Every voter matters for a very simple reason: every human being matters. We each matter to God. And though we don’t often seem to realize it, we each matter to the body of us as a whole. We matter in our presence, but equally, we matter in our absence.
Withholding our (best) selves from the body politic matters. And so does being withheld from it.
That’s why efforts that either intend to or result in voter suppression are so pernicious.
But what draws my attention today is my continued frustration with (and if I admit it, contempt of) the debate processes.
Tomorrow night the voters themselves get to pose questions – but not really.
The people who will ask the questions are those who have not ‘decided’ – for whom they will vote and potentially even if they actually will vote. Weighting the debate (and the election) in ‘favor’ of the undecideds makes no sense. I understand why the candidates themselves would court folks viewed as ‘still in play’, but this is not (supposed to be) a process to educate the candidates about the voters. It’s supposed to be about educating the voters about the candidates.
I’ve said it before (Just Say No to Opinion Polls) – I hate polling. In my own view, it adds nothing to the process for the voters and takes away quite a lot.
That the Gallup Poll actually chose the folks who will pose questions to the candidates tomorrow night from its own determined pool of undecided voters is itself problematic.
(1) It presupposes that the remaining 80%+ of us have minds that cannot be changed or influenced by events and information gleaned between now and election day. It presupposes that our elections are determined or predetermined as pollsters say they are. Why bother to vote at all? Why don’t we just let Gallup poll us all and then tell us who we’re going to vote for?
(2) While being undecided may mean one still has questions, it does not mean that the questions the undecided have are the best or even relevant questions. In the informal focus group gatherings many networks have had, I have yet to hear one single question or observation that meant anything to deciding which candidate is actually the best of the two to be President. Instead, what I continue to hear is either (a) the leanings (right or left) the person brought into the room; or (b) some amorphous something the person is looking for (call it the likeability factor) swaying the mood of at least some in the room. How on earth is that helpful to any of us, including even the person so reacting? I neither need nor benefit from a political discourse that continues to view my feelings as the most important thing. Claims of feeling my pain are sometimes silly, sometimes deceitful, sometimes amusing, sometimes awkward, and almost never indicative of the overall qualifications of the person seeking the job. I for one, am not looking for a Best-Friend-in-Chief. Is empathy an important quality in a leader? Of course it is. But I am singularly unqualified to gauge the empathy of a stranger based on what they say. I can hardly gauge my own empathy based on my words. Actions really do speak louder – for all of us. There is no connection between undecided voters and the quality of their questions. They may have great questions or they may have really silly ones. Shouldn’t it be the quality of the questions that is the focus of this interaction between citizens and their leaders?
(3) It is a myth that undecided voters decide the election. Some years ago I watched a basketball game’s final minutes. I think Duke was playing, but don’t hold me to that. In any event, in the final seconds, the fouled team member stepped up to the line to take his shot. The score was either tied or they were one point down. The young man missed the shot and his team lost the game. The narrative at the time and in the days following was that this young man lost the game for his team. Did missing that last shot make a difference? Of course it did. But the difference was no more and no less than the difference made by each shot taken and made or missed throughout the entire game. The fact is that the entire team worked very hard together and lost the game, a game which is scored based on an aggregate of baskets scored throughout the entirety of the game and not based on any one shot. So it is with elections. The last vote counted is not the winning vote. It is merely the last vote counted. As a friend pointed out last night, had Al Gore won his own home state of Tennessee, chad or no chad, no one would have cared about Florida.
(4) It isn’t particularly helpful to either the one posing the question or to me to see them ‘face to face’ with the person they’re questioning. Was Bill Clinton the better candidate? Maybe. Maybe not. Did (or should) that have had anything to do with the so-called turning point when then-President Bush fumbled a bit on answering a question about national debt and its human face while Mr. Clinton approached the woman asking and gave her good face time? I don’t think so.
(5) If polls are to be believed, undecideds almost never ask big questions, like “what is your view about the place of the United States in the world?” “Why in your view should the US exercise leadership in world affairs?” “What is the source of our power around the world in your view?” “What should we as a nation do when we get it wrong, whatever the ‘it’ might be?” “What is your theory of the purpose of government?” “What writers and thinkers capture your imagination and why?” “If you could constitute your own ‘dream team’ of advisors from the history of the United States, who would you pick and why?” “Which advisor do you value for disagreeing with you?” “What new thing have you learned that you didn’t know in the last month/six months/year?” “To what degree does government actually affect the performance of an economy and in what ways?” If, as one candidate suggests, it is the ideas, the big-picture thinking that each uniquely brings to the table, shouldn’t we at least be asking them about their big ideas?
(6) Team building is one of the most important aspects of a successful leader. And we almost never ask any questions about the ‘team’. Who are your key advisors? Who is your ‘go-to guy’ on critical issues foreign and domestic? What are their core beliefs? The leader shapes the team, but the team also shapes the leader. So what qualities are you looking for in your team? Undecideds, along with the rest of us, do seem to be concerned about congressional gridlock. Maybe team building questions will emerge there. But to what degree is it fair or appropriate to hold any president accountable for a recalcitrant Congress? I really don’t know the answer to that one.
(7) I am guessing that there won’t be much questioning about the judiciary. None were asked of the two top-of-the-ticket candidates in their first and only debate about domestic policy, so this next debate is our only chance to hear both men speak about this. I hope someone asks: what kind of candidates will you be appointing to the federal bench and particularly the Supreme Court? What qualities and skills are you looking for? What is your ‘litmus test’? Here’s mine: Mr. Obama supports choice – would he ever appoint a candidate whose personal views are pro-life? Mr. Romney is pro-life – would he ever appoint a candidate whose personal views are pro-choice? Here’s another: exactly where does each candidate see the check on executive power? What can the executive not do in their view? It relates to judicial philosophy, inasmuch as each candidate is likely to seek appointees who are consonant with their own views on the issue of presidential powers and prerogatives.
(8) The process is itself a construct. It is not an open town hall meeting. The moderator screens and chooses the questions and thus substantially shapes the discourse. Apparently, candidates decided long ago that the free-for-all of the first town hall was not on. More’s the pity. If nothing else, it might give us insight into how each candidate deals with chaos.
(9) Because it is such a controlled environment, questioners won’t have the chance to do something really creative or challenging like giving each candidate an eraser board with the demand that they do the math. Too often big and vague language conceals what they’re actually talking about when it comes to things like taxes and the economy especially. Give them an eraser board and let them explain how their vision will work. Enacting vision requires the ability to effectively communicate the vision. If they can’t explain it to us, they can’t explain it to themselves and it’s just all smoke and mirrors.
Maybe I’ll be surprised. Maybe the questions of the so-called undecideds will be more broad, important and informative than I anticipate. Maybe the candidates will shine in setting forth clearly their respective visions and goals. Maybe we’ll have a quality national conversation about the business we’re about when it comes to governance.
I am part of the 100% and I will be paying attention.