Mr-smith-goes-to-washington-jimmy-stewartFrom time to time, I've written about the importance of voting. (It's easy to search for these posts.) 

Readers of Net Cotton Content are exhorted to vote. After all, voting is a more valuable way to spend time than reading Net Cotton Content

I've tried not to tell you how to vote.
When it comes to libraries, I'm not shy about encouraging a "yes" vote.

But when it comes to candidates and parties, I am shy about publicly advocating.


I don't know.
If I knew for whom to tell you to vote, I would.

But I don't believe that either party or any one candidate is worthy of such advocacy.

Candidates on both sides have their advantages. And candidates on both sides violate my non-negotiables. So I can make an argument for voting for almost any candidate.

Don't worry: I feel deeply about those for whom I vote.

And I respect the winner, rather than whine about my candidate losing. (That happens.)

In our home, we refer to elected officials by the honorific and last name ("Mayor Coleman") rather than simply by the last name ("Coleman") in a show of respect for the official and the office. 

My fervant wish on election eve: that the winner is kind, honorable, and effective. In that order. 

We get the State House and Washington we elect.
I'm surprised when people are surprised by the politicians we elect.

Looking back over the decades, it seems like we had fair warning. The candidates showed their stripes. Then we voted. And then the candidates lived up to their promises — or their threats.

I'm not writing of "campaign promises." Those are kept and broken as the world and winds change.

I'm writing of the deeper promise of each candidate. The candidate — in words and actions, in history and on-the-moment reflection — revealed how he or she would behave. And the behavior generally holds true to that deeper promise.

If you like an elected official, it's probably because he or she delivers on that deeper promise. If you dislike an elected official, it's probably because he or she delivers on that deeper promise — but you never liked that promise.

Here's how to vote.
I do have political opinions — and I would like to share them with you now.

Vote as if you are hiring. 

When I hire, when I face the choice between two (or more) smart candidates, I turn to my non-negotiables:

  • I hire for attitude, not performance. Attitude will not change. Performance can be trained — even in the Oval Office.
  • I hire for kindness. Kindness is a proxy for ethics. I never vote for the angrier candidate. Bullies make poor CEOs.
  • I hire for collaboration, not stubbornness. Why elect a firebrand and expect anything other than gridlock?
  • I hire for deep thinking, rather than superficial book reports. When a Hollywood star reads a little Kabbalah and claims to understand, I'm not buying it. The same with candidates. they have to do more than quote an author; they have to demonstrate a deep knowledge.

I'm weary of the candidate who claims to be an outsider.
That's a Jimmy Stewart ideal, I know, and — as an English major — I like the narrative. But, my inner M.B.A. recognizes the State House and Washington as giant checkbooks with a giant work order (even if government is made as small as possible). I want someone who knows how it works from the inside. 

I guess I prefer someone who might already be tainted to someone who's taint ain't been revealed yet. (I am very sorry for the preceding sentence.)

It matters.
Cindy Lazarus, a friend and role model, a retired Judge, councilperson, and not-for-profit executive, explained to me (paraphrased here): 

It does matter who the local judge is. It does matter who is on City Council. It does matter who the auditor is. Here's why: 

(1) the work they do is important. Much of our lives are lived out on local stages. Locally elected officials make the decisions that directly affect the quality of life in our community.

(2) the local stage is an audition for statewide and national leadership. The smallest elections define the talent pool for broader campaigns. 

It does matter.

You don't know how I vote.
You might think you know how I vote, but you do not. I have researched this.

At the end of several semesters in the college classroom, I asked the students. In a blind survey, I asked:

During the semester, I have been very candid about the need for you to vote. I have spoken about politics and candidates. But I have carefully avoided telling you for whom to vote or, for that matter, for whom I have voted.  

I don't believe it is my right as an educator in the classroom to advocate for any one candidate or political party. I understand other educators determine, to the contrary, that it is an obligation for an educator to advocate. That's just not my style. And I think the lectern is a counter-productive bully pulpit.

Plus, I don't know that my choices are correct. I'm not that smart. Campaigns reveal only part of the candidate. The future (currently unknown to even the candidate) reveals the rest.

To guage whether I have kept my specific politics to myself, I will ask two questions:

1. Do you think you know how I voted in the most recent Presidential election?
2. For whom do you think I voted?

The answer to the first question is overwhelmingly yes.

The answer to the second question is evenly split among the candidates, in proportions that reflect general election returns.

If you really want to know how I vote, here is the process: we will each advocate for both sides. Some of my friends cannot do that. They are too confident of their opinion, or too set in their ways, or too angry. 

The Last Word
Let's hear from David Foster Wallace. Here's his exhortation to vote (from Up, Simba!). I've read this to 1,000+ students:

If you are bored and disgusted by politics and don't bother to vote, you are in effect voting for the entrenched Establishments of the two major parties, who please rest assured are not dumb, and who are keenly aware that it is in their interests to keep you disgusted and bored and cynical and to give you every possible reason to stay at home doing one-hitters and watching MTV on primary day. By all means stay home if you want, but don't bullshit yourself that you're not voting. In reality, there is no such thing as not voting: you either vote by voting, or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some Diehard's vote.