Vail Valley Voices: How to choose a candidate
July 31, 2010
In Nov. 2, Americans will go to the polls to elect their leaders and lawmakers.
Every election is important, and so every American should vote. It’s un-American to not meet this critical civic responsibility.
And yet, the issues and the number of choices in the voting booth sometimes may overwhelm us.
The easiest way to deal with this situation is to select a political party that best reflects your views and sentiments. Then, you can simply vote by party line when the individuals running are not familiar to you.
Considering that about 50% of Americans vote on Election Day, voting by party is satisfactory, if the percentage voting increases from its current level.
But, with a little effort, we can all fine-tune our electoral choices. I’d like to suggest a few strategies to do so.
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Unfortunately, a great number of Americans vote for candidates based upon the most important issue to them personally. For instance, women’s rights supporters will generally vote for more liberal candidates, and pro-life supporters will opt for more conservative candidates.
I think Americans have the capacity to make more informed decisions, to dig deeper into the qualifications of the candidates.
Let’s begin with the most basic qualification, intelligence. Most candidates don’t reveal their IQs (maybe they should), so voters must use other methods to measure a candidate’s intellect. Did the candidate go to college, which college? Did he go to graduate school or law school? It seems to me that someone with a good education is more likely to be a better government official than someone without one.
Experience. Is the person an incumbent? This is a double-edged sword in some cases. As a rule, government experience is a plus, but many believe that career politicians care more about reelection than their constituencies.
Character. Has the candidate been arrested and/or convicted of a crime? Why would a voter want someone as their representative if he committed crimes against others?
Public service. This is different than government experience. Has the candidate shown a real interest in societal problems? Is the person able to form coalitions and get things done to help others?
Motivation. Personally arrogant, self-centered candidates who think we are all idiots turn me off. Good government serves the people, not the other way around. If a candidate is running for an office only as a way to find a more prestigious position, beware.
The issues. The most difficult aspect of evaluating a candidate is ascertaining how he or she stands on the important issues. This requires work on the part of the voter.
We should, at a minimum, know the candidates’ views for the highest offices, such as president, senator and representative. What are the critical issues? Frankly, they’re endless, and some are very emotional.
In this category, I would put abortion and gun control. We spend an enormous amount of time on these two issues because neither side is willing to compromise.
Today, the really important issues that affect our lives and country are health care, jobs, foreign policy, immigration, education and the economy. You must know each candidate stands on these to make a truly informed decision.
Health care is an intriguing topic because “reform” has already been legislated. Unfortunately, reform hasn’t trickled down to the needy, and won’t for several more years.
Nevertheless, Democrats laud the passage of health care reform even though it will cost $1 trillion and benefit only 10 percent of all Americans.
Job growth has been anemic and many Americans are still unemployed. The unemployment rate is about 9.5 percent overall. However, certain regions of the country and social groups have been hurt much more than others. The federal government has taken steps to decrease the number of those not working using stimulus, but they haven’t had the desired effect to this point.
Foreign policy. This is a huge topic, so I will focus principally on Afghanistan and Iraq. Simply, do you want the United States to continue to fight in these countries? Or does the continued loss of lives and money outweigh the potential gains of prolonged occupations?
Immigration. The United States essentially has received and cared for millions of illegal aliens at a great cost. These people have burdened our health care and educational systems. And this group has taken jobs away from Americans. Are you in favor of securing our borders and stopping the influx of more aliens?
Education. This is a critical, but long-term problem. What should be done to better educate our children? It’s a simple question with a very complex answer.
The economy. I would include the housing debacle in this bucket. But the way government interfaces with private industry is also a critical point. How involved should the federal government be in private business? And what are the long-term objectives for tax policy?
This list is fairly comprehensive. A voter will have to be diligent in reading the newspapers and/or watching TV to gain insight. But it will be worth the effort as, more than ever, we need to have the best people serving us in Washington.
Sal Bommarito is a novelist and frequent visitor to Vail over the past 20 years.