Is voting a right or a duty?The first thing you need to know is that politics is not a sport for Monday morning quarterbacks. The very least that a democracy requires is for all responsible adults to familiarize themselves with the issues and the candidates and then cast informed votes in each election. Perhaps you’ve heard (or even said) some of the following statements:
- My vote doesn’t make a difference.
- It doesn’t matter who wins — the candidates are all the same.
- I don’t know the candidates.
- Politicians are all corrupt.
- I’m too busy.
- I just don’t want to get involved.
You also need some savings in the bank so that you don’t have to call Mom and Dad to make the rent payment when you lose your job after you lose an election.
There’s a relationship between financial security and political independence. This relationship doesn’t mean that rich people always make better officeholders. It does mean that officeholders who don’t fear temporary unemployment are more likely to do the right thing. That financial freedom permits officeholders to be true to their principles, even at the cost of reelection.
Don’t trust anyone who lies to you. Politicians are no different from anyone else, so you should hold them to the same standard. If they lie about little things, they lie about big things, too. Also keep in mind that when someone lies, they aren't only disrespecting those to whom they lied, they're also revealing something about their character and about what you can expect from them in the future.
But someone is always complaining that the country is “falling off the wagon.” When your grandfather was your age, people told him that the U.S. experiment with democracy was going down the tubes. When your children are the age of your grandfather, people will tell them the same thing.
The system in the United States is the best, and it will continue to be the best as long as good people stay involved. That doesn’t mean it can’t be improved; it can and should be. For example, lawmakers need to restore the notion that representatives need to adopt laws that improve the country and not think only about their reelection campaign when voting. Lawmakers need to remember that the Founding Fathers thought that compromise was not a dirty word, but rather the key to a successful country. But it’s still better than any other alternative. So, don’t listen to people who say that the country is on a slippery slope to decline and decay. Tell them that if they don’t like how things are, they should stop wringing their hands and get busy making things what they could be.
Just as you’ve learned not to accept at face value every advertisement you hear, don’t accept at face value everything a candidate tells you. Ask for proof; ask what the other side says. Think for yourself. No one else can do it for you.
You don’t have to wait until you’re 18, though, to learn the facts, form your own opinions, and think for yourself. You can also use your energy and enthusiasm to work for the party or candidate of your choice. Find out what politics is all about by working on campaigns and gaining hands-on experience. If you’re willing to work hard, you can make a difference before you’re old enough to cast your first ballot.
When someone tries to tell you that all politicians are crooks, remind them that Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Barbara Jordan, John Lewis, and Barack Obama were all politicians — good politicians. Sure, some others have come along who’ve dishonored the offices they’ve held. But many others have performed brilliantly and made us proud to be Americans. You shouldn’t permit yourself to believe that all politicians are crooks because that may mean that only crooks will become politicians.
Listen when a politician makes promises. Ask yourself whether the person is promising to do what is right and good, not just for you but also for your community and country. Ask who has to give up something so that the politician can please those to whom they're making the promise.
One of the greatest things about the United States is that we’re a country of many different backgrounds, religions, languages, and cultures united by our love for this nation of immigrants, this land of opportunity. We’re all willing to make sacrifices to see this country grow and prosper. Be wary of politicians who promise that your government can constantly give you things without asking for anything in return. If something looks too good to be true, it generally is.