There will always be those unfortunate citizens who vote for a presidential candidate because he (or she) happens to be the most attractive candidate out of a group that probably won't be winning any beauty pageants.
And an even greater number of people will cast their vote not for the candidate they feel best represents their ideals and beliefs, but for the candidate most likely to win while screwing up the country the least.
Quintessential American democracy may very well be best represented by the image of a voter holding his or her nose while casting a vote.
And while everyone acknowledges that it's important to vote, few people have the necessary time to become an informed voter. It doesn't help that watching a debate between presidential candidates generally affords little knowledge of the candidates' actual beliefs. You've got to admire their ability to sidestep a question, though.
Moderator: "What is your stance on ending the war in Iraq?"
Candidate: "I don't believe the Bush administration has gone about the war in the correct manner."
Moderator: "So, you would commit to pulling American troops out of Iraq?"
Candidate: "I would commit insofar as I would do things differently than the Bush administration."
Overwhelmed voter, I give you Glassbooth.org--a nonpartisan online quiz that matches you to the potential president of your dreams. True, online quizzes generally progress along the lines of: "What's your favorite color?" "Pink." "Your celebrity match is Jennifer Aniston." However, this quiz achieves a level of depth and utility that online celebrity match-ups never dreamed possible.
As an uncertain voter, you begin with 14 issues: drugs, civil liberties and domestic security, crime and punishment, Iraq and foreign policy, trade and economics, environment and energy, gun control, immigration, health care, social security, taxes and budget, education, gay rights, and abortion and birth control.
You have 20 points to distribute among these issues, indicating which is the most important to you, the voter. You can assign the points however you want. Put them all toward one issue or distribute them more evenly across all topics.
The quiz then progresses into its second--and final--phase, making statements and asking the voter to select one of five responses, bookended by "strongly oppose" or "strongly support." For example: "I oppose or support the 2006 extension of the Patriot Act." The less politically aware voter has the option of clicking on the term "Patriot Act" to automatically link to a Wikipedia article about said travesty.
After responding to all the questions, a name materializes on the screen--the name of the candidate who would best lead the country according to your visions and ideals. The name is accompanied by the percentage indicating the degree that your opinions are aligned. You can also learn which subjects you disagree about, and the percentage match between your beliefs and those of all the other candidates.
Is this the lazy voter's method of discriminating between candidates? So what if it is? Is it more honest to have a voter who spent 20 minutes online at Glassbooth and has a solid grasp of what each candidate actually stands for, or to have a voter with only a vague notion of what the candidates actually represent?
Never mind the fact that it wouldn't be the most difficult task to construct an argument that Americans are, in fact, lazy. We drive two blocks to the store for milk when we could have walked there in the same amount of time. We microwave dinners that could, with a little more effort and care, be healthier and better tasting.
Better still, consider Glassbooth a jumping off point. Find the candidate who best suits you, then go find out if he or she really is your dream president. It beats sorting through promotional (read: dishonest) pamphlets from a dozen candidates, haphazardly trying to find the right one.
I am fully aware that many of you will take the quiz, discover a 98 percent match with a candidate (as I did), and somewhat sadly vote for another candidate, a candidate less your own, but more likely to win. I hope that the absolute certainty that one politician so completely shares your vision for the country will be so much more compelling than a vague sense that you kind of like a candidate, that you will vote that way, hedging your bets be damned. Who knows? Maybe this country will elect a leader you can truly stand behind. And if not, at least you know who you stood for. And what they stood for.
Remember, people: Democracy is only as strong as its weakest link, and when you vote for the candidate with the fewest physical flaws, you are that link.
Arts Editor Ashley Schwellenbach votes for the candidate who looks most like a watermelon. Send useless political tracts to firstname.lastname@example.org.