By Ron VandenBoom
Rep. John Musgrove, D-Havre, stopped in the office the other day and dropped by my desk to say hi. Soon we were discussing the current state of political affairs and the issue of whether or not the average voter was well enough informed about the issues and candidates to make an educated choice. We also discussed the criteria many voters use to make their decision.
I won't go into John's views on these subjects because our conversation was not on the record, but let me suffice it to say that we both felt many voters would not be as well informed as they should be before casting their ballot.
As for me, the conversation brought back memories of my old high school civics teacher who once said, "Perhaps the greatest weakness of representative democracy is that the only thing a politician must do to get elected is please the voter."
It was a significant point. All too many voters look on politicians as a real life Santa Claus whose sole purpose in life is to open a Santa's sack of political favors and spread them like fairy dust over the masses. Unfortunately, the politician that promises the most political favors and is most able to do it convincingly stands the best chance of winning.
It's interesting to note that the founding fathers did little to establish criteria for politicians. They did establish age limits and residency requirements for high office, but most of what they did was to protect democracy's institutions from the will of the masses.
They established a Senate that, unlike today, was not to be elected by the general population, but by the state legislatures. This was done to balance what they saw as the more volatile House of Representatives from doing any damage to the country's institutions. The House, of course, was elected by the general population.
States excluded women and blacks from voting and in most cases only whites who owned property were allowed to vote.
I suspect the founding fathers had a serious mistrust of turning the helm of what they perceived as our fragile democracy over to the whim and will of the general population.
They well understood a principle known as "tyranny of the majority" and perhaps feared what those ignorant of democratic principles and the capitalist system would do if they gained political power.
The founding fathers hoped the role of the elected official would be that of a leader, not a Santa Claus figure granting pork barrel legislation and social programs to buy votes back home. Those elected to office were to be defenders of the Constitution and the rights and freedoms it guaranteed, and not use their office as a platform for doling out favors to political supporters. They hoped political figures would be the best of the best.
Thanks to universal suffrage, voters today have an even greater responsibility than politicians. It is the voter that must take responsibility for sending the right candidate into the halls of power. Voters must understand the capitalist system and be familiar with how our system works.
Voters too must cast their vote based on principle rather than personal wants and desires. They must select the candidate that will best protect their rights and freedoms and not be persuaded by lofty promises of fairness and prosperity.
Politicians that promise they will legislate you a better life might be asking you to pay a greater price than you know. The old saying, "if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is," holds true for politicians, too.
While I would like to encourage everyone to go to the polls Nov. 7, I will not. Voting is a serious undertaking that requires an intelligent and informed decision. If you haven't done your homework, then home is probably were you should stay.