SAN DIEGO, October 16, 2012 — Neither President Obama nor Governor Romney will be the true star of Tuesday’s Town Hall style debate in Hempstead, New York at Hofstra University. Instead, those who still aren’t sure where they stand will drive the evening. Questions are selected by CNN’s Candy Crowley, who will invite 12 to 16 undecided voters to ask questions she has personally pre-approved.
Yes, it’s that wonderful time of the election year, those last few weeks. Primaries and conventions have long since faded away in the rear view mirror. The lips of candidates are still sore from all the behinds they kissed within their party bases. Now they set out to court those coveted, undecided voters. Generally those who still have not made up their minds by the last few weeks of the election are unaffiliated with the two major parties. They are commonly dubbed “independents.”
The very title suggests that such a person is a cut above other voters. “I go by the issues, not the party. I’m balanced. I’m non-partisan.”
Yes, it always seems refreshing to meet individuals who place themselves outside the compromised political machine. Still, a question begs to be asked: Why does our nation keep rolling over and playing dead for these people? Part of the answer is obvious: Politicians need their vote. But it’s frightening and uncanny how much power the undecided possess. Think about it. Those who have difficulty making up their minds will determine the fate of our country for the next four years at a time when the candidates’ positions are so opposite, that a battle is going on for the very soul of our nation.
To be fair, many independents are just that, truly independent, people frustrated with the hypocrisy that often characterizes both major parties. They study various issues and find themselves sometimes agreeing with Republicans, other times siding with Democrats. Bill O’Reilly of Fox News serves as a good example. Love him or hate him, the man obviously thinks for himself and hammers politicians from both sides of the isle. O’Reilly sounds like a conservative when talking about the economy, yet, he’s against the death penalty, a view point shared by many liberals.
But while some independents are appropriately analytical, there are other kinds of independents, the fickle voters. One has to wonder why they still have not made up their minds at this late stage of the game. It’s not as if the differences between today’s Democrats and Republicans aren’t glaringly apparent. A Grand Canyon lies between the viewpoints of Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, not the least of which is the major question of how much government control we want in our lives and our pocketbooks. People who are still undecided have probably not been paying much attention. That theory becomes vindicated when focus groups view debates from special rooms, hooked up with the latest electronic gadgets that register their disapproval when one candidate raises his voice too much or another frowns a lot. Afterwards, we are treated to their post debate comments about who “connected more with the audience” or who “looked most presidential.”
Meanwhile, other voters watching it all on television look upon these town hall gatherings with amazement. Already strong in their convictions, they just don’t care who generated the warmest fuzzy in a town hall meeting. Instead, they choose the candidate who aligns with their own standards and who will deliver his promises, even if for no other reason than pressure from his party and constituents. The affiliations and promises to special interest groups tell us far more about what will highlight a president’s term than his sense of humor or Kodak moment on stage with the wife and kids.
If undecided voters became more educated and less pampered, the power of an election would no longer rest in the hands of indifference or postponed dubious decisions. Our present situation is unfair to the many people who seriously study issues and work tirelessly within their party. Such people often donate time, money and energy, only to see the election held hostage by a small number of uninformed swing voters tossed back and forth by the wind.
Please understand. There is nothing wrong with people who do not follow politics. One can be uninformed about politics and very knowledgeable about other subjects, such as math, science, computers, archaeology or art. The list is endless. Many choose not to follow politics simply because they find our current situation depressing. Who can blame them? Others are simply too busy for politics. They work long hours, providing for their families, coaching little league, or driving their kids to Girl Scout meetings.
But whatever the reasons, people who are not following politics should admit it and not vote. Yes, that sounds terrible, but this writer is not a big believer in “getting out the vote.” Voting may be a right but the right is too sacred to abuse. American citizens also have a right to become doctors if they so desire. But not everybody is allowed to perform surgery. Our society insists that a potential doctor study hard for many years and eventually graduate medical school.
Does this sound like an extreme example? Yes, but perhaps the voting situation would look just as grave if we weren’t used to it. The notion of encouraging everybody to vote (even the uninformed) is a familiar, time honored tradition. It’s become comfortable old leather. If we were to back up and honestly assess the situation, it may just seem insane that the leader of our free world (at a time when terrorists are building nuclear weapons and the world economy threatens to collapse) will be chosen by people based upon a good vibe or a charismatic speech.
The day will never come when we force people to take a Political Science or Current Events test before voting, so to some degree we must face reality and consign ourselves to the fact that our country will always have this problem. But perhaps we can at least practice some kind of damage control. A good start would be to allow decided voters to ask town hall questions. Then, Obama might have to deal honestly with Bill Ayers or the Illinois Infant Protection Act. Romney would also be challenged. He’d have to do a better job of explaining the difference between state and federal intrusion into health care. He’d also be grilled about changing his position on abortion. Instead, we’re more likely to hear personal stories about Aunt Sally not being able to pay her rent or Grandpa Bud needing a hip replacement. It’s not hard for candidates to respond with empathy and explain how their policies are the most compassionate. One candidate might even shed a tear and win the debate for sure!
I remember, years ago, listening to a woman explain to me why she was not going to vote for George H. W. Bush as president. It was because of his running mate, Dan Quayle. “There’s no way I’m voting for him. He can’t even spell the word, potato.”
Now mind you, this woman knew nothing about what was going on in the country and would have been unable to explain the philosophical difference between a Democrat or a Republican. The only thing she knew about this election, and I mean THE ONLY THING SHE KNEW ABOUT THIS ELECTION was that Quayle couldn’t spell the word potato. Dan Quayle, supposedly, was too stupid for the Oval Office, even though he graduated law school and served in the National Guard before becoming a US Senator.
The very idea of somebody voting in any election based upon that kind of reasoning, yet smugly patting herself on the back, saying “He’s too stupid for my vote,” creates a story scarier than anything Rod Serling could ever have narrated. And yet, such people are wooed by presidential hopefuls. It is time to re-evaluate those coveted “independents.”
-There is an official Independent Party, but the term “independent” often applies to people with no party affiliation. There are also undecided “swing voters” who do belong to political parties.
-Unfair literacy tests were given to African-Americans under Jim Crow laws, so some might argue that voter aptitude tests have been applied in our country before. My point is that our present culture will never agree to such a thing. Jim Crow laws were racist and unfair. The suppression of African-Americans explained why many of them were not able to read back in those days. For what it’s worth, today, most of the uninformed voters I’ve personally encountered are white.
Bob Siegel is a conservative Democrat and weekend radio talk show host on KCBQ and columnist. Details of his show can be found at www.bobsiegel.net.
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