Friday, August 17, 2012

Open Letter to the American Public

Hey America,

We've got an election coming up, as you're surely aware. I mean, how could you not be aware? I barely follow politics, and I've become a veritable expert on the election just by skimming through what my friends are posting on Facebook. That's why I'm eminently qualified to share a little bit of sage advice with you: not because I know anything about politics, but because I see what you've been posting.

Let me give you a little background about myself first, though. I'm registered independent. I haven't been around long enough to have voted in too many Presidential elections, but so far I've voted for a candidate from a different party each time. The way I'm leaning right now, I see that trend continuing through this election, but I haven't done enough research yet to come to a final decision. Normally I try to abstain from politics until a day or two before the election, at which point I'll put aside an afternoon or evening to inform myself about who the various candidates are, what their stances are on "the issues," and the highlights and lowlights of the campaign trail. I typically look at a blend of moderate, liberal, conservative, and unbiased sources when doing my research, so as to get a broader and hopefully more objective picture of who's running.

I'll take some time to think over my ultimate decision, but even once I've decided who I'll vote for, I'll still listen to anybody who wants to persuade me otherwise. Once I was heading to the polls for a local election and was stopped by a campaigner for The Other Guy, who tried to change my mind at the last minute. I was pretty well set on my candidate, but instead of dismissing him outright, I let him pitch his candidate to me for a minute or two. After he concluded his spiel, I asked him, "So what is it about this guy that has you committed enough to stand outside in the cold, holding his sign for hours on end?" The man's reply, with a heartfelt grin: "He's my brother." Easy to forget that politicians are regular people with friends and families, and not the heroes and villains we so often make them out to be.

America, I've seen the way we talk about the candidates for this election. Of course we want to see our candidate win. Of course we like it when the opposition goofs up. We're a competitive nation with a news media that turns stuff like this into an entertainment spectacle; it's only natural for us to get swept away a little. Get excited; get defensive; get angry--you're betting the next four years on your horse, so you'd better be invested in this race. But when that investment turns into unbridled malice against anyone who doesn't agree with you or your candidate, you'd best step back and consider whether you've inadvertently bet your family and friendships, too. Shouting your opinions doesn't make you any more right; it makes you abrasive, and a poor recruiter for anyone who might otherwise listen to what you've got to say. We may be earnestly passionate at heart about the issues, but more and more we're coming across as irrational zealots who can't interact peaceably with people of varying viewpoints. We've broken politics down to a vicious "us versus them" mentality that completely overlooks the complexities of political issues and the humans who weigh in on them.

I can only speak for myself, but when I vote, I vote for the person who I believe is best for the country. What that means in this election might be completely different for the next one. I'm registered independent for the same reasons I don't always play a monk or a paladin in D&D: though they're fun classes that really click with my playing style, sometimes what the party really needs is a cleric or a ninja or a mystic theurge...and sometimes playing as a different class can give you a fresh perspective on the game.

We assume we have to pick either a Democrat or a Republican. We don't. We assume the country will fall apart if The Other Guy wins. Maybe it will. But we're not electing an all-powerful Dictator-for-Life who controls every aspect of our lives; we're voting to either replace or renew the biggest engine in our political machine, and the backup generator that goes with it. Whether the engine runs rough or smoothly, or breaks down altogether, there are so many other parts to this machine--and so many additional factors, both inside and outside the country--that nobody can guarantee how things are going to work. The best we can do is make an informed decision about the person we vote for, celebrate or commiserate once the results come in, and then stop complaining or rubbing it in people's faces.

You know what's more important than voting for the person who'll do the right thing for the country? You, yourself, doing the right thing for your country. So your candidate lost. Quit whining and use whatever skills and opportunities you have to still make their vision a reality. So your candidate won. Quit partying and use whatever skills and opportunities you have to ensure your candidate's vision is achievable and sustainable. So you've got no skills or opportunities to do much of anything. Be a decent human being; maybe you'll earn someone's respect and gain their ear when it's time to talk about the next Presidential election. And, failing that, you'll be a decent human being.

Politicians make great decisions and horrendous decisions. Sometimes we prosper because of them, and sometimes our lives are torn apart because of them. But that's really no different than the decisions we make for ourselves, and the decisions the people immediately around us make. No matter what happens during the rest of this election, and no matter what the next four years may bring, don't let the people get lost in the shuffle.

Stay cool, America.


-Nathaniel Hoover

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