The other day I overheard an argument between friends over two particular candidates for the same office. One is the incumbent, so the question was posed, “What’s he done for us?”
I’ll leave out the particulars—which candidates and which race—because I don’t want to water down my larger point. I’ve heard that sort of question a hundred times through the years when talking politics, and I’ll bet you have too.
It speaks to the self-interests that always swirl around elections. What can this particular candidate do for me? If my designated representative can’t bring home the bacon for me and mine, then he or she isn’t worth my support. Politics is all about power and money, and if I’m not getting my share, I need better representation fighting for me. Me. Me.
Unfortunately, too many voters only look at their immediate self-interests, ignoring the long-term effects of our government’s policies and practices and its impact on our long-term future. And to justify such shortsightedness, they turn to alternative facts and the politicians who tout them.
The issue of climate change is a perfect example. In southeastern New Mexico, the oil and gas industry dominates the economy. The region feeds into the world’s dependence on fossil fuels, a major contributor to the carbon emissions that may very well destroy life on Earth as we know it. For the sake of humanity’s future, something has to change, but it certainly won’t start in the oil patch, where people are simply voting their pocketbooks.
It’s that way pretty much everywhere. West Virginians took a hard right turn in recent years because Trump and the Republicans have embraced coal, one of the dirtiest energy sources out there, as a fuel for the future. It’s not, but they want to believe that so badly they’ll vote for any snake-oil salesman that comes their way, as long as he’s promising more coal-fueled production.
Pocketbook politics is reality, but that doesn’t mean it’s always justified. Sometimes we need to look beyond our immediate self-interests to what’s best for others too.
That’s what is called “enlightened self-interest,” and it’s based on the idea that, as I like to put it, everyone must come up together or someone will pull us back down. We’re all in this together, so we should work for a great collective good.
It’s akin to the Golden Rule most of us grew up hearing: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” That’s actually a great way to live. And vote.
Of course, politics is a constant battle over money and power. Throw the Golden Rule into the mix and you’d really shake things up—for the better.
Yes, yes, I know. That’s pie-in-the-sky thinking; it ain’t gonna happen. But have you ever thought about why it won’t? For starters, it’s because We The People don’t vote that way.
Voters have become too wrapped up in their own worlds to see the larger picture. If we’re rich, we get greedy and vote against anything that threatens our position. If we’re poor, we’ll vote for anyone who promises a lifeline. And if we’re middle class… well, I guess we’re doing a little of both.
But what about people like John McCain? What about those who place their country above their own selfish interests? Where are the Martin Luther Kings and the Rosa Parks of our time? Where are the men and women who give their lives for greater causes? Can a place like New Mexico actually produce another Dolores Huerta?
Real heroes are willing to sacrifice for the greater good.
If there’s anybody now running with such standards in mind, you’d never know by the campaign ads running on television. The propaganda they espouse speak only to our base instincts of fear and self-preservation. But that’s not the candidates’ fault. They’re only pitching what sells.
As for me, I guess I’ll do what I do every election cycle: I’ll cast my ballot for one or two candidates I genuinely respect, but mostly I’ll vote for the lesser of the “evils.”
Maybe someday, some politician will stand up and speak for our collective good. Perhaps they’ll tell us hard and unpopular truths, and we the voters will actually reward them for their honesty. Then they could work more freely toward real solutions to our problems. And then, maybe, our politics would heal itself.
I don’t know about you, but I’d vote for that.
Tom McDonald is founder and editor of the New Mexico Community News Exchange. He also owns and operates The Communicator in Santa Rosa. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.