In my previous post, I offered five ways to fix our election process that will probably never happen because they depend on Congress taking positive action. Today I’m writing about something that we can all do, individually, to make our elections better.
As a decidedly amateur photographer, I know that the easiest thing in the world is to take a bad picture of someone. I can take a dozen shots of a person, and even if we’re both trying to make the best portrait possible, half of the shots are going to turn out with the subject’s eyes looking away, their mouth contorted in some momentary grimace, or whatever.
This being election season, we all are reminded dozens of times an hour of how everyone can be ugly, even if it’s just for the instant of a shutter click. There’s probably a whole industry, these days, of finding crappy pictures of political candidates, so their opponents can use them in ads and make fun of them.
Because that’s where our political system is now. It’s less about building your own candidate up than tearing the other candidate down. And that’s never more true than this year, when both major-party presidential candidates have sported record-low likability ratings.
And of course I know you’ve read this many times before, but please bear with me; I’ll try to be brief. (And don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you who to vote for.)
Because here’s the thing. We always—and especially this year—hear people saying they’re voting for “the lesser of two evils.” It’s one of the biggest political cliches in America. But I’m here to tell you that in my lifetime, I’ve never had to choose between “two evils.” And I’ll go even further and state that very seldom is there even one “evil” on the ballot.
Politicians are not inherently bad people. I firmly believe that almost all of them got into politics for good reasons: to serve the country, to improve the way government works, to help people, etc. Maybe their ideas are different from mine, but that doesn’t make them bad people.
But like the portrait photographer who ends up with some bad shots, it’s child’s play to take a political opponent’s decisions and micro-analyze them, and frame them so that the opponent looks like the devil’s lieutenant. (Candidate X opposed that anti poverty program: he loathes people like you and me. OR: Candidate X supported that anti-poverty program: he wants to take your money and hand it to lazy freeloaders.) Throw that together with some of those unflattering portraits into a 30-second commercial, and you’ve made your case that Candidate X is evil.
Easy work if you can get it, and a lot of people make a awful lot of money in election years making ads just like that.
All I’m saying is, don’t buy into it. Try not to pay attention to the negativity. Use the mute button. Pause and fast-forward the DVR. Change the channel, if necessary.
I know it’s hard, if you’re leaning toward a particular candidate, not to cheer for the negative ads against the opponent. But you have to keep in mind that those ads are just as dishonest as the ones slamming your own favored candidate.
Even if you really, really hate the other candidate, when you cast your ballot, try to think of your vote as being for your candidate, and not just against the other person. Try not to dwell on the negative.
It does require a little investment on your part—a willingness to actually get yourself behind a political candidate and support what they stand for. Politics and government do matter in our society, but only if people, all of us, are willing to collectively make that investment.
Don’t just vote to keep someone out of office; find candidates who you agree with, and vote to hire them to make the kind of change you want to see.
Thanks, as always, for reading … and happy voting!