Our civic duty

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I began writing this column in 1994, so this year is my 20th as a columnist and I’ve always had a personal rule that I would address issues only as they pertain to families and children.

I catalog copies of my various columns by topic. Political discourses have shown up several times over the years, but it is my goal when I address politics to be objective, nonpartisan, and to make the application to families. 

Invariably, however, some readers get their feelings hurt or get angry, supposing I am touting talking points from one party or another. Interestingly, I sometimes receive the exact same criticisms from both sides regarding the same column. But with these risks, I venture into the field of politics once again.

We are just days away from a midterm election. I follow politics closely – national, state, and local. I know the candidates and I know the issues. It frustrates me that many people vote for candidates they know nothing about and, even more frustrating, many people don’t vote at all.

If you are a Republican, you were probably discouraged when Obama was reelected largely because several million Republican voters stayed home. The same thing could be said for Democrats who have narrowly lost elections in the past due to smaller than expected partisan turnouts.

It is unfortunate that a “good” turnout of registered voters is only 50 percent. Local elections never have anywhere close to 50 percent turnout and are sometimes won with under 100 votes. I don’t mean a margin of 100 votes. I mean 100 TOTAL votes.

Contrary to popular belief, voting is not a right. There is nothing in the Constitution that guarantees the right to vote. Upon the ratification of the Constitution, in fact, most people in these United States could not vote. Children, as is true today, could not vote. Women could not vote. Slaves could not vote. Non-landholders could not vote.

It is interesting to me that our founding fathers wanted to escape the tyranny of the British throne and yet established a system, while far superior to the monarchy, held some of the same tyrannies. One of them was that leaders were chosen by the fledgling country’s aristocracy. 

Fortunately, our Republic has matured to the point where nearly any adult citizen who desires it can register and vote in any local, state, or federal election. And yet sadly we take that privilege and duty for granted.

So what does this have to do with families? Our choices have ramifications that may affect our grandchildren and beyond. Andrew Jackson was president in the 1820s and yet many of his policies still have visible effects today – especially in the way native Americans are treated, housed, and governed.

Franklin Roosevelt was president in the 1930s and ’40s. Yet you can see the fingerprints of his administration every time you get your paycheck with deductions from your net income that goes to welfare, Social Security, and income taxes.

Richard Nixon was president over 40 years ago and yet our language changed because of him. “Watergate” – the name of a hotel that still exists today – has become synonymous with “conspiracy” and “cover-up.” Also from his administration, the way the press questions the President changed and today remains much more confrontative and adversarial than was ever the case before him.

Through the presidency of George Bush (43) we saw the passage of medical prescription legislation and in Barak Obama’s presidency we have seen universal healthcare signed into law. Like Roosevelt’s policies, these two pieces of legislation will have a huge impact on our children, their children, and generations beyond that.

Whether these are positive changes or negative ones, you can decide. That isn’t my point. The point is that voting has an effect not only on our current lives, but also on the lives of generations in the distant future. To vote for someone because she/he “isn’t the other guy” or to vote straight slate simply because you are of a certain party is near-sighted.

A responsible voter learns the issues, knows the candidates, and votes based on philosophy – not party or appearances. When you vote, think about how your decision will affect your children and grandchildren and perhaps you may appreciate the privilege and civic responsibility of voting even more than you already do. And finally, please vote.

[Gregory K. Moffatt, Ph.D., a regular columnist for the Healthwise section of this newspaper, is also a college professor, a licensed counselor and a public speaker. He has served as a regular lecturer at the FBI Academy, as a profiler with the Atlanta Cold Case Squad and is also author of “Survivors: What We Can Learn From How They Cope With Horrific Tragedy.” He has a website at gregmoffatt.com.]