Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Voter Education, the Media, and the Indiana Senate Race

Written on my Media Fellows blog late at night, running on caffeine alone. Not my most eloquent or comedic piece, but it gets the point across. No edits, no proofreading, no nothing. Off the cuff stuff. Many of you will disagree, discuss at the bottom, and feel free to e-mail the thoughts. Enjoy.

Well, I’ve saved back my thoughts and synopsis of the Indiana Senatorial race for this occasion. One week later, let’s retread now-trampled ground and the ongoings of this race once again. If you haven’t followed said race, Dan Coats won the nomination, Marlin Stutzman, my own choice, trailed in second, John Hostettler third.

Voting in my first election brought something to my eye. Take a look down at your May 4th ballot, and take a gander at the names never to roll across your television set, specifically your local elections. When I cast that vote for Bob Evans for County Commissioner, do I have any real basis of information to cast said vote? That’s other than the fact he just shook my hand and handed me a nail file that, unlike most, I did use.

A question must be raised about the media’s involvement in political elections. Is it a necessary public service to cover every candidate and every election? Clearly, this isn’t the most feasible proposal, but there must be some attempt at this. Unfortunately, and this is reflected more often during mid-term and local election years, voter education is low. In the past, many, including myself, have proposed a test one must pass to gain voting rights. However, this compromises true representative democracy and the principles our nation was founded upon. Our nation is in no position to be refusing any citizen the right to cast a ballot. We must be proactive, rather than reactive to the situation.

I think it is fair to estimate that the majority of the voting public doesn’t hold the political knowledge I do, and that is no reflection of my intellegence or anyone else’s, simply that I am an unemployed college kid with time to aimlessly browse the internet for hours on end. Having said that, they shouldn’t be required to, either. If our political realm existed inside a vacuum, it’d be nice, but it simply isn’t realistic. Still, voters shouldn’t have to have a map and compass to find information on every candidate in an election.

Let’s look at the senate race, for example. I believe, given the political conditions of the state, Stutzman would been a much tougher challenge for Democratic challenger Brad Ellsworth in the fall. Before you close this window, allow me to explain. Stutzman has close to zero name recognition, in comparison to Dan Coats. Nearly every voter at the poll recognizes the name from his previous terms. Stutzman is a state senator from Howe, Indiana, in the far northern reaches of the state. It’s no contest. However, by the time November rolled around, Marlin likely would have made up a signficant portion of the gap between he and Ellsworth, which is smaller to begin with. Unfortunately, the election is just another reflection of smaller-scale elections being won on nothing more than name recognition.

Being fair to Dan Coats, I think he’s a highly competent man that can once again be a solid representative for Hoosiers. His “lobbyist” past doesn’t raise the red flags it does for some with this guy, but the “Washington insider, Old-money Republican” image, quite frankly, scares the livin’ daylights out of me. The stereotypical, old guard Republican is a fairly repulsive notion to many across the country, but for Coats it may be an unfair criticism.

Many liberals will be quick to jump on Coats’ past, specifically his lobbying, connections to the Bush administration, and his move to North Carolina after retiring from the Senate in ‘98.

Be careful of what you wish for, friends.

Check out Dan’s voting record. It’s fairly moderate (Gasp! What a terrible word!), not as the old-school extremist many might portray. Clearly, Dems will still prefer the centre-left Ellsworth over the centre-right Coats, but this isn’t Reid vs. DeMint, here, either. The candidates are very different, but won’t be quite the polarizing candidates advertisements will indicate.

After long periods of thought and research, I still realize, despite my initial heartbreak, Dan Coats is still the candidate most in line with my values and beliefs. I urge every person in this nation to do the same. Not vote Coats, but to make an informed choice that is most congruent with the items close to your heart. Still, the research I, and many others, do to make an informed choice in an election shouldn’t be necessary. Facts (with citations, preferably), opinions, and discussions about every candidate should be rule the airwaves and headlines for weeks leading up to elections. If our democracy is to be effective, making an informed choice should not be a chore. As I’ve stated, real people with real jobs don’t have that sort of time.

The media undoubtedly holds unfathomable power in our nation. My request is simple; use the power to its fullest extent and educate the public on every candidate. Regardless of who takes the prize, we shouldn’t have another election winner based alone on name recognition.

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