An average American contemplating the emerging presidential contest may well find himself beset by cynicism verging on nausea. Yet that same individual is probably scouring the scarred landscape of his or her mind for a blossom of hope. We Americans are like that. We are good at anger and fear, but we're also good at hope. Go figure.
I encourage you to put all those feelings to the best possible use during this campaign. Why? Because it's likely to be the most important of our lives, so critical are the issues. I say this as someone whose earliest memory of a presidential race was the 1952 contest between Eisenhower and Stevenson.
This is a time to resist that temptation to be lazy or skeptical and call ourselves to higher standards. The First Amendment doesn't encourage us to shoot off our mouths without regard for facts or deep thought, but it does allow us to, and far too many of us indulge in that. If we are just a bunch of blowhards in love with the sounds of our own voices, why should we expect our elected officials to be different? Here are a few suggestions that might help you make it through the coming hailstorm of hype without losing the best of who you are.
Remember, all politicians are human. This means they're all capable of hypocrisy, intellectual dishonesty, stupid statements, and bald mistakes, but not to the same degree. Support people who are less hypocritical, dishonest, stupid, and mistaken and who can acknowledge being a dummy without the press hounding them into it. Politicians are not comic book heroes and don't deserve the oodles of adulation we tend to lavish on them and, sorry, that includes your faves! Yes it does. What sane individual would willingly submit to our brutal political process? By the same token, we can't let perfection be the enemy of the good. Look for a real person and a record of competency that shows through all the calculated statements. I know, maybe that's too much to hope for. People say one thing during the election and do another in office. And being good as a senator, governor, or mayor doesn't mean you'll be good at the presidency, which is in a league by itself. Still, look for authenticity and the ability to get things done that serve the common good.
Seek out people representing differing points of view with whom you might actually have a civil, thoughtful conversation. Stop listening to the pompous, self-aggrandizing radio and TV talk show blather-bags with whom you agree. More is demanded of a citizen than getting your ego stroked every morning!
Resist falling for labeling, mythologizing, or demonizing of any candidate and yes, that includes the people for whom you don't intend to vote. In fact, if you really want to sharpen your mind, watch those folks' full speeches on C-Span or on the Web. By all means, disagree, but do so really informed. What a concept!
By the way, expect the candidate who is trailing by September, 2008, to absolutely savage the front-runner. Anticipate it and be prepared to disbelieve it because it is likely to be a desperate distortion that appeals to your lowest instincts. This alone should be ample reason to vote for the other guy or gal or sit it out.
Make a multi-issue decision. In other words, avoid getting swept up in a single cause, no matter how important it is. Why? Because there are many extremely important issues. We need someone in the White House with the mental, emotional, and moral strength to be competent at a wide array of them, not just the one you most cherish someone who will bring with them a team of equally bright and competent folks. Getting people so riled up they'll vote on a single issue is an old divisive political tactic that further dumbs us down.
Get as many facts as you can and that's plenty. The Internet is the most magnificent tool we've ever had to democratize access to information. Use it! Many of us have become knee-jerk and lazy. We should have dozens of facts for each opinion. Instead, we have dozens of opinions for each fact.
Try to vote for someone much smarter than you, someone you probably would not want to have a beer with because he or she would bore the crap out of you talking policy until you ran screaming from the bar looking for your designated driver.
Encourage others to participate regardless of where they sit politically. We preach to the world about democracy, yet our participation in presidential elections places around 114th among all the democratic countries on earth. Isn't that, well, shameful if not tragic?
Self-discipline is called for to be truly worthy of citizenship in this land. That's what I'm urging you to take on so you'll be fully awake on Election Day. Maybe we'll send some folks to Washington who, in spite of their neurotic personalities, will actually get some things done for the common good. See, even after 55 years of witnessing the increasing degradation of our democracy, I'm still hopeful. Go figure. But first, go vote, and vote smart. Bet on hope over anger and fear.
Bob Kamm is a local writer who most recently published Lyric Heart, a collection of poetry. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.