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J.F. Kelly, Jr. - Contributor

J.F. Kelly, Jr. is a retired Navy Captain and bank executive who writes on current events and military subjects. He is a resident of Coronado, California. [go to Kelly index]

Getting Out the Vote
Do the uninformed really need to go to the polls?...

[J. F. Kelly, Jr.] 10/8/04

As Election Day approaches, debates get debated and the political ads become more misleading and obnoxious, we the people are increasingly urged to exercise our civic duty and vote. Your choice of candidates is less important, the candidates and their campaign workers say, than the fact that you get out and vote.

They lie, of course. Your choice matters deeply to them and if you are not voting for them they would just as soon you not vote at all, although they would never say so, because election campaigns are all about winning. With rare exceptions, they would say or promise just about anything to keep from losing. Yet in spite of what they say or promise, only about half of those eligible to vote will do so in spite of sometimes extraordinary last minute efforts to get live bodies, including the disinterested and even the demented, to the polls.

It is sad, in a way, that the other half of the voters can’t be bothered to participate in the selection of the most powerful chief of state on earth. I can understand some voter apathy when it comes to selecting a lesser official from a list of obscure candidates but it boggles my mind that our president may be elected with the votes of only a quarter of those eligible to vote.

Nevertheless, I take issue with the platitude that everyone should be urged to vote. I believe that large numbers of those so urged haven’t a clue about what they are voting for, especially when it comes to the propositions. Many have not even attempted to follow the issues or read about the candidates’ positions. Why, then, should they be urged to vote? Doesn’t that dilute the votes of the informed citizens who try to educate themselves on the issues? Why not instead urge citizens to at least read the voting materials first and then cast an informed vote. That would be exercising a civic duty.

Of course the majority of voters will vote the straight donkey or elephant ticket regardless of the candidates. They would vote for a radish if it appeared on their party’s slate. Their minds were made up years ago. Their party’s positions become their positions. It’s fun to argue with them but it’s pointless, really. And then there are the single-issue people who are polarized over issues like abortion, conservation and animal rights. Or the anyone-but-Bush crowd. They are often so focused on their cause that they haven’t time for other issues like whom best to defend Americans from terrorism.

The undecided 15-20% represents the real target now. Most of them are, hopefully, still trying to sort out the issues. They will be heavily influenced by the debates. Score one, therefore, for my old shipmate of Swift Boat fame. A skilled debater and star of the Yale debating team, John Kerry can, and famously has, argued both sides of an issue. That’s what debaters do. Kerry could argue with conviction and persuasion that the earth is flat.

Mr. Bush, despite being a product of the same privileged upbringing and preppie, Ivy League education, is better at conversing than debating. He is plain talking and occasionally blunt. His pronunciation is often innovative. Applying some of the rules for judging debates—rules dealing largely with style, delivery, force and persuasion –gives Mr. Kerry a clear edge. It is important for voters who will make their decision based upon the debates to understand that we are not electing a secretary of state or an ambassador to Paris or the UN but rather a chief executive of the nation and commander-in-chief of the armed forces. We want someone who can lead effectively under pressure, inspire confidence and who will surround himself with the very best and brightest

To these undecided voters I say read beyond the debates. Be far more concerned with each candidate’s position and plans for implementing them and less with how these things are expressed or who looked most “presidential” during the debates. To those who haven’t followed any of the issues up to now, you still have time. To those who will not exercise their right to vote, I say thanks. You make mine more important. CRO

copyright 2004 J. F. Kelly, Jr.



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