The opportunity to vote for president should not be taken lightly, as I discussed in my last post. Yet, it’s not always an easy process, particularly if you are young or consider yourself a “moderate.” Every day you encounter new bits of information that change the way you think about things, and it seems that both sides are right and wrong. To help clear up the fog of campaign season, here are a few tips about what to focus on.
What DOESN’T matter:*
“Plans” don’t matter. Presidents have sweeping authority in the Executive Branch (the various bureaucratic agencies and departments that regulate our lives and navigate foreign affairs), but when it comes to actual legislation, they can do very little without support. With a Republican House and a Democratic Senate, the next president will be very limited in what they can pull off without being a tried and true consensus-builder. In the unlikely event that Republicans take the Senate, Romney’s agenda will become somewhat relevant, but even then only portions of it.
Rhetoric doesn’t matter. Presidential candidates have writers, advisors and consultants to help them shape a message that resonates with their target audiences. Being able to deliver a more impassioned, humorous and articulate stump speech has nothing to do with what a person can or will do in office.
“Facts” don’t matter. Politicians and their surrogates say a lot of misleading things during the campaign. For most part, I don’t blame them—I blame the nature of democracy and the various ways in which data can be interpreted. Even economists and political scientists have a hard time keeping up. Far worse for the average American. Trying to wrap your head around the facts and basing your vote on who seems to be more honest may not help. Just assume that much of what is said is true in one sense and wrong in a different sense.
What DOES matter:
Record matters. The best way to cut through the malarkey is to look not at what a person says, but what they do. Is their record one defined by success or disappointment? Do they work well with others, or cast blame? Do they unite or divide? This is where the aforementioned “facts” can be helpful, as candidates will tend to gloss over their failures.
Your worldview matters. How we separate fact from fiction, and what we do with that information, largely depends on how we see the world. What is a person? What is their worth and purpose? On what motives do people operate? Are there such things as “rights” and what do they require? How can we best confront evil in the world? What makes a strong society? These are all questions that we should explore to help us understand whether we should support one political party or another.
Appointments matter. The president personally makes around 3,000 appointments to various positions in his vast kingdom. The most important are cabinet heads—Secretaries of Defense, State, Education and so on, who determine what regulations to push and how. These get changed out every few years, but one unique appointment lasts for decades: Supreme Court justices. They have to be approved by the Senate as well, but a rejection is rare. As it stands, the Court is quite balanced. If a justice retires in the next four years—which is likely— the sitting president may tip the balance (unless the retiring justice and president have similar leanings).
If, after much consideration, you still can’t come to a comfortable decision, always remember: it’s okay not to vote.
*Of course they matter, you just shouldn’t base a decision on them.