Instead of elections? *

It’s time to START thinking about the coming elections – if you haven’t already. And you should because there simply isn’t an “instead of” for elections. That’s how we control ourselves in a democracy.

Winston Churchill once described democracy as a strange but necessary thing:

“No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried from time to time.”

But on the other hand, if you want something less messy, there are ways to do it. Coercion, for example, is just dandy. Let the leader take all the power. It’s efficient and orderly—as long as iron-fisted enforcement is OK with you. Rule by a dictator or tyrant is a lovely thing –  some people say.

Twentieth century political activist Eugene V. Debs left us a warning, though. “In every age it has been the tyrant, the oppressor and the exploiter who has wrapped himself in the cloak of patriotism, or religion, or both, to deceive and overawe the People.”

Or how about anarchy? That can be fun. Everybody does pretty much whatever they please—until everything collapses in shambles.

Personally, I’ll stick with elections and democracy.

An election gives us the choice to be either a passenger or a pilot—we either go along for the ride and end up wherever the plane takes us—or we get in the pilot seat and set the course ourselves.

The trouble is, setting the course and making the decisions takes cooperation, and that takes work, study, time, and personal involvement. And those are not easy.

According to the late Bill Vaughan, author and syndicated political pundit, “A citizen of America will cross the ocean to fight for democracy, but won’t cross the street to vote in a national election.”

And there’s no such a thing as NOT voting in a democracy. NOT voting is a vote to just go along to get along.  It’s a “Hobson’s choice”—a choice of taking whatever is available or nothing at all—taking the status quo, to follow the few who do make decisions. And then, too often, the NOT-voters complain because they’re only passengers and don’t like the peanuts and warm Coke served on board. Disgruntled.

So don’t lose your gruntle! Vote. Do the work. After all, it’s your country and your town. Disgruntled NOT-voters are automatic losers—they don’t even get in the game.

Voting, however, requires skill. People who live in a democracy have to be good at detecting truth, ethics, values, and workable plans.

So, here’s some coaching to sharpen your skills in selecting a candidate to vote for:

 Promises are cheap. Look for a candidate’s accomplishments.
 Complaints and name-calling about opponents are cop-outs by candidates with no plans.
 Plans have to be workable, not glittering generalities full of complaints or pie in the sky.
 Cooperators can accomplish what adversaries can’t. Look for team builders.
 Respect for an opponent is not a flaw.
 Someone who disagrees with you is not automatically wrong or an idiot by definition.
 Good candidates understand all points of view—they learn—both before and after an election.
 Service is the highest form of leadership.

There must be a hundred more ways to select candidates, including one of my favorites, finding out how much they really know as well as how strongly they feel about matters that are important to you.

Please vote wisely. Take both your head and your heart with you into the voting booth. Exercise your right with skill. We have no “Instead” for elections.

* Reprinted by permission – Jamestown Gazette. Previously written as editor.

(rev. 8/23)

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