Pop Rocket, August 2012
The horror is upon us, and on August 28 some of the voters in our area will choose who represents us all in the state Legislature and the county Board of Supervisors.
If you're a registered Democrat, Green or Libertarian, you'll be sitting this particular election out, sad to say. Your parties have either failed to come up with any candidate at all, or are stuck deep in the rough. If you want to do better than that, you'll have to start showing up at some meetings and doing spadework for next time.
Sure, there's another election in a few months, and that has its own charms, but the local races are all about the Republican primary. The November poll only ratifies the decisions made this month for the offices I'm talking about. So for now I'm addressing you Republicans and independents, since you are our only real hope for improving the political landscape.
You've been switching the channel away from the political ads, maybe you grumble about the signs cluttering up the streets, and you've probably been dodging chats with politics geeks like me, but let's say you're not one of the hopeless cynics intoning with moral superiority about the uselessness of voting and, not incidentally, making things worse.
Assuming you've kept the county up to date on your address, pretty soon you'll get a sample ballot in the mail. If you're registered as unaffiliated or independent, you'll get three or four, and you get to pick one to vote.
You're probably a working stiff with a family or other overcommitments, so you won't have time to sit in on one of the rare candidate forums or show up for a meet-and-greet. If you have any sense at all you're not listening to talk/hate radio, so you won't likely hear local political advertising. Maybe you glanced at the brief profiles in the paper on your way to the funnies, or if you've been paying unusual attention you remember one or two things that one of the more experienced candidates did in the past. There's a small chance that a candidate has actually shown up at your door, asking for a signature on a petition and hoping for the chance to make a case to you, which you more than likely declined without hesitation. But if you're living an average life you're unlikely to have any useful information about the candidates beyond the names on the yard signs.
The ghastly reality is that an awful lot of people are casting ballots based on no more than that.
But let's say you're ready to put down the cheese puffs, whip into your Super Voter suit and rush out to save the world for democracy and The American Way.
Just do us all a favor and try to avoid choosing candidates who are no better prepared than you are.
Political issues are complex, so candidates offering promises and simple answers should provoke immediate suspicion. Usually this sort of talk comes from people with the least experience. Those who know the ropes are much slower to give an opinion, and that only after careful study of the details.
As illustrated by our hopelessly deadlocked Congress, the public-policy process requires cooperation and compromise. We're not elevating monarchs here to wield power by fiat, we're choosing volunteers to go into harshly lit rooms for low pay to work out solutions that no one's completely happy with. That demands the ability to check the ego at the door, really hear and respect the ideas of others, and work cooperatively to find the best and most practical solution.
Experience with the political process matters. There's a huge learning curve going into any office for the first time, and much as you dislike the idea of "career politicians," someone who's been around the block a few times is far more likely to be able to make good things happen.
Most important, policy is always about the future. We usually wind up reacting to the current crisis because some previous officeholder failed to think about what was coming, or (worse) was working to take us back to some mythically wonderful past. Above a clear-eyed understanding of the problems we face, a good candidate offers a positive vision for the kind of community he or she wants to help build in the years ahead.
"But but but," you cry, "none of them is good enough!" You know what? You're right. But no one's been good enough since 1776, and the old machine is still ticking over.
If you're waiting for Superman, give it up. We govern ourselves, and that means putting ordinary people in place to do extraordinary things. That starts with you, Ordinary Voter, doing what has become the extraordinary work of figuring out whom to elect. Your decision matters to me and everyone else here. Get to it.