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Strong Candidates, Accurate News, A Sense of Unity…What’s Lacking in ’16

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I voted yesterday. Nothing you can say will sway me now. I’m an election judge, assigned to a precinct other than my own and so while at City Hall I went down and got in line and voted. So it was with new eyes that I looked at the cover of the Star Tribune newspaper today and found yet another article that failed to report simply facts. This was not in the opinion section, it was presented as news and it was distasteful and slanted in ways that I’ve come to expect but find myself still disappointed by. “Iowa Reverses Course, Tilting Toward Trump” read the second headline above the fold. The story is accompanied by four color photographs; a man* looking out the open driver-side window of his pickup truck who is not against a woman president “just not that woman, is my opinion.“, a woman in an American flag T-shirt, identified as a Clinton supporter, a young man wearing a motorcycle helmet with his sweatshirt pulled up to reveal a Trump T-shirt and a man the paper identified as Somali who is critical of Trump’s immigration laws. The paper didn’t clarify if the Somali man is a US citizen or even eligible to vote or state if polls verify if those polled meet that criteria.

As I was drinking my coffee, I about spewed it while reading just the first paragraph: “If Republican Donald Trump pulls off a win in Iowa this year, it’s because this presidential swing state still has plenty of voters like Daryl Hovden* -old, male, white and angry.” The article then went on to describe him as a 60-year old farmer. The article didn’t describe the 67-year old Clinton supporter as “old”, “white” or “female” or describe her temperament. My 21-year old son has told me that since middle school that the only group of people he has heard described negatively in an academic setting is white men. As though achieving equality will somehow be garnered by putting down a group of people based on their skin color or gender, neither of which they have control of. Here was further conformation of his childhood observation, right on the front cover of what was supposed to be an unbiased newspaper. How would people respond if the paper described Hillary as an “old white woman”? She is after all eight years older than the farmer, despite being the younger of the candidates.

Then to add some level of credibility to the article it quotes David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University and a former political journalist in Iowa “Iowa is mostly white, only about 25 percent of its residents have college degrees, and it’s one of the oldest states in the country.” going on to say “I’ve just described to you the profile of the typical Trump voter.” The reality is that it added no credibility, just because he said something doesn’t make it true and the Star Tribune could have quoted him and then noted that in fact despite his experience as an Iowa journalist that his knowledge of Iowa appears off. As the twenty-ninth state in the Union, 56% of the states are older than Iowa. Fluff and opinion and inaccurate history and me shaking my head at all of it. My frustration comes from months and months of poor journalism, slanted commentary and less than factual reporting. I have no issue with my friends and acquaintances having opinions but the standard for news used to be the presentation of facts and my greater frustration is with my fellow citizens accepting or simply not caring that they are being manipulated by this constant stream of misinformation under the guise of it being news.

The other thing I have found particularly offensive this election cycle is the value assigned to different citizens, as though people who are college educated make better voters. That is until one is courting the immigrant population and looking for their votes. Suddenly old people are not valued voters. My immigrant grandfather came to this country with an eighth grade education. After a number of years he became a citizen and made a better life for his family.  When he voted, the vote he cast carried no less weight than that of the ancestors of those who arrived on the Mayflower or any greater weight than that of a more recently naturalized citizen. The divisiveness that this sort of commentary creates is neither helpful in promoting a candidate nor will it lead to unity after the election. The reality is that life experience and personal values are of greater impact on how one votes than their race, gender, religion, physical location or some other real or perceived arbitrary designation. Enough with the trying to marginalize people based simply on who they are. For a generation that has grown obsessive over anti-bullying, it is amazing how quickly it comes back into use when it comes to politics. Stealing signs, damaging property and shouting hateful slurs goes beyond first Amendment rights. This campaign cycle has brought out the worst in this country and what used to be a patriotic exercise has turned into an ugly melee.

Even when I was a kid, I understand that voting was a serious issue. Though I also understood that the process could be fun. My earliest political recollection was being taught to shout “Hurray for Goldwater!” by the older woman who lived next door. I had no idea who Goldwater was, I was not yet two and therefore ineligible to vote. I do recall going with my mother while she voted when I was little, my earliest recollection was at the Catholic church on the next block from our house but eventually it was moved around the corner from where I lived to the Congregational church. I loved going into the booth, my mother cautioning me not to touch any of the levers and I especially enjoyed when she pulled the arm that closed the curtains making a secret voting fort. I was probably eight or nine years old before I realized that “The Wizard” was not in a voting booth when discovered by Toto. I assumed that his saying “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” meant give the guy some privacy, he’s trying to cast a secret ballot!

My mother was a stay at home mother, she had circle meetings with ladies from church, reunion meetings every five years with her high school classmates and other than that campaigning for local politicians was her only other social activity outside the home. I recall in the fall of 1968 that we “voted” for president in my kindergarten class, I remember thinking it was a futile gesture since our votes didn’t count. My senior year of high school a classmate and I were selected to go over to the State Capital to be trained in registering voters at our high school. With typical government inefficiency they spent the morning welcoming us and telling us how wonderful we were for being there, they provided us with cookies and drinks and after distributing the completely self-explanatory materials released us for lunch and told us we would be covering the registration process when the session resumed that afternoon. With little discussion needed, my classmate and I gathered the materials and departed for a lunch in downtown Minneapolis, accompanied by several cocktails. In those days asking a teenager for an ID in the middle of the day was much like asking for one in Minnesota today when someone is voting, it just didn’t happen!

Now that I have regaled you with my election related musings from before I was of legal voting age, I am ready to get back to some of the other issues that rankle me this election cycle. If there were one thing that I would throw myself behind getting onto a future ballot it would have to be limits on campaigning. We don’t need two years of disruption, distractions and disrespectful discourse unrelated to what a candidate’s platform consists of. Lets save millions of dollars and not have donors sought after in exchange for future favors and possible pardons. Campaign in place, nobody needs to go anywhere to communicate with others now. The fuel costs alone to fly candidates, staff (and the news people that cover them) could be put to better use in many other ways. I understand that candidates used to stop in every town and give speeches from the backs of trains to gathered crowds but that was in the days where we stored ice chunks from the winter in saw dust to use to keep our food cold and the buggy whip industry was thriving. Times change and our campaigns need to as well. Besides the fatigue this campaign has brought to our nation there has also been way too much time away from work as our elected politicians are out campaigning for either their own next term or on behalf of others from their party. I’ve never had a job where I got to leave to go out campaigning while I was being compensated for work I was not doing. The American people are footing the bill for this irresponsible behavior (which is poor role modeling of a work ethic) and it needs to stop.

I’d also like to see term limits, if it works for the president I think it should be considered for other offices, especially at the federal level. In smaller municipalities or positions that are not deemed full-time jobs I’m not as concerned but at the higher levels I think we would see more effort if a person didn’t believe they had a lifetime to accomplish an objective. These positions were not intended to be careers. That being said, there would be no need to pay a lifelong retirement salary were a person to only serve two terms.

My son will vote for president for the first time this year. He is disappointed by the options he has to choose from and because of that I am disappointed for him as well. My greatest hope is that in his lifetime he will have the opportunity to get behind a candidate he feels proud to support and be ecstatic when they win or even feel the deep disappointment of the loss of a fantastic candidate who’s selfless and motivated to serve for the betterment of all. It’s disheartening when that choice is not on the ballot.

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