12 America - US Flag flying at Hull Yacht Clubby Robert Gillis
Published in the Foxboro Reporter, 11/1996

One of the best movies in recent memory to depict our nation’s chief executive was, “The American President,” starring Michael Douglas. Andrew Shepherd, the widower president Douglas portrays, enjoys the highest popularity poll in decades; he is a wise, strong, compassionate, and fair. A great leader.

Shepherd’s only weakness (at least to his advisors) is his reluctance to attack Senator Bob Rumsford (Richard Dreyfuss), his opponent in the next election. While Rumsford attacks the president’s character at every turn, Shepherd stays quiet. His record should speak for itself, he feels.

When Shepherd finally makes a powerful speech in response to Rumsford’s attacks, he doesn’t destroy his opponent’s character – he touts his own success record as president and explains that Rumsford is just blowing smoke and is not the man for the job. Rumsford’s character or past isn’t the issue. Accomplishments are what matters.

{Real world examples deleted because so many years have gone by since I wrote this}

Whatever your choice, the answer will not be found in character bashing. Instead, look at the achievements of each candidate.

In a recent edition of the Reporter, another writer wisely said that contrary to what the government might tell you, the voters really do know what is best for them. As you make your voting choices, you must keep in mind that you are being saturated by negative advertising and ferocious character bashing, and much of it is irrelevant or misleading. The key to sifting through the accusations and negative volleys is one word: Relevance.

It’s one thing when a candidate or official is convicted of a crime. We as a public certainly want to know that a candidate was convicted of a felony. That is relevant. But do we really need to know how many speeding tickets a candidate got as a teen-ager? Must we hear the voices of people who were grammar-school classmates of candidates forty years ago? (“Oh, I knew he was always sneaky,” the classmate said. “When we were in first grade, he always stole my crayons. Do you want a thief like that as your (Mayor, Governor, President?”)

{Real world examples deleted because so many years have gone by since I wrote this}

What IS relevant? That’s easy! Ask yourself: In other offices, how did the candidate vote on the issues that matter to you? Is he or she responsive to the constituents? If the candidate is running for reelection, are you better off than before the person held the job? Does he or she lead with compassion and fairness? Does the leader know how to do the job, and how to play the political game to best benefit the people? Do you trust this person to represent you?

As you prepare your voting choices, also keep the media in mind. In “Talking Straight,” Lee Iacocca directs us to never believe anything we read in just ONE place – even his book! (or this column, for that matter). Rather than rely on any single source for your news – CNN, TV News, newspapers, radio – try taking in all of these sources, combining them, and determining the truth yourself.

Candidates – especially high offices like the presidency, congress and senate – are very much at the mercy of the media. In Barbara Bush’s memoir, the former first lady talks about how influential the media was in undermining George Bush’s reelection bid in 1992 by accenting every negative aspect of his presidency, and downplaying the good points.

{Real world examples deleted because so many years have gone by since I wrote this}

Another factor to consider is that no one person can solve all the problems. People in this country act as though the office of the president is a monarchy. People act as though the president simply decrees something and it comes to pass. Not to worry about lobbyists, congress, the Senate, the House of Representatives, and thousands of other politicians with their own agenda.

It’s better to think of the President as a manager and facilitator, working for the people. Yes, it’s an idealistic view, but the president is ultimately just that – a manager. Most elected officials are also managers. For their term, we ask them to manage the affairs of the town/state/country. We ask them to represent our interests and “go to bat” for us. We ask them to be our voice and get things done.

Remember that the candidates are people. No candidate creates the problems, but for their term in office, they inherit them. What they do to resolve the problems is their legacy.

On November 5, think about what is relevant, and vote for each candidate based on their political record and integrity, and the facts. Knowledge is power, and an informed voter is the best kind of voter.

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