Every vote matters
© by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Last weekend, I visited my friends Bob and Peg Kelly, enjoyed their breezy porch after a nice lunch. Those who remember Bob’s column in The Salem News will be pleased to know he is doing well and working now on a novel.

His 2008 book, “The National Debt of the United States, 1941 to 2008,” is one of my essential reference books, and I recently completed his 2011 “Neck & Neck to the White House: The Closest Presidential Elections, 1796-2000.” This is a great summer read for a variety of reasons, not least among them the definite possibility that the 2012 election will have to be added in a second edition next year.

Reading history in general gives one a sense of perspective; as broadcaster Paul Harvey said, “In times like these, it is good to remember that there have always been times like these.”

Those who deplore the partisan nature of today’s politics need this perspective: Start with Kelly’s report on the hard-fought elections of two of our now-revered Founding Fathers. About the race to replace George Washington, he writes, “Political parties in 1796 did not exist.” Still, John Adams ... “had opposition, and it was nasty.” Both he and Thomas Jefferson, among others, were running for the position of president; the runner-up would become vice president.

“Adams, like Washington, believed in a strong central government. ... Jefferson feared centralized power. Factions were formed and the foundation for political parties was unwittingly formed by both men — once friends, now political enemies ...”

As we know, Adams narrowly won; the contest was repeated in 1800, with Jefferson becoming our third president. His vice president was Aaron Burr, who would, while still in that position, kill political opponent Alexander Hamilton in a duel. So much for “reaching across the aisle” in the early days of the Republic.

Adams and Jefferson regained their friendship before they died, and isn’t it nice to see George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton hanging out together on various projects? Their 1992 election wasn’t close enough to make the book, though.

The first close election in which I voted was the 1968 battle between Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon. Kelly writes, “Money was important in the (also close Kennedy-Nixon) 1960 election, but it arrived for good in 1968, with a roar. And politics hasn’t been the same since. ... Packaging and packagers became part of the political culture. Being liked became as important as being qualified.”

Starting to sound familiar? My next close election was Gerald Ford vs. Jimmy Carter, and then of course George W. Bush vs. Al Gore. So I can believe that in three of the modern close elections, my vote was important, even when my candidate lost, because it could easily have gone the other way.

The theme of Kelly’s book is that “the other way” in close elections often makes a big difference in the direction of the country. Along with listing policy initiatives, he cites the important U.S. Supreme Court decisions that followed these elections, many of which have had major effects on our culture.

What I like about his theme is the notion that in a democratic republic, each of us matters, that we can make a difference. Of course, we should choose the right candidate. This is where my enthusiasm for voting in general starts to waver. I’ve considered starting a new organization named “If You Don’t Know What the Heck You are Doing, Don’t Vote,” which we’ll call “The League of Stay-Home Voters” for short.

Because you are reading a newspaper, you probably won’t qualify for membership. Whether we agree or disagree, at least you will have information with which to determine your decision. The same is true of citizens who watch the news and political debates, listen to talk radio. But what do we do about the others?

We learned in high school civics class about the responsibility to vote; the teacher probably mentioned the responsibility to follow the election debate first. But I know people who are clueless about issues yet proudly proclaim that of course they always vote. Some blindly follow the party of their parents; others vote independent without independently researching the differences that still exist between the parties (note 1796 debate about the size and scope of the federal government).

Nothing much we can do about those who pay few taxes and vote for politicians who will give them more free goodies. The need for these politicians to keep adding “takers” is behind the concern about voter fraud, with several states passing laws requiring photo IDs before handing someone a ballot. Massachusetts does not have such a requirement, though we do need a photo ID for driving a car and checking in for some medical appointments.

As Ben Stein recently said, “Fathom the hypocrisy of a Government that requires every citizen to prove they are insured ... but not everyone must prove they are a citizen.”

It’s election year 2012: time for voters to read their newspaper and perhaps Bob Kelly’s book, find the best candidates, maybe volunteer for one. This could be the year to make a difference.

The comments made and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and other Eagle Tribune newspapers; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette.

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