policies even when the “spin” is untrue and is deceiving and lying to their own citizens? Through their economic, social, and political policies, do they show respect for all The People, or for only one segment of the population by giving it preferential treatment?

Respect for Law

Do candidates consistently support international law and Conventions, or do they condone breaking those laws if done by the U.S., but call for the condemnation of other nations if they break those laws and conventions? Do candidates uphold privacy laws, or do they break those laws and when caught, (a) try to justify such behavior as essential to effective leadership and protecting the safety of Americans, and/or (b) force a change in the laws to allow the illegal behavior to be seen as “legal”?

Political Parties and Election Campaigning

Do candidates have as their priority the meeting of needs, both of their own citizens and the world community, or do candidates put the advancement of their own political party above the needs of their citizens and the needs of the world? Do they have the courage to challenge the leaders of their political party when needed, or do they weakly fall in line to preserve party “unity”? Do candidates conduct election campaigns that devote enormous resources to demeaning their opponents, often twisting the truth to make the opponents seem unfit for public service, or do they focus on their own stand on comprehensive considerations and issues?

Accountability

Do candidates admit their own mistakes, or do they consistently blame others? Do they have the courage and wisdom to change course when their policies have failed, or do they stubbornly continue down the same path and try to convince themselves and others that the true reality staring them in the face is false, contrived by their "unpatriotic" political opponents?

Knowledge, Wisdom, and Holistic Vision

Do candidates understand that we live in complex times full of both commonalities and differences, and work to build effective and mutually beneficial dialogue and cooperation; or do they perceive politics and the world in narrow terms of “Good” vs. “Evil”, “Us vs. Them”, and “We and we alone are entitled to do as we please”? Do candidates focus on Process, or do they fixate on desired outcomes and recklessly jump into policies without adequate knowledge, wisdom and holistic planning?

In summation, I suggest we can best live up to our responsibility as voters by asking the following question, and then using it as a major guide in determining our choice of candidates.

“Which candidates do we believe stand for and live the attitudes, priorities, and policies (a) we want our children to learn, (b) will focus on building cooperation among diverse groupings in the U.S. and within the world community, rather than focusing on divisiveness; (c) will be inclusive, not exclusive, and will proactively listen to opinions contrary to his/her own; and (d) will work to make the distribution of power, wealth and benefits more effective and fair?”

If we make these considerations priorities, I believe we will stand a good chance of electing leaders who will help empower the development of the positive potential in the U.S. and the world. Such leaders will help us have the best chance to be safe and secure, will encourage us to pool our diverse resources for the common good, and will inspire us to direct our energies toward constructive rather than destructive means and ends.

Conclusion

I believe having the right to vote carries with it the responsibility to be informed, to be comprehensive rather than single-issue driven, and to understand that America is a “partner” in the world community, not the world’s “savior”, or “policeman”, or “grand designer”.

We must hold ourselves accountable if we, as American voters, elect leaders who put political party above national and world needs, who define and use “power” as a bully, and who exacerbate divisiveness rather than working for mutual-benefit cooperation.

We need leaders who consistently and diligently reach for the constructive potential in themselves and in others, leaders who are not afraid to have productive dialogue with foes as one step in that “reaching” process.

We need leaders with attitudes and policies capable of giving the destructive elements in human society viable reasons for choosing an alternative path, rather than leaders who mistakenly believe those destructive elements will be changed by trying to be more destructive than they are.

NOTE from Dudley: Another article in the Commentary section of this website is entitled "Questionnaire/Application for Presidential Hopefuls ". It is more or less related to the article you have just read.


Dudley Weeks


(Copyright 2007: Domestic and international law prohibits the public use of this article without the written permission of the author. Any reprint must bear the author’s name and notice of legal restrictions.}