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With this week's announcement of Senator Kerry's running mate in the presidential elections, our most important political campaign season has commenced in full. Over the next several months, Bush-Cheney vs. Kerry-Edwards will dominate the news media to one degree or another. Other national, regional and local candidates will round out the cadre of politicians vying for our votes.
Every candidate, from the local school board to the oval office, will attempt to win our hearts and minds to help elect them to a position of influence and power. Their messages and methods may vary, but each individual voter's decision will largely come down to one of four motivations: party, personality, pocketbook or principle.
Ralph Nader's aspirations aside, the majority of political races come down to just two political parties. In national elections, the Democrats and Republicans are pretty evenly split at 40 percent of the population each. The other 20 percent make up the "swing vote." Many candidates will campaign on the appeal of the parties. Those same parties will take certain groups for granted. "Blacks vote Democrat," they assume. "NASCAR Dads vote Republican," they insist.
I remember my mother-in-law refusing to vote for any Republican because she said they belonged to "the party of the rich man." Despite her personal convictions against abortion, abhorrence of high taxes, and support of a strong national defense, she voted for a pro-choice candidate who promised to raise taxes and cut the military.
Blind allegiance to a party only serves to perpetuate a system that takes large groups of people for granted and attempts to divide us into simplistic, easy-to-manage blocs. The only real way to affect change in our country is to break away from a herd mentality and force the parties to stake out positions based on the people, instead of forcing people into one category or the other.
The second motivation used in campaigns is one of personality. We are hearing it right now, with the addition of John Edwards and his "charismatic personality" to offset John Kerry's perceived lackluster. President Reagan was much admired for his warm, down-to-earth persona, and most political pundits agree that it contributed greatly to his landslide victories and overwhelming popularity. President Clinton was known as a charmer, while his successor fell short in wooing voters.
While much about a leader can be learned through his or her personality, a vote based strictly on a candidate's likeability can be dangerous. History's villains are full of charisma. From cult leaders to maniacal dictators, magnetism and charm without moral underpinning poses a threat to individuals and society. We cannot vote purely on personality.
The easiest way to vote is according to the pocketbook. A candidate masquerading as Santa Claus appeals to one of the basest traits in mankind: greed. It's easier to vote for a tax rebate, benefits increase, or welfare check than it is to work harder, save more or spend less. Viewing the government as our source or solution skews our perception of a good leader by tempting us to elect the candidate who benefits us most. What most people fail to realize is that by giving government the power of the purse, we give up the freedom to determine our own financial fortune and, in the end, suffer more as a society. Money issues in an election must be based on sound financial practices, not cash grabs or fleeting promises.
The final motivation in an election is one of principles. This involves a process of knowing where we stand on critical issues and voting for the candidate who best represents our values based on time-proven absolutes. It is critical for everyone to understand that government functions best when fulfilling its primary role -- that of protector, not provider.
If social issues, such as abortion, gay marriage, or civil rights, are the most important issues in our lives, then we must elect representatives who line up with our convictions in these areas. If financial issues, such as taxing and spending, rank higher, then vote accordingly. If we understand the importance of the war on terror and civil defense, then we will elect the candidate who will best fulfill these responsibilities.
As candidates at every level begin to stake out positions, hone their rhetoric and make campaign-trail promises, put their party and personality in perspective and place your pocketbook behind. Then do your duty as a citizen and vote -- but vote on principle.