Northern Valley Beacon

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Thursday, September 07, 2006


The campaign for closed government goes into high gear

The author of South Dakota War College advises political candidates not to submit the National Political Awareness Test through which Project Vote Smart collects and profiles the positions of political candidates on prominent issues in election campaigns. His reasoning is that opponents can use the information against you. PP claims that his stance is based totally on what wins elections. His recommendation is based upon the idea that saying anything of substance and taking a stance is political suicide. So, candidates, keep your political opinions to yourself. Someone over at one of those regressive blogs might take your words and change them, misquote them, put them in a false context, and defeat you in an election.

We hear some out there call for "reasoned, respectful debate," but then we are told that facts and worked-out opinions and the other stuff that comprises debate will only get you into trouble.

South Dakota War College does not pretend, that I have ever seen, to address the matters of how political information is gathered and how stances are examined and opinions are formed. But some of the commenters on his blog do pontificate on the matter and reveal some of the deeper problems in South Dakota politics. (Should I have capitalized that last word?)

One shining defender of integrity and accuracy says a questionaire with yes or no answers by some outside special interest is a disservice. First of all, the NATP provides a full range of responses to each issue and also provides a space where candidates can elaborate and explain their answers. Secondly, Project Vote Smart is a bi-partisan effort to get campaigns to address issues instead of get bogged down with personal attacks and false claims and the malevolent paraphernalia that comprises so much of what goes on during campaigns. And in political blogs. This brilliant commentator says he would rather have his candidates explain their positions to him rather than some outside interest group. Oh, we forgot how informative political ads are and news accounts and how most people flock around each and every candidate, clamor to have campaign points explained to them, and keep notes to use in the election booth.

I confess that I was a supporter of Project Vote Smart from its outset. I taught journalism. I practiced journalism. And like most journalists, I realized that candidates seldom have available any information about the most important issues on which they have to act and vote. Project Vote Smart provides a file that tracks politicians' stances and is working on files of their voting records. In some places, such information is available through various organizations, such as press consortiums that assemble files of their positions and speeches and score cards on elected officials. In South Dakota, this kind of information is scarce and hard to get. Project Vote Smart is simply a boon to public information, and in South Dakota that is considered dangerous.

Then we have a commentator who celebrates the folksy approach to politics. He says,

"Thank goodness South Dakota is still full of voters who want to look candidates in the eye while they shake their hand and make a decision based on something other than campaign literature and answers to surveys."

A smile, a hand shake, and eye contact are all that's really needed to make a political decision. Now anyone who has canvassed for a campaign, which includes me, knows that the main concern of a candidate is to let people know who you are in the hopes that they will be able to make an identification when they go into the voting booth. That can help. But the fact is that most people vote according to their prejudices and biases and the misinformation they prefer to believe. But, of course, it would violate some basic trust and be counter to the purpose of effective government if they ever consulted campaign literature and profiles of candidates' stances and inclinations.

South Dakota is rated by the Better Government Association in a study funded by the Ford Foundation as the most closed, repressive, and inaccessible government of the 50 states. People just don't know what is going on. And it becomes apparent from the words of commentators on SDWC that they don't want to know.

Life is much more comfortable when you don't have to deal with real issues and information. South Dakota is a haven from such stuff. And that haven is threatened when voters actually check out what candidates think and say and do.

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