Lessons of a Political Novice

When I began paying close attention to the presidential election and actually hearing what the candidates said, I realized that discerning their true positions and understanding the complexities of the issues they addressed was virtually impossible from their oral statements, speeches, and debates.  I could get a sense of their public personas and perhaps know how theyfelton immigration, minimum wage, foreign affairs, unemployment, jobs, health care, and other issues, but I also realized quickly that speeches and even interviews must consist of general statements, buzz words, and catch-phrases to keep the listener engaged. Complex issues can only be understood through long-term study and serious critical thinking.
As a result of this recognition, I began to spend more time reading articles in magazines and newspapers and listening to extended discussions on National Public Radio or hour-long television shows with panels of experts and interviews with other experts, including, on occasion, the candidates themselves.For the first time in my voting life, I was spending a great deal of time trying to understand the issues and the candidates’ positions. I became more informed, but I also became more frustrated because I still could not say I had sufficient understanding of the main issues to vote intelligently.
The truth is that most, if not all, of the important issues that surface in a presidential race are too complex to be understood by most of us who have not followed the issue over the long haul and who have limited time to study one or two issues, let alone five or six. I suspect we end up voting based upon the candidate’s personality, our agreement with or opposition to the candidate’s buzz words that stir our emotions, and to the information and the opinions of news sources we trust. I also suspect we do not often discuss the issues with friends because we know, or think we know, where they stand and we wish to keep the peace.
I do not mean to say or even imply that the vast majority of Americans are as uninformed as I am when I vote. I may be unique in my ignorance. Still, I wonder how much critical thinking actually takes places in deciding for whom to vote. This concern is certainly not mine alone, yet we continue to spend millions of dollars on elections. Every election I am stunned by the cost and ponder what good in the nation and the world could have been done with that money.

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