By Ralph Nader
Let’s face it. Most politicians use the mass media to obfuscate. Voters who don’t do their homework, who don’t study records of the politicians, and who can’t separate the words from the deeds will easily fall into traps laid by wily politicians.
In 2002, Connecticut Governor John Rowland was running for re-election against his Democratic opponent, William Curry. Again and again, the outspent Curry informed the media and the voters about the corruption inside and around the governor’s office. At the time, the governor’s close associates and ex-associates were under investigation by the U.S. attorney. But to the public, Rowland was all smiles, flooding the television stations with self-serving, manipulative images and slogans. He won handily in November. Within weeks, the U.S. attorney’s investigation intensified as they probed the charges Curry had raised about Rowland. Rowland’s approval rating dropped to record lows, and impeachment initiatives and demands for his resignation grew. He was prosecuted, convicted and imprisoned. Unfortunately, enough voters were flattered, fooled, and flummoxed to cost Bill Curry the race.
In 2004 Tom Frank, a Kansas author, wrote: “The poorest county in America isn’t in Appalachia or the Deep South. It is on the Great Plains, a region of struggling ranchers and dying farm towns, and in the election of 2000, George W. Bush carried it by a majority of greater than 75 percent.” Inattentive voters are vulnerable to voting against their own interests. They are vulnerable to voting for politicians who support big business and ignore their interests as farmers, workers, consumers, patients, and small taxpayers. Big Business will not spur change in a political system that gives the fatcats every advantage. Change must come from the voters, and here’s how:
President Donald Trump and the Republicans in Congress are masters at flattering voters and lying about their positions on issues ranging from health care to the minimum wage. Before you vote, rid yourself of all preconceived, hereditary, ideological, and political straitjackets. Use two general yardsticks for candidates for elective office: Are they playing fair and are they doing right?
Stay open-minded. Avoid jumping to conclusions about candidates based solely on their stance on your one or two top issues. Pay attention to where these politicians are on the many other issues that profoundly affect you and your family. If you judge them broadly rather than narrowly, you will increase your influence by increasing your demands and expectation levels for public officials. There are numerous evaluations of their votes, easily available on the Internet.
Know where you stand. A handy way to contrast your views with those of the incumbents and challengers is to make your own checklist of twenty issues, explain where you stand and then compare your positions, the candidates’ votes and declarations. Seeing how their positions or their actual record matches up to your own positions makes it harder for politicians to play you. Compare candidates with their votes or declarations.
Ask the tough questions. These are many issues that politicians like to avoid. They include questions about whether candidates are willing to debate their opponents and how often, why they avoid talking about and doing something about corporate power and its expanding controls over people’s lives, or how they plan specifically to shift power from these global corporate supremacists to the people. After all, the Constitution starts with “We the People” not “We the Corporations.” The words “corporations” and “company” are never mentioned in our Constitution!!
Ask candidates to speak of Solutions to the major problems confronting our country. Politicians often avoid defining solutions that upset their commercial campaign contributors. Ask about a range of issues, such as energy efficiency, livable wages, lower drug prices, massive government contractor fraud, corporate crimes against consumers, workers and investors, reducing sprawl, safer food, and clean elections.
Ask members of Congress to explain why they keep giving themselves salary increases and generous benefits, and yet turn cold at doing the same for the people’s frozen minimum wage, health insurance, or pension protections.
All in all, it takes a little work and some time to become a super-voter, impervious to manipulation by politicians who intend to flatter, fool, and flummox. But this education can also be fun, and the pursuit of justice can offer great benefits to your pursuit of happiness.
Such civic engagement will help Americans today become better ancestors for tomorrow’s descendants.