The agenda got overcrowded at today’s Columbia Rotary Club meeting, and Health and Happiness got squeezed out — which was kind of a relief to me, because I hadn’t come up with anything funny. Instead, this is what I had prepared:
Health and Happiness
November 1, 2010
I initially asked President Robin to make room for me on the program today so that I could do Health & Happiness on the day before the election, because I thought I’d have all sorts of political humor in my pocket.
But as the day approached, I realized this was no time to joke around. The stakes in tomorrow’s election are too great for that.
I’m not going to make any endorsements here today. If you want those, go to my blog, bradwarthen.com. But I thought I’d share some general observations about voting responsibly that I’ve picked up in 36 years of watching politics very closely.
Recently, someone on my blog commented on how young the candidates for governor are. Well, they seem REALLY young to me: Vincent Sheheen is about 3 years older than my oldest child. Nikki Haley is about the same age.
Once, governors were OLDER people. The first time I interviewed a serious candidate for governor who was younger than I was was in 1994 – it was David Beasley. That was a shock. But I’ve had to grow accustomed to it.
The youth of the candidates reminds me just how long I’ve been writing about this stuff. My first experience with covering a gubernatorial campaign was in Tennessee in 1978, and I came home to South Carolina, initially as the editor supervising the political writers, in 1987.
Let me share some of the things I’ve observed, and learned, and figured out over that time. Some of them may seem a little counterintuitive; they may run against conventional wisdom (as if there’s anything conventional about wisdom). Others are just common sense, but please bear with me while I share them anyway.
All of my career, particularly my time as an editorialist, there was one noncontroversial position that newspapers across the country embraced without fear of contradiction: Urging people to vote. You’ve all heard the pious pronouncements: No matter how you vote, go vote; it is your duty!
Well, I have over time developed a heretical notion: Not everyone should vote. And if you are so disengaged, so uninterested, that you need ME to urge you, coax you, twist your arm to get you to vote – well, you shouldn’t be voting. Yes, turnout is low in this country, and that’s a shame. But we don’t need MORE voting so much as we need better, more thoughtful, voting. If you doubt me, I point you to the nomination of Alvin Greene in the recent primary.
Fortunately, the members of this club tend to be the kind of people who SHOULD vote – you are engaged and involved in your communities. You keep yourselves informed.
But as you DO vote, please consider the following:
First, don’t vote on the basis of campaign promises. Not because the candidates won’t KEEP the promises, but because they almost certainly WILL. And there is no way that a candidate can predict what sort of situations he will encounter in office, much less predict what the wise course will be in advance. Wise leadership should never be bound and shackled by the kinds of promises people make in an effort to get a majority of people to vote for them.
So, if not promises, what SHOULD be the guide? CHARACTER. Listen to the candidate’s words. See if they are consistent with his or her actions. Note the way his or her mind works. Take heed of how candidates interact with other people, including their opponents.
Next: Study what the candidates have actually done in the past, more than what they’ve said about the future. Examine their personal and professional records, certainly. But especially scrutinize their records in public service. This is going to be the most controversial thing I say today, given the current anti-incumbent fever, but you shouldn’t vote for anyone for HIGH office whom you haven’t had the chance to observe dealing with the pressures of lower office. Because there’s no human endeavor quite like service in a political position, and until you’ve seen someone perform in that arena, you have no idea how they will perform in the job for which they are currently running.
Don’t, under any circumstances, base your judgment upon the candidate’s political party. I would say NEVER vote for anyone who belongs to a political party, but that would sort of limit your choices. So I ask you to consider a candidate’s suitability in SPITE of his or her affiliation. You have an obligation as a voter to THINK FOR YOURSELF; do NOT surrender that to a party. Parties are enormously destructive things that inject all sorts of evils into our politics, not the least of which is intellectual dishonesty. Parties demand, REQUIRE, that their adherents agree with the stupidest ideas put forth by members of their party, and reject out of hand the very best ideas put forth by members of the other party. They are, as a result, strangling the deliberative process that is the heart of our system of representative democracy.
Since you can’t really avoid candidates who belong to parties, look for the ones who seem uncomfortable in that role, who sometimes actually agree and work with folks in the other party. Those are the ones who have not been ruined by the affiliation.
That’s as far as I’m going to go. For more, please check out bradwarthen.com.
And thank you for listening. I know it’s rather presumptuous of me to stand here and give advice, and you’re all very kind to listen. Good day.
After the meeting, the head of the H&H committee came up to me and said he was going to redo the schedule so I can be on later this month. I said OK, but that will be way late to use what I had prepared for today, and right now I’m not anticipating seeing much of anything funny in the election results. I mean, if Nikki wins I’m going to be depressed about politics altogether, and disgusted with the electorate for having done something extraordinarily foolish. And if Vincent pulls it out and wins, I’m going to be very happy for South Carolina and proud of the electorate for having paid attention finally… but I don’t think I’ll see anything funny in that.
But you never know. Comedy has a way of rearing it’s silly head when you least expect it.