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How to Prepare to Vote Wisely for President Come November 8, 2016

by Donald Ardell

posted in News and Society

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Beyond the region of the Probable is the Possible, and beyond the Possible is the Impossible and beyond the Impossible are the religions of the world. The real miracles are the facts in nature.
Robert Green Ingersoll

Tuesday, November 8, 2016 will be here before you can say, Is this the best America can do? On that day, responsible citizens (i.e., all who plan to exercise their franchise by voting) will face a fateful choice. On occasions during the preceding 57 quadrennial U.S. presidential elections, voters chose wisely. Oftentimes, and I'm not going to refer to 2000 or 2004 here, not so much. As the nature of life in modern society grows more complex and weapons ever more fearsome, the importance of a reasoned choices this time around increases exponentially.
Of course, the months leading up to November 8 matter, too. In a way, choices made during the preliminary rounds are as consequential, since primaries determine the limited choices voters are offered on election day.
So, how might a responsible, concerned and reasonably patriotic citizen improve his/her chances of making a wise choice come November 8, 2016?
Let Reason Be Your Guide
The answer, as is the case with nearly everything, is it depends. It depends on your ability to judge character, policies, values and other key factors in evaluating the candidates. You must be able to distinguish the probable from the unlikely, the sincere from the cynical and the possible from the impossible. All candidates will speak about protecting your rights, but which rights do they favor and which do they care little about? Even those who talk incessantly about rights should be assessed carefully. Be sure to look beyond slogans for underlying motives and appeals to special interests. For example, does the candidate's call for liberties reflect a passion for universal rights, or for the right to discriminate based on religious beliefs?
No matter which party or candidate you favor initially, protect and exercise and cultivate a well developed sense of doubt and skepticism. Look beyond the feel good messages. Trust and verify. Be cheerfully cynical, in a good-natured way. Someone jokingly said that a complete lack of evidence must be a sure sign that a conspiracy is working - a good example of witty skepticism! Be extra suspicious of those who make claims based on faith, visions, dreams or assertions that God told them to run for office, or to promote specific policies. At least a dozen declared Republican candidates believe God wants them to run. These Elmer Gantry-like politicians are dangerous; their irrationality could be the end of us. Consider what John Quincy Adams wrote about this breed of chief executive:

This young fellow, who was possessed of most violent passions, which he with great difficulty can command, and of unbounded ambition, which he conceals perhaps, even to himself, has been seduced into that bigoted, illiberal system of religion, which, by professing vainly to follow purely the dictates of the Testament, in vain contradicts the whole doctrine of the New Testament, and destroys all the boundaries between good and evil, between right and wrong. But, like all the followers of that sect, his practice is at open variance with his theory. When I observe into what inconsistent absurdities those persons run who make speculative, metaphysical religion a matter of importance, I am fully determined never to puzzle myself in the mazes of religious discussion, to content myself with practicing the dictates of God and reason so far as I can judge for myself...

John Q. Adams, diary entry, Life in a New England Town, 1787-1788, cited by Franklin Steiner, The Religious Beliefs of our Presidents.

Recognize that gullibility is inversely correlated with level of education and confidence. Read independent sources and examine literature and other communications put forward by candidates (and their spokespersons) different from those you favor. Sometimes it makes sense to reassess a position. Stay open to new information, to other perspectives and points of view. Focus more on evaluating truths or at least alternative interpretations and polices, rather than reflexively defending positions.
Associations matter. Don't base your own conclusions entirely on what others say, but be aware of a candidate's ties with cults, quacks, frauds, impostors, pretenders, humbugs and mountebanks. Consider that appeals to superstitions, dogmas and revelations are as foolish as according respect for voodoo, chants, potions, horoscopes, crystals, amulets, prayers, signs or bloodletting. Hobgoblins, all. This applies as well to claims associated with planetary alignments, aliens, angels, devils, fairies or Easter bunnies. Consider that all beliefs, including many declared sacred, are no more than creations of mere mortals. Some are worthy; some are hazardous to liberty and reason.
Guard against vulnerabilities based upon a tendency toward wishful thinking, a desire to attribute to a candidate qualities you revere and want to see but which may not be there. Never view any candidate as a guru, a savior or all-knowing leader wiser than everyone else, or as one who will look after your interests. He might but don't take it personally - your interests just might align with others he has to attend and accommodate.
Other things being the same, which they never will be, a leader well versed in history, the humanities and otherwise cultured and well traveled is a better bet than an insular pol whose world view is limited to politics. Northrop Frye noted that literature encourages tolerance - bigots and fanatics seldom have any use for the arts, because they're so preoccupied with their beliefs and actions that they can't see them also as possibilities.
Your best guide is reliance on reason, that is, effective thinking skills, and not just for political choices either. This reliance is worthwhile in shaping all decisions, large and small. This is the preferred path to good government and optimal well-being, success and life satisfaction.
To support your cheerful sense of humor about candidates for 2016 that you read about and see on television nearly every day, consider a few apolitical aphorisms that turned up in an e-mail the other day. There might be some truth in some or all of these observations, which may or may not have originated with the person credited with originating the comment.
  • If God wanted us to vote, he would have given us candidates. Jay Leno
  • The problem with political jokes is they get elected. Henry Cate, VII
  • We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office. Aesop
  • If we got one-tenth of what was promised to us in these State of the Union speeches, there wouldn't be any inducement to go to heaven. Will Rogers
  • When I was a boy I was told that anybody could become President; I'm beginning to believe it. Clarence Darrow
  • Politicians are people who, when they see light at the end of the tunnel, go out and buy some more tunnel. John Quinton
  • Politics is the gentle art of gettIng votes from the poor and campaign funds from the rich, by promising to protect each from the other. Oscar Ameringer
  • A politician is a fellow who will lay down your life for his country. Tex Guinan
  • Instead of giving a politician the keys to the city, it might be better to change the locks. Doug Larson
  • If you want a real friend that you can trust in Washington, get a dog. Harry Truman

Well, there you go. A bit of a guide for casting a wise vote. All the best, enjoy the campaign and try to keep your eyes on the bright side of life.
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