Advice for a Young Voter (a Letter to My Son)

Last summer my son turned 18 years old. I enthusiastically said to him, "Wonderful, you can vote for our next president." He answered, rather gloomily, "I feel it is pointless, they all make promises they never fulfill. How can I choose a candidate? They all lose sight of their ideals as they live and die by the 'game of votes'." I offered a quick reply, although I gave his response some long and careful thought. Then I wrote him a letter:

My dearest son,

I hear your concern. It seems futile, and even worse, useless to vote for a candidate when you hear them all lightly tossing around promises that they never keep. Or standing on podiums in what are called debates only to lash out at one another in a barrage of negativity and generally behaving rather unpresidential. Yet, I believe it is our duty and, thankfully, a right, in our democracy -- to caste our vote for the candidate we feel will hold the greatest promise to serve the country and lead us and all citizens for the next four years.

You ask, "But how do you determine who that person will be when all the candidates grandstand and flamboyantly manipulate the media?" Indeed, this is a good question. And this is one of those situations where there is no mathematical equation to determine the right answer. No matter what the polls say, they are responding to whose voice is loudest. Nevertheless, you would not base your decision merely on what the populace says; you would vote for what you believe in. As I have always encouraged you, do not follow the herd -- think for yourself. If the herd is going in the right direction, great; if not, take a turn in your own direction and lead the herd to the greenest pasture.

How can you decipher who is the best candidate? The following thoughts I hope will guide you in making your choice and casting your vote.

It is important to begin by knowing the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and Amendments... Well, at least read them. The U.S. President agrees to uphold these doctrines. The Constitution empowers the position of presidency. It serves as a kind of "mission statement" or underlying foundation of principles by which the president agrees to run our nation.

It is important to know the issues the candidates are supporting and, most importantly, to know the issues you value. This is not to say you should vote in self-interest; rather, you should follow the candidate that most aligns with your values and what you believe is in the best interest of American citizens and our nation.

But a candidate's focus and support of common values is not enough for which to choose them. Some say that it is idealistic to vote for the candidate that best matches your position on the issues. They claim that one must also consider if the candidate has the capability and political skills to deliver results. In other words, consider their performance. I heard one commentator state that an inauthentic candidate has never won office. What he meant is similar to how you applied for admission to college. You may have recently earnestly embraced a new interest, but if you had no past record that led to this interest, it may appear inauthentic. To give colleges insight into your strengths, you illustrated a history of what led your passions and to the young man you are today -- which hopefully shows the promise of the type of student you promise to be in college. This is the same for presidential candidates; if they state they are behind a certain issue, what have they done in the past to support this? What are their achievements? Or are they just striving for achievements? It is one thing to state you support an issue, but does the candidate have what it takes to lead and facilitate action? How effective will they be in making what they want to happen happen?

I have mentioned to understand our constitution, to know what issues the candidates support, to see their vision, and to look at their past performance and political skills. I would also add it is very important to consider your potential candidate's intelligence. I believe our president should possess superior intelligence, as well as an attuned emotional intelligence or empathy. Consider whether the candidate has strength of character, which I define as consisting integrity, dignity, fairness, compassion, and courage (both physical and moral), an individual who is magnanimous, and is on the whole an honorable person. In my opinion, if the candidate is endowed with these qualities, he or she has greater ability to handle crisis. Many occurrences are unforeseen, whether natural or man-made, such as 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, but how America's president responds to crisis is critical, for everyone.

Do not be distracted by gossip, the superficial, the trivial -- the noise. You are well aware of how the media can create celebrities of people who have no other talent than their celebrity. There are those whose highest ambitions lie in fame and power, and know how to manipulate the media. How important is the mastery of the media and charm key to being America's president? Does being a successful campaigner indicate or guarantee a successful president? The debates can be informative; however, they have become a platform for candidates to grandstand and negatively attack their opponents rather than having respectful discourse with wise and fearless moderators. The media will be biased. I recommend reading as much as widely as you can, from sources on the far left, to those leaning toward the far right, and everything in between. They all have an agenda, some more blatant than others. Learn how to recognize demagoguery. Trust your intelligence to decipher the distinction between propaganda, journalism, and opinion pieces. It is not that one voice may be better or worse than the other, it is important to understand the ideas and motives behind what you are hearing, watching, or reading. Read blogs and your local, national, and even international newspapers (we can learn a lot from the citizens perspectives of other nations), look at an issue from as many angles as possible.

When you've considered all of the above, go with pride and gratitude to your assigned polling site and confidently cast your vote for the candidate you esteem will best serve our nation.

In closure, "If you are bored and disgusted by politics and don't bother to vote, you are in effect voting for the entrenched Establishments of the two major parties, who please rest assured are not dumb, and who are keenly aware that it is in their interests to keep you disgusted and bored and cynical and to give you every possible reason to stay at home doing one-hitters and watching MTV on primary day. By all means stay home if you want, but don't bullshit yourself that you're not voting. In reality, there is no such thing as not voting: you either vote by voting, or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some Diehard's vote."
― David Foster Wallace, Up, Simba!

With love, Your Mom