Casting Ballots With an Eye on the Next Generation

October 20, 2008

For release Oct. 22 and thereafter (680 words)

My 21-year-old son will vote for the first time Nov. 4 in what is expected to be a record turnout of first-time voters. Recently he said he planned to stick to the presidential election because he didn’t know enough about other races to make a fully informed decision. Immediately I objected to his reasoning. “I know who the best candidates are.” I said. “Just ask me.”

I now realize my advice was arrogant and simplistic, but I stand by the basic premise: Voters have a responsibility to go beyond the high-profile races discussed on the nightly news. After all, it is at the state and local level where so many decisions that affect our daily lives get made. (Can you say property taxes?) So Drew, if you’re reading, here’s my best advice for Election Day:
   
1. Look for politicians who care more about their grandchildren than the next election. As the old Greek proverb reminds us, “Society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit.” Sen. Richard Lugar may not be on the ballot this year, but he can be a role model as you enter the polls. He’s a politician whose career has focused on issues that will benefit future generations from nuclear disarmament to alternative energy development. Seek out budding Dick Lugars.
   
2.  Vote for people with life experience, not political experience. There’s something to be said for the person who’s been in a foxhole, owned his own business, raised a family or reached the pinnacle in his line of work. That advice doesn’t exclude youthful candidates, but it does rule out anyone whose first real job would be elective office. The best leaders are those who see politics not as a career but as community service. Remember the lesson of Cincinnatus of Ancient Rome who left his fields to save his country, served for 16 days and went home.
   
3. Try to identify a political philosophy that makes sense and join the political party that most closely articulates it. Think back to your high school government, history and economics classes. What did you learn about laissez-faire, regulated and government controlled economies? Do you agree with Thomas Jefferson that the government is best which governs least or with Alexander Hamilton who favored an energetic, proactive government?
   
4.  Don’t fall for the myth that smart voters always choose the candidate, not the party. There’s a reason that parties, which were not envisioned by our Constitution’s Framers, developed immediately during George Washington’s first term in office. Jefferson and Hamilton disagreed deeply about the best public policy for the new country and the public started aligning with one or the other. It’s human nature to divide into camps and, most of the time, it serves us well. In the upcoming presidential race, clear ideological differences exist between McCain/Palin and Obama/Biden. And when you don’t know much about races at the bottom of the ticket, you can safely assume that the candidate of your party shares your point of view.
   
5. Don’t succumb to peer pressure and vote for someone because it’s the trendy thing to do. It’s really not that time-consuming to research candidates and determine if they deserve your trust. One of the best, non-partisan resources is Project Vote Smart (www.votesmart.org). If you know your zip code, all you have to do is type it in and all the federal and many of the state candidates, their records, speeches and professional experiences will pop up.
   
6. Choose candidates who are open and transparent about their records and positions. Candidates who won’t answer legitimate surveys must have something to hide. Project Vote Smart sends candidates what it calls the “Political Courage Test,” which asks them their positions on everything from abortion to taxes. Gov. Mitch Daniels was especially thoughtful in filling it out this year. His opponent, Democrat Jill Long Thompson, has declined to do so.
   
7. If all else fails, talk to people you admire and ask them for whom they plan to vote and why. I think you know where to find us.

Andrea Neal is a teacher at St. Richard’s School in Indianapolis and adjunct scholar with the Indiana Policy Review Foundation. Contact her at aneal@inpolicy.org.



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