Since I just turned 18, I’m looking forward to voting for the first time. It feels exciting to have a say in our country’s future, but it’s a big responsibility, too. So I decided to do everything that I could to educate myself about the candidates and the issues.
Republicans or Democrats, George W. Bush or John Kerry? How were they different anyway? I went to a Web site called presidentmatch.com. This site asked me how I felt about issues such as crime, education, security and the economy. Then it showed me how much I matched with each candidate based on my answers. I matched with Kerry about 60 percent and with Bush about 40 percent. Although this was convenient, it seemed all too simplistic to boil down the presidency into a bunch of multiple-choice questions.
So I decided to tackle the news next. It was frustrating to find that the politicians and debaters were more intent on attacking each other than on giving reliable information about their parties’ policies concerning the next four years. While the Republicans nicknamed Kerry the "flip-flopper," Kerry gave a counter-attack with the words "arrogance isn’t a virtue." They sounded like little kids shouting insults at each other. Had the dignified contest for the leadership of our nation simply turned into a different version of the Jerry Springer show? And it seemed like the TV shows presented information in support of one candidate or the other, rather than letting us make up our minds.
Because the news seemed so biased, I searched the Internet to try to find some factual information about the candidates’ viewpoints. I found that mtv.com has a "Choose or Lose" section dedicated to the election. That site had a link to Project Vote Smart at www.vote-smart.org, which claimed to offer "abundant, accurate, unbiased and relevant information." I clicked on the section titled "Voting Records," selected President Bush and was soon presented with the words, "Project Vote Smart does not have any voting record information available for this office." Next, I checked out the candidates’ interest group ratings (that is when an outside group rates a candidate) and was again told there was no information. I clicked on the candidates’ issue positions and those discouraging words popped up again. However, I was able to find out that Bush’s favorite ice cream flavor is pralines and cream and Kerry’s favorite food is chocolate chip cookies. Wow, so much "abundant and relevant" information!
One very helpful thing that I found on this Web site, however, was the candidates’ various speeches. By reading their speeches online and listening to their speeches at the Democratic and Republican conventions, I finally began to form a basic understanding of the policies proposed by Kerry and Bush. Kerry views himself as the champion of the middle class while Bush sees himself as the leader of conservative values. As a student, education is my number one priority. One interesting thing that I found was that instead of spending money on prisons for young people, Kerry plans to invest that money in programs for young kids like Head Start and Early Start. I also learned that Bush has planned to increase funding for community colleges and improve job training.
While reading and listening to the candidates’ speeches has certainly helped me, it has also made me more confused in some ways. One side lashes out against his opponent’s lack of action or failure in one area while the other side brags about their achievements in those same areas. Kerry blames the Republicans for "denying real prescription drug coverage to seniors so that big drug companies can get another windfall," while Bush proudly states that he feels a "responsibility to honor seniors and has brought Republicans and Democrats together to strengthen Medicare." Bush states that Kerry is "running on a platform of increasing taxes," while Kerry promises that he will "cut middle-class taxes" and "reduce the tax burden on small businesses." Presented with such contradictory statements, I feel confused. Who should I trust? How can I make the right decision?
Where’s the line between fact and opinion?
During my research, I have found that it is much more difficult to get unbiased and relevant information than I thought it would be. The media seems biased and the Internet is flooded with unreliable sources. The political issues are very complicated and it seems like one needs a master’s degree in political science to understand the candidates’ speeches. Since I haven’t even graduated from high school yet, how am I supposed to know what kind of tax cuts will stimulate the economy, or how to create jobs? I feel like I have to base my decision on whatever distorted information I can find and that’s not right.
When it’s this hard to get good information, no wonder so few young people vote. But to me, the solution is not to dumb politics down, it’s for all of us to get smarter. We need information about economics, government, history and other stuff, if we are going to make sense of what the candidates are talking about. Politics is not like math, where we just plug the number into the equation and get the answer. Instead, it is a whole realm of possibilities. Making those possibilities into realities is going to take some work from all of us. Therefore, I have a request for all who have read my article: Students, ask your teachers today for information about the different political issues. Teachers, try to include more current issues in your class curriculum. Parents, talk more to your children about politics. If we want our country to be a better place, if we want to influence decisions about education and the military and jobs, we need to know who we’re supporting for president. If we choose to be lazy or to not care, we’ll be choosing to let others run our lives and in the end we may be unhappy with the results.