With most primaries completed around the country by now, with the choice of Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney’s vice-presidential nominee, with the press ginning up to spend the next three months reporting off-the-cuff remarks to the great debates of autumn, it’s time finally for us, the American voters, to do our part in preparing for the coming election.

After all, it would appear that most of us got our wish: we wanted substance and ideas and contrast between the two parties and their standard bearers, and now we should be getting plenty of that.

It’s time to tune in. The big temptation is to stayed tuned out until the first debate, or perhaps even until the last debate. But as responsible voters, we need to give some heavy-duty time to our decision of November. This election, finally, is about something: the governing philosophies of our two largest political parties. The election itself will decide not only who figureheads are in the next four years, but what they do.

And we’re not just talking about the heads of the tickets. We’re talking about all the way down the ticket, to the least important but elected official in your city or town.

We have the Republicans to thank for this renewed emphasis on the entire slate of nominees. They have consistently obfuscated issues, obstructed progress, and polluted the airwaves. That sounds harsh, we know, but we believe it to be true. It is, however, also a compliment. They have been disciplined beyond belief, beyond even common sense.

They want America to think of them when we consider the government, the good and bad it can do. We should certainly oblige.

We are consistently told that most of America has already made up its minds. That all the sturm und drang on the horizon is devoted to perhaps six per cent of the voting age population who are truly undecided.

That may be true.

But preparing to vote is something all voters must do. Knowing why you favor so-and-so, or why you couldn’t possibly support him or her is part of our homework.

So it is now time to become private detectives, each of us. Armed with our brains and our ears, and our hearts, we have to teach ourselves to sense the messages below the picturesque topsoil, to understand the layers of possibilities below its surface.

For example, most people do not want the strife and ill-will of the last Congress to be resurrected, ever again. Yet in order to guarantee that happy result we have to understand how independent our candidates really are, regardless of their promises and photo ops.

For those of us who would, at one time, have labeled ourselves moderate Republicans, this is especially painful. Yet it is also especially revealing.

As we consider House members, putting aside our own immediate representatives has always been the custom. For years polls have told how much their constituents appreciate their own Congressman or woman, how responsive to local needs they have been.

That’s nearly one hundred per cent true. And yet what has kept this nation from moving forward after the shocks of the past four years is not the individual action of your own representative or his or her amazing staff.

Your representatives, and ours, have sooner or later had to “go along to get along,” as the saying goes. And during these past four years, for Democrats, watching this happen has not always been a happy experience or a healthy one.

So here is a little tip how to know in advance whether your candidate is going to bow to the powers that be and join the majority of Republicans who have developed into an army of nay-sayers.

Put another way, they have “taken the pledge” not to raise taxes, not to compromise, not to give one inch on tax breaks for the very wealthy.

As you listen to and watch your candidates’ television commercials, even as you stand in a crowd listening to him or her, be alert for key words which indicate that that man or woman has already been swallowed by the new Tea Party-dominated version of Abraham Lincoln’s party.

Any candidate who uses “Obamacare” rather than “Affordable Health Care Act” is well on his or her way up the party ladder.

Any candidate who talks about “job-killing” bills is halfway to a chairmanship.

Any candidate who jaws on about how the Republicans have always protected Medicare and Social Security, and will always protect them, is already button-holing his or her colleagues in the House cloakroom, looking for an edge over his or her peers for the future. And any candidate who echoes Mr. Romney’s charge of a campaign of enmity, jealousy and hatred is beyond reclamation.

Which is to say these are not people who have your interests at heart. They are ambitious, many of them intelligent, and most of them comfortably well-off. Forgetting how they got where they are is the easiest trick in the world for them to do. And they have also learned with lightning speed the differences between your healthcare and their own. Guess which they prefer?

As for Democratic candidates at all levels, if they rail against Defense Department cuts (which we need), they aren’t shooting straight. If they reasonably admit a national need to carry firearms, they’re playing with fire and have probably already been co-opted by the NRA. If they are NOT concerned about voting rights, they’re running on the wrong ticket. If they think the country’s growing dependence on food stamps and unemployment needs to be moderated (which it does) but are unable to look you in the eye as they (and we) remember how matters came to this pass, they too have learned the slick, idle, demeaning art of how to go along to get along.

Which is to say these are not people who have your interests at heart. They are ambitious, many of them intelligent, and many of them well-off. Forgetting how they got where they are is the easiest trick in the world for them to do. And they have also learned with lightning speed the differences between your healthcare and their own. Guess which they prefer?

Most of us, regardless of party affiliation, want our Congressmen and women to be independent thinkers. We think we are, and we want them to be. There is nothing in Roberts’ Rules of Order, or any other political guide or memoir, that should prevent them from studying bills before them, listening to their staff, discussing them at town meetings. Nor is there anything intrinsically daemonic about learning how to compromise, how to cooperate, how to act in the best interests of as many of their constituents as they can. There is nothing devilish about saying “I don’t know” or about asking questions. And there is nothing evil in delaying a vote of any kind until and unless they understand what is on the table and what it means for all of us.

“Tabling a vote,” however, is often not quite as beneficent. Holding up nominations for federal judgeships and ambassadorial posts anonymously, not to mention putting holds on dozens of under-secretaries in nearly every department of the government who are truly needed, is more often than not party-dictated, as opposed to matters of genuine conscience.

We need to understand the codes of Congress, why and what is being done in our name is either right or wrong.

As voters, whether for the best of reasons or the meanest, we are honestly making choices with which we feel comfortable and confident.

It certainly isn’t too much to ask that House members and senators do the same.

If we can’t believe in what our candidates are promising, we shouldn’t vote for them. If that is true, then we have to spend more time looking at and listening to other candidates.

The now familiar caution that defines insanity, doing the same thing over and over again, always hoping for a different outcome, is what we as Americans must guard against. If we return to Washington the same cast of characters who have already proven to us they are untrustworthy, what can we expect?


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