Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | August 14, 2012

In defense of politics junkies

With the once-every-four-years summer Olympics behind us, it’s time for the once-every-four-years political Olympics to move into full swing: The US presidential election.

Obama vs. Romney 2012 from the Flickr photostream of DonkeyHotey

As an American politics junkie, the next few months are my Super Bowl, World Series, World Cup, and Stanley Cup all rolled into one. Sports fans chat about how their favorite teams are faring. Social media addicts talk (and tweet) incessantly about techniques for using the latest tool. Grandparents share photos and stories about their grandkids at the drop of the hat. Chefs share recipes. Gardeners swap tips and seeds. Me? I talk politics. While I’ve got lots of interests, once every four years, the closer we get to the US presidential election, the narrower my focus becomes.

And I think that’s a good thing. It’s hard to find a more important topic in general than politics, and it’s hard to find a more important race — to the entire world, not just Americans — than the competition to become the President of the United States.

The person we choose to serve as president represents this nation to the rest of the world. The person we choose makes and strongly influences life-and-death decisions for Americans, especially those serving in the military, but also for people in other parts of the world. (Ask the residents of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan, for just a few examples.)

The person we choose selects Supreme Court justices who serve life terms on the nation’s highest court. Wonder about how important who we elect in November might be just in the realm of affecting the Supreme Court for decades to come? Note that four of the nine current justices are over 70 years of age. Three of those justices will turn 80 during the next president’s term; one will turn 79.

Those are just a few of the reasons that the US presidential election is worthy of our time and attention. But it’s not the only race that matters. Who you send to the Senate and the House of Representatives has a great deal of influence on any president’s effectiveness.

But your local races also deserve your time and attention. In good fiscal times, your city council members decide which projects to fund — the library or the sports facility; your school board members decide which electives to implement — more foreign languages or vocational education. In bad fiscal times, they decide what programs, projects and facilities to cut.

Yes, I talk and write about politics a lot. And I’ve sometimes been asked (usually by someone with a lot of doubt underpinning the question) whether I’ve ever changed anyone’s mind. The answer is yes. I know this because people have told me so. And that’s very gratifying, even if it is relatively rare. For example, polls show that between 3 and 8 percent of voters are undecided between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney in the presidential race. But writing about politics, even in this polarized political environment, has value, I believe.

That question about changing people’s minds is often posed in context of disapproving of so-called negative campaigning. Negative ads – those that point out the shortcomings of your opponent – are an important part of educating undecided voters. Of course, negative ads need to be balanced with positive ads – those pointing out your own strengths — but I’m not one of those folks who bemoans negative advertising as a category.

As long as negative ads are factual and relevant, I’m fine with them. Unfortunately, we know that’s often not the case. I could cite example after shameful example from history and the current race. But that doesn’t mean that negative ads are bad; it means that lying is bad.

Preaching to the choir — both by singing the praises of your candidate or party and highlighting the weaknesses of your political opponents — boosts morale and helps to ensure that your political allies make it to the polls. And because I know that I’ve changed at least a few people’s minds over the years, I know that it also gets people thinking about important issues. So even if I haven’t changed someone’s mind (yet), there’s benefit in getting them to think critically about the candidates they support and they positions they endorse.

In politics, like most things, as long as we’re talking honestly about relevant facts, the more we talk, the better.

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