Politics For Dummies
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You should tell your children some facts about politics. Who knows? Maybe some or all of it will sink in. Your kids may not look as though they’re paying attention, but they’ll probably remember. After all, someday, when you suddenly go from being the dumbest parent in the world to being okay (if only by comparison to the even dumber parents of your kids’ friends), some of these points may have an impact on your children.

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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.
Excuses such as these just don’t cut the mustard. Not one of them is a legitimate reason for not doing your duty, making your voice heard, and voting.

Public service is a good and honorable profession

When you hear the talk show hosts and comedians complain about government bureaucrats, remember that many good people work for the government because they want to make the country a better place for us and our children. These people aren’t paid much. Many people don’t treat them well, either. When you meet a government employee who goes out of their way to help you or to be accommodating, don’t forget to thank them and tell them that you appreciate their courtesy. Everyone likes to be appreciated, and government employees are no different from the rest of us.

Never pin your future to the outcome of the next election

If you decide to become active in politics yourself, that’s fine and dandy. Just remember that politics is an uncertain profession. It’s tough to know that your mortgage or rent payment is dependent on the outcome of an election. You need training and contacts outside politics to make certain that you can support yourself if the political tide goes against you or your candidate.

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.

Never trust anyone who lies, including a politician

You’ve always been told to tell the truth. You’ve been told that little tiny lies are neither little nor tiny. You know that trust is a difficult thing to develop and an easy thing to lose. You expect people to trust you because they can count on you to be truthful. In turn, you should give your trust only to people who tell you the truth.

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.

Democracy is the best system of government

Democracy in the United States is the best example of representative government. Ever! People all over the world wish they had a system like the one in the States, where the majority rules with respect for the constitutional rights of a minority with whom they may disagree. That’s why so many people want to immigrate to the States — they see a land of opportunity and safety and want those things for themselves and their families.

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.

Avoiding politics makes you more to blame for its failures, not less

You can’t refuse to participate in politics and then complain that politics is corrupt. If good people refuse to involve themselves in politics, who does that leave? If the situation needs to be improved, you have a responsibility to work to make it better. The system can be improved. No matter how tough a task reforming politics looks to be, the longest, toughest journey begins with a single step.

Learn the facts and form your own opinions

Never trust anyone else to think for you. You owe it to yourself to find out the facts and draw your own conclusions. Don’t let gimmicks and slogans prevent you from thinking an issue through and deciding what outcome is best for you and your community or country.

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 have to wait ’til 18 to vote, but you don’t have to wait ’til 18 to help others vote wisely

In the United States, generally the law recognizes that you have reached an awareness and maturity to be considered an adult at age 21. Intelligence, as we all know, isn’t age related. Even though you may not be an adult legally, the 26th Amendment to the Constitution, authored by Birch Bayh, a Democrat from Indiana, sets the United States voting age at 18. If you’re not legally an adult, yet you can vote, what is magic about 18, you might ask? You have to wait until you’re 18 to vote, because if you could vote earlier, the kid in your class who thinks William Henry Harrison played lead guitar for the Beatles could vote, too. (After that kid reaches 18, he still may think that, but hopefully he’s reached a point in his life where he has enough awareness and maturity to make a sound decision in the voting booth.)

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.

Politicians are just like the rest of us

The younger you are when you become involved in politics, the sooner you’ll figure out that politicians are just people. Some of them are smart, and some of them are dumb. Some are honest; some aren’t. Some may be brave, but others are simply cowards. Few, if any, are complete angels. They’re people just like we are, with virtues and shortcomings. Many of them are worthy of your support, but some of them aren’t and should be defeated. But just as you can’t write off the whole human race because of a few bad people, you shouldn’t write off politics because of a bunch of bad politicians.

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.

When politicians make you promises, make sure you want what they’re promising

Nikita Khrushchev, a famous politician in the former Soviet Union, once said, “Politicians are the same all over. They promise to build a bridge even where there is no river.”

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.

About This Article

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About the book author:

Ann M. DeLaney is currently a Standing Trustee in Chapter 13 Bankruptcy for the Southern District of Indiana. She was the first woman to serve as Chair of a major political party in Indiana and the first woman nominated by a major party as a candidate for Indiana Lieutenant Governor. She has been a delegate to state and national party conventions.

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