When I was growing up, I actually considered a career in politics. I quickly changed my mind, though, when I discovered that there was way too much politics involved in it. Obviously, that’s a play on words, but I get funny looks from people when I tell them that. However, I am completely serious. The politics of running for and holding elective office is influenced too much by the politics of power, influence, and money. But whose fault is it that such a condition exists? I believe voters have no one to blame but themselves.
As a voting public, we have become entirely too sophisticated for our own good. Many of us have made a habit of voting pragmatically, i.e., voting for the person we think has the best chance to win instead of the person we most agree with. We complain about wishy-washy politicians who won’t give us straight answers, yet when people who say what they really think run for office, we dismiss them as being "loose cannons." When any candidate makes a statement that’s evenly slightly out of the mainstream, it is considered such an egregious act that he or she either becomes marginalized or is forced to drop out of the race. What’s left is a bunch of cautious and robotic weenies with their fingers in the wind – people who form their decisions based on polls and focus groups.
We say we want candidates who are different, but not too different. We say we want new ideas but we shun candidates that seem the least bit precocious. Therefore, we end up with the kinds of candidates we’ve always had.
I’ve often heard voters comment on candidates by making statements like "I couldn’t imagine her being elected" or "he sends shivers down my spine." Most people will automatically exclude any candidate who would fit those kinds of descriptions. But should they? Sometimes good candidates come in packages that might be a little different or even a bit scary. By disqualifying those types of candidates, we could be missing out on some potentially great leaders. I wonder how many of today’s sophisticated voters would consider someone like Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, or Teddy Roosevelt too much of a "nut" to be elected.
We like to say the issues are the important things to us. However, many of us vote based on personalities. For example, we will decide on a presidential candidate based on who seems the most "presidential" (whatever that means). We are also too concerned about meaningless ceremonial issues. For example, I bet some people wouldn’t vote for an unmarried man for president because of their concern about the absence of a first lady. We also put too great of an emphasis on superficial issues such as aesthetics, i.e., how someone looks. Richard Nixon may have lost the 1960 election because he didn’t look as good on TV as John F. Kennedy during their debate.
We also stress a candidate’s education a little too much. Education is important, but it’s not everything. Some of smartest people in the world never attended college. However, many of us wouldn’t consider someone for any office higher than dog catcher unless he or she had at least a Bachelor’s degree.
Many voters make their ballot selections based on personal greed instead of what’s best for their country, state, district, or locality. They will reserve their votes for politicians whom they think will give them things and/or make life easier for them. Of course, Politicians constantly exploit this greed by making outlandish promises. Once these politicians are elected, they either have to renege on those promises or create budget deficits in order to bring them about.
Other voters, while not so much motivated by personal greed, will vote based on localized interests at the expense of the more general interests. For example, they might vote for a particular congressional candidate because they think he will bring a lot of goodies to their district. This mentality also helps to forge a cycle of promises, broken promises, and budget deficits. Until voters begin to put the general good ahead of personal and parochial interests, these problems will persist.
We like to blame the news media for all of the "gotcha" political stories that pry too deeply into the personal lives and distant past history of candidates and therefore keep many good and qualified people out the political arena. However, it is ultimately our fault because we eat that stuff up. We can’t get enough of it. The more dirt the news outlets dig up on various candidates, the more we buy their newspapers and tune in to their TV and radio stations for more of those stories. The sad part is that we allow that stuff to influence our votes. Most of it is irrelevant to the issues at hand and should not be taken seriously by voters. We do usually ignore the parts about the candidates or parties we like, but we tend to believe the parts about the candidates or parties we don’t like. Therefore, the news media keeps feeding us this garbage.
Last but not least, one of our biggest problems is our unwillingness to vote for independent or third party candidates. These candidates generally do not have obligations to party bosses or quid pro quo relationships with lobbyists like the major party candidates do. Very often, we will vote for the lesser of two evils, rather than an independent or third party candidate who might be much better. Of course, when you vote for the lesser of two evils, you’re still voting for an evil. Many people feel like they would be wasting their vote by voting for any of those other candidates. This is simply not true. A voter only wastes his/her vote when he/she votes for someone he/she does not really like. Instead, we create a voting catch-22 for ourselves, i.e., no one will vote for Mr. Independent because he has no chance; Mr. Independent has no chance because no one will vote for him. If enough people decided to start voting their conscience, we could break that vicious cycle.