Democracy demands an educated electorate. Democracy demands responsibility on the part of the electorate to critically examine our politicians so they can make truly informed decisions.
I observe a certain anti-intellectualism within current political discourse. How often do we hear politicians “accuse” other candidates or those serving in public office of being part of some so-called “elitist” intellectual establishment who are out of touch with “real” Americans. And what about the gendering of politics when we are told either that women don’t have the temperament to lead or when a politician calls an opponent’s manhood into question by demanding them to “man up”?
During economic downturns, charismatic and not-so charismatic leaders attempt to exploit the fears of the public in their quests for power and control. Conservative political discourse centers on “F” words: Faith, Family, Freedom, and the Flag. This set of buzz words comprise the foundation on which politicians tell us we should decide who is truly worthy of our votes.
It does us all a great disservice when we vote either for or against candidates based in large measure on their religious backgrounds. How many of us oppose Mormon, Muslim, Jewish, or Hindu candidates? How many of us would even consider atheist, agnostic, Pagan, or Wiccan candidates?
We also must cut through the coded racialized and classist language, for often when politicians use the words “poor,” “welfare” “welfare state,” “European-style socialism,” “inner city,” “food stamps,” “entitlements,” and “bad neighborhoods,” they tap into many white people’s anxieties and past racist teachings of people of color. Though white people comprise the largest percentage of current food stamp recipients, at 34 percent, the common perception and societal stereotype depicts black people as abusing the system. In addition, the buzz phrase, “personal responsibility” now has become a catch phrase to justify cutting benefits from those who have fallen on hard times and need assistance.
So-called “social issues” become wedge issues to attract people to a particular party or candidate. In the final analysis, though, when middle and working class people vote for these candidates, they essentially vote against their own economic self-interests.
There are certain things we need to take into account when judging our candidates. We need to consider the truth in their message from their appeals to fears and insecurities; their sincerity and ability to bring people together from their overt and covert attempts to divide; their talents and strengths from their bravado and performance; their attempts to maintain their integrity, their compassion, their humanity, and their empathy from their insincerity, manipulation, half-truths, and lies; and their attempts to answer questions honestly rather than giving answers derived from polling data saying what they think we want to hear rather than what they actually believe. We must rate them on the quality of their characters, on their policies, and how well we believe they will follow through on what they promise.
I observe a large number of my neighbors proudly displaying American flags, the red, white, and blue flying and rippling in strong winds on poles or porches in front yards. But patriotism and true commitment to our democracy takes more, much more. It demands of us all the needed time, effort, and commitment to critically investigate all aspects of the great gift we have been given in our representative form of government: the gift of our vote. Anything less would be to waste our enfranchisement, to silence our voices, and to slap the faces of all who have gone before to envision and protect our form of government.