Whiting column: Grab a paddle; don’t count on government
Character is no longer a factor in our presidential elections.
No office should be more about character, but elections today are not won by convincing or demonstrating that a candidate has character. Arguably, it may have been the 1980s since a presidential election occurred in which we felt comfortable with the character of the candidates.
Elections are won by developing a voter’s vested interest in a candidate, their feeling beholden to a political party or making them dependent upon the status quo to such an extent the voter not only doesn’t want change, they fear change.
When a voter receives money or benefits from a policy advocated by a specific political party or candidate, they are logically reluctant to vote for any candidate who may seek to change that money flow or policy.
Over time, we have become more dependent upon the government instead of taking command of our own lives. Sadly, what has developed is a situation in which character, good judgment and valid leadership experience are not the primary factors in a voter’s decision making but rather what is best for me in the short term rather than what is better for the country in the long run.
“Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” The JFK inaugural quote has been reversed. People vote for the candidate and party who have done or promise to do the most for them individually. Contrary to his own statement, JFK’s Democratic Party has prioritized establishing programs that serve to make us more dependent upon the government and policy to benefit specific electorate groups.
As a result, it is virtually possible to win every national and to some degree, state election regardless of the character of the candidate. The number of voters receiving benefits and possessing vested interest in the status quo dominates the total electorate. To illustrate:
• 22 million federal, state and county employees (2015)
• 6.6 million public school teachers and staff (2014)
• 60.6 million received Social Security benefits (2015) and 53.8 million received Medicare
• 2.4 million received unemployment benefits (2015)
• 52.2 million received non-Social Security-based welfare benefits such as Medicaid, food stamps or another type of welfare. (2013)
These roughly 144 million people have a vested interest in the status quo. There could be overlap between groups that might lower this total slightly, but the overlap would only serve to accentuate the likelihood they will not vote for any candidate advocating the possibility of change negatively affecting them.
This is nearly two-thirds of the 225.8 million eligible voters (2015). Obviously, some in the above groups will look beyond themselves, the short term and not vote for the status quo, but one can still see the difficulty in winning an election in this situation.
This also doesn’t consider the millions who benefit from a specific policy, whether it be immigration, affirmative action, income tax regulation, corporate law or other special-interest policy. They benefit from maintenance of the status quo and are reluctant to vote for change, adding to the 65 percent.
Any candidate or party seeking to reduce taxes, reduce government payroll, hold public employees accountable, make Social Security sustainable, close tax loopholes, end special interest policies or reduce dependence on welfare has a steep uphill battle to win an election.
An individual’s negative economic situation is not eliminated by making them dependent upon a governmental subsidy, but by government providing them a route to take command of their own life. A continual benefit becomes an expectation and develops a feeling of entitlement. The problem isn’t solved but pushed down the road to re-emerge around the next corner.
Most of us don’t resent a short-term handout to someone receiving a bad break from life, whether an unexpected lost job, medical issue or accident. We all know that “there but for the grace of God go I.” The trouble is those who don’t look for work, who sabotage any required interview, fake disability, abuse charity, fail to utilize educational opportunity, don’t strive to acquire a marketable skill but instead feel entitled to continually “receive” and not contribute productively.
Being a public employee can be a difficult and thankless job. We appreciate the dedication shown by most. It’s those who show up for work as late as possible, leave as early as possible, do the bare minimum, push back against any degree of accountability, are more concerned about getting an automatic raise than doing their job better who can make us frustrated with the status quo.
We need to paddle our own canoe instead of relying on the government.
What can we do to put character back in our presidential election?
It’s hard to have a direct effect nationally, but encouraging those of character to run for local office is a start. We must model character for our children, friends and colleagues. It requires us to show more character in what we do every day, so possessing character isn’t an exception but commonplace.
Character requires not only agreeing with but tangibly following JFK’s request. It requires not accepting lack of character in all aspects of our lives, careers, associations and especially political candidates.
In the absence of true leadership, we look for it in the pretenders. We attach ourselves to those who pay attention to us even if their motivation is self-serving. These are the “shadow” leaders. As long as the sun shines they appear successful in the shadows, but when things get tough, get cloudy and the shadows disappear, so does their leadership.
Bryan Whiting believes most of our issues are best solved by personal responsibility and an understanding of nonpartisan economics rather than by government intervention. He recently retired after 40 years of teaching marketing, entrepreneurship and economics. His column appears on the first Wednesday of the month.
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Centrists are likely extinct