Elections are our republic’s best tool for selecting our political representatives, but they are poorly suited for choosing or directing policy between elections. Elections are theatre. They are competition. An exchange of barbs or insults is more interesting to watch than a debate of the finer points of corporate tax inversions. Evaluating a candidate’s physical appearance and demeanor is apparently more engaging to voters than whether they support policies to lift children from poverty. In such an environment it is easy to become cynical about politics.
Our cynicism as participants is not limited to voting. It prevents men and women of talent and character from coming forward to serve as political representatives. Who wants to wallow in the muck of an election campaign? Who relishes the thought of exposing their friends and family to the vitriol of the political arena.? So, we have a political process that not only discourages voters, but also the best among us from stepping forward to represent us.
So, what’s the solution to these insoluble problems? The solution is simple. It is the same solution that has been recommended since the formation of our democracy when Thomas Jefferson stated that, “an educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people." We need to educate ourselves about important issues at every level of government. Educated opinions matter. Reactions to a candidate’s latest Twitter tirade do not. We need to communicate frequently and effectively with our political representatives regarding policy matters before and after they take office. We need to become knowledgeable opinion leaders and advocates in our communities regarding issues important to us and our neighbors. If each of us tries to learn more about an important issue each day – or as little as once each week – and communicate our priorities and preferences regarding those issues to our political representatives, then we will create a more perfect union. Democracy is not a spectator sport.
Copyright © 2016 by Jeffrey Scott Szorik