Let’s face it. Most politicians use the mass media to obfuscate. Voters who don’t do their homework, who don’t study records of the politicians, and who can’t separate the words from the deeds will easily fall into traps laid by wily politicians.
In 2002, Connecticut Governor John Rowland was running for re-election against his Democratic opponent, William Curry. Again and again, the outspent Curry informed the media and the voters about the corruption inside and around the governor’s office. At the time, the governor’s close associates and ex-associates were under investigation by the U.S. attorney. But to the public, Rowland was all smiles, flooding the television stations with self-serving, manipulative images and slogans. He won handily in November. Within weeks, the U.S. attorney’s investigation intensified as they probed the charges Curry had raised. Rowland’s approval rating dropped to record lows, and impeachment initiatives are now underway with many demands for his resignation. Curry has gained favor in the public eye, but the election is long past. Enough voters had been flattered, fooled, and flummoxed to cost him the race.
Tom Frank, a Kansas author, recently wrote: “The poorest county in America isn’t in Appalachia or the Deep South. It is on the Great Plains, a region of struggling ranchers and dying farm towns, and in the election of 2000, George W. Bush carried it by a majority of greater than 75 percent.” Inattentive voters are vulnerable to voting against their own interests. They are vulnerable to voting for politicians who support big business and ignore their interests as farmers, workers, consumers, patients, and small taxpayers. Big Business will not spur change in a political system that gives them every advantage. Change must come from the voters, and here’s how:
A liberation ritual. Rid yourself of all preconceived, hereditary, ideological, and political straitjackets. Replace with two general yardsticks for candidates for elective office: Are they playing fair and are they doing right?
Stay open-minded. Avoid jumping to conclusions about a candidate based solely on their stance on your one or two primary issues. Don’t disregard where they fall on twenty-five other realities that affect you and your family very deeply and seriously. If you judge them broadly rather than narrowly, you increase your influence by increasing your demands and expectation levels for their performance. There are numerous evaluations of their votes (see Citizen.org or Commoncause.org for progressive perspectives) and positions to get you behind sly slogans like “Clear Skies Initiative” or “Leave No Child Behind.”
Know where you stand. A handy way to contrast your views with those of the incumbents and challengers is to make your own checklist of twenty issues, explain where you stand and then send your list to the candidates. See how their list or their actual record matches up to your own.
Ask the tough questions. These are the questions that politicians like to avoid. They include whether they are willing to debate their opponents and how often, why they avoid talking about and doing something about corporate power and its expanding controls over peoples lives, or how they plan to shift power from these global corporate supremacists to the people. Ask them to speak of solutions to the major problems confronting our country. Politicians often avoid defining solutions that upset their commercial financiers (this includes a range of issues, such as energy efficiency, lower drug prices, reducing sprawl, safer food, and clean elections). Ask members of Congress to explain why they keep giving themselves annual salary increases and generous benefits, and yet turn cold at doing the same for the minimum wage, health insurance, or pension protections. All in all, it takes a little work and some time to become a super-voter, impervious to manipulation by politicians who intend to flatter, fool, and flummox. But I dare suggest that this education can also be fun, that the pursuit of justice can offer great benefits to the pursuit of happiness, and that such civic engagement will help Americans today become better ancestors for tomorrow’s descendants.
Ralph Nader is the author of: The Good Fight: Declare Your Independence and Close the Democracy Gap (Harper Collins Books). http://www.ralphnadersgoodfight.com/