We get what we de­serve in pol­i­tics

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Bruce Brown Bruce Brown is a re­tired em­ployee of the State of Mary­land, Di­vi­sion of Pa­role and Pro­ba­tion; his email is be­brown1@ver­i­zon.net.

Elec­tion year 2016. The men and women of the po­lit­i­cal arena ped­dled their wares like snake oil sales­men. Ver­bal con­tor­tion­ists, they pan­dered to our self-in­ter­ests, to our prej­u­dices and to our fears. Mis­in­for­ma­tion dom­i­nated the po­lit­i­cal conversation.

Per­sonal and emo­tional is­sues were used to spark con­tentious conversation. We dug in our heels and re­fused to budge from what we per­ceived to be true. These “truths” were re­in­forced by our politi­cians. Both the con­ver­sa­tions and the elixirs they ped­dled be­came po­lar­iz­ing. Our votes be­came po­lar­ized. When these votes were based solely on race or gen­der, they were clearly self-serv­ing and of­ten had noth­ing to do with what’s in the best in­ter­est of the na­tion; the same can be said for “sin­gle is­sue” and “faith-based” votes. Whether its gun con­trol, gay and les­bian rights or abor­tion, any vote cast solely upon one is­sue does not serve our col­lec­tive best in­ter­est. They are not only coun­ter­pro­duc­tive, but they ig­nore other larger is­sues beg­ging for our at­ten­tion.

The econ­omy, for­eign pol­icy, do­mes­tic pol­icy, na­tional de­fense, ed­u­ca­tion and the en­vi­ron­ment, to name a few, are pro­foundly im­por­tant to the wel­fare of us all. The most im­por­tant vote we can cast is for the can­di­date who can best ad­dress all of these is­sues. But con­trary to what our snake oil sales­men would have us be­lieve, when they com­pli­ment us for our in­tel­li­gence in back­ing them, our elec­torate is not well in­formed.

Is­sues fac­ing our na­tion are ex­tremely com­plex and re­quire that the elec­torate do its home­work. Un­for­tu­nately, most of us don’t even have a fun­da­men­tal un­der­stand­ing of the is­sues. We are lazy thinkers. We lack the in­tel­lec­tual cu­rios­ity to study the is­sues or con­sider other points of view. When we read, we tend to read pub­li­ca­tions that re­in­force our al­ready pre-con­ceived no­tions and ideas. When we watch the news, we tend to watch broad­casts that sup­port our views. And per­haps most trou­bling is the fact that more and more of us get our in­for­ma­tion from the In­ter­net and social media, which of­ten has no ba­sis in real­ity. Con­spir­acy the­o­ries, mis­in­for­ma­tion and out­right fab­ri­ca­tions that are pre­sented as factual are plen­ti­ful. Like our politi­cians, they prey upon our worst fears and prej­u­dices. Us­ing rep­utable schol­arly pub­li­ca­tions and news sources as a way of fact check­ing is rarely done.

It would be un­re­al­is­tic to ex­pect vot­ers to de­velop more than a fun­da­men­tal un­der­stand­ing of the is­sues fac­ing our na­tion; they are far too com­plex. But a ba­sic un­der­stand­ing is achiev­able and nec­es­sary to un­der­stand what is re­quired to ad­dress is­sues. With­out such knowl­edge, we suc­cumb to the emo­tional pan­der­ing of our politi­cians.

A well-in­formed elec­torate is im­per­a­tive for sound po­lit­i­cal dis­course. The bet­ter in­formed we are and the more rea­soned our vote, the more likely we are to at­tract bet­ter can­di­dates, hold them ac­count­able and be sat­is­fied with their per­for­mance. Un­til that oc­curs, politi­cians will con­tinue to say what they have to, and do what they have to, in or­der to gar­ner our vote

We get what we ask for. We have no one to blame but our­selves.

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