No, I’m not going to tell you who to vote for. That would be about as absurd as it is pointless, given the polarized nature of politics today. Besides, I’m absolutely certain if I told you to vote like I currently plan to vote Nov. 6, more than half of you wouldn’t like it.
And that’s all I’m going to say about that. But, more than anything, I really want you to vote. And here’s how I’d like you to go about it.
As Samuel Adams put it, each voter is “executing one of the most solemn trusts in human society for which he is accountable to God and his country.” Yeah, the TV ads want you to believe the guy you’re planning to pull the lever for is a really great guy and the other one is just plain vile and disgusting — or at least not as likeable.
Boston Sam had more on that, too: “Let each citizen remember at the moment he is offering his vote that he is not making a present or a compliment to please an individual — or at least that he ought not so to do.” You should be voting for someone because they’ve earned your vote based on their priorities, policies and principles, not because you really, really like him, or because your “team” needs another mark in the “W” column.
This is the real world and we’re voting for real people based on real issues, not to decide who will be seventh-grade class president at DeGrassi Junior High (for those of you younger than 35, Google it).
Other members of the group we often refer to as our Founding Fathers were just as adamant about citizens’ role in the electoral process. For instance, Noah Webster, the guy who taught five generations of early Americans to read, write and spell — the man whose name is nearly synonymous with the word “dictionary” — had much to say on the matter.
“When you become entitled to exercise the right of voting for public officers, let it be impressed on your mind that God commands you to choose for rulers, ‘just men who will rule in the fear of God.’ The preservation of government depends on the faithful discharge of this duty; if the citizens neglect their duty and place unprincipled men in office, the government will soon be corrupted; laws will be made, not for the public good so much as for selfish or local purposes; corrupt or incompetent men will be appointed to execute the laws; the public revenues will be squandered on unworthy men; and the rights of the citizens will be violated or disregarded. If a republican government fails to secure public prosperity and happiness, it must be because the citizens neglect the divine commands, and elect bad men to make and administer the laws.”
And if you think he’s merely advocating for the election of Christians alone, as some other Founders were on record as saying, you would be wrong. He also said, “In selecting men for office, let principle be your guide. Regard not the particular sect or denomination of the candidate — look to his character … When a citizen gives his suffrage to a man of known immorality he abuses his trust; he sacrifices not only his own interest, but that of his neighbor, he betrays the interest of his country.”
In other words, put on your thinking caps and really think about what each candidate stands for, what are his principles and how will they impact the way in which he governs or legislates? Put your own principles ahead of those of any political party and vote your conscience.
Don’t be selfish with your vote, though. It’s easy to get drawn in by candidates who offer up the entire feeding trough that has become our public treasury (or, more correctly stated, our public indebtedness) in an effort to curry your favor.
William Penn noted that such voting would have no good ending for you, or our nation. He said, “Governments, like clocks, go from the motion men give them; and as governments are made and moved by men, so by them they are ruined too.”
He then went on to say, “Wherefore governments rather depend upon men than men upon governments. Let men be good and the government cannot be bad … But if men be bad, let the government be never so good, they will endeavor to warp and spoil it to their turn.”
What he’s trying to say is that our knee-jerk reaction shouldn’t be, “there ought to be a law for that,” every time we don’t like something that has happened. Nor should we be inclined to vote for folks who are likeminded.
“Though good laws do well, good men do better; for good laws may want good men and be abolished or invaded by ill men; but good men will never want good laws nor suffer ill ones.”
In closing, whatever you decide to do this November, please vote. And while you’re at it, teach the importance of voting to someone younger than yourself — pass it along to the next generation, so that they, too, will know how important it is and will pass it along to their next generation.
Noah Webster’s cousin, the politician Daniel Webster — a former New Hampshire member of the U.S. House and a former U.S. Senator from Massachusetts who also served three different presidents as Secretary of State — held the same view. He said:
“Impress upon children the truth that the exercise of the elective franchise is a social duty of as solemn a nature as man can be called to perform; that a man may not innocently trifle with his vote; that every elector is a trustee as well for others as himself and that every measure he supports has an important bearing on the interests of others as well as on his own.”
And, in the end, that’s what I really want to convey to you right now. When you vote — and I really want you to vote — don’t do it for yourself. Do it for those around you, too. There is nothing more important you can do for our community, our county, our state or our nation.
If you’re reading this, thank a teacher. If you’re reading it in English, thank a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine.
Bob Eschliman is editor of the Newton Daily News. He may be reached at (641) 792-3121, ext. 423, or at firstname.lastname@example.org via email. “Common Sense” appears each Monday and Wednesday.