I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud to be an American than I am today. Once considered an arrogant, self centered people, only concerned with ourselves, we have suddenly been transformed into an educated, well read group eagerly soaking up all the current events that affect the country and the world. Just a few short months ago, a question such as “Did you catch ‘Nightline’ last night?” would have yielded snickers and several blank stares from my “worldly” friends. Today, these same friends are routinely watching “Nightline,” “CNN: The World Today,” and “This Week with Sam and Cokie” among others. They are logging onto the internet for more than just the latest joke of the day. They are reading the daily news and continuing to tune in to those special reports that pre-empt their game shows and Jerry Springer. They are even enjoying a newfound interest in politics.
The other day I attended a political forum and was thrilled at the quality of the interaction with the candidates for office. Those in attendance were truly focused on the important matters of the country. Their questions did not relate to “stale” news about Saddam Hussein and the state of weapons’ inspections in Iraq. They did not harp on “insignificant” economic dilemmas halfway across the globe in Asia, Russia, and Latin American. Instead they reflected the true issues of importance in the current political campaigns. EDUCATION: How do you define the word “Is”? HEALTH CARE: How important are the developments in DNA testing? TOBACCO: What brand of cigar does the President “smoke”? Yes, the founding fathers would truly be proud of American’s interest in the political process.
OUR TOP STORY TONIGHT (AND EVERY NIGHT)
In all seriousness, dramatic events continue to shape the world and the financial markets, and all anyone cares about are Bill, Monica, Linda, Ken, and the soap opera “inside the Beltway.” Congress has become so preoccupied with these “affairs” that one can’t help but wonder who is actually running the country. Reputable media sources highlight virtually every quote from the (in)famous Starr Report and the Grand Jury testimony, while providing riveting interviews from the likes of Dick Morris, Lucienne Goldberg, and James Carville. Average Americans claim to be entirely turned off by the process but still continue to read, watch, and listen, even if only for entertainment value.
My concerns are undoubtedly somewhat selfish in nature (typical American). Though the domestic economy remains robust for now, the Asian crisis is spreading across the globe and already impacting the manufacturing sector, corporate profits, and the widening trade deficit. The stock market has responded with highly volatile days and has many analysts singing the “bear market blues.” Unfortunately, within Congress, issues such as the funding for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are taking a backseat to Grand Jury tapes. Debates about impeachment, resignation, and censorship take precedence over everything else: social security, Medicare, education, health care, foreign affairs (bad word), taxes, etc. The true measure of our apathy, however, will likely show itself in the voter booth in November. What if an election was held and nobody showed up? In just a few short weeks, we’re going to find out.
In reality, it has never been more important to become involved in the political process. Each of us has causes that are vitally important to us as individuals. We have concerns about specific business issues or other community minded affairs (bad word again). In some cases, we have a much better understanding of the issues that affect our lives than do the powers-that-be in D.C and the state governments. Unfortunately, besides periodic partisan election year rhetoric, hardly anyone is focused on the vast majority of these issues right now. Therefore, we have an inherent duty to help educate and inform these politicos about our thoughts and concerns. If we don’t take the time to read about important developments, write and e-mail officials, attend forums and debates, no one else will do so on our behalf.
The process does not have to be time consuming. Elected officials should be highly accessible to their constituents. Most have e-mails addresses and should respond to the questions/comments of the voting public. They also make periodic appearances in their districts to talk about the issues of the day (or fundraise) inside these communities. Furthermore, their offices should remain open to visitors with legislative aids available to address any and all concerns.
VOTE AS OFTEN AS YOU CAN
Use these opportunities to contact your elected officials when the situations warrant. Take note of articles in the paper that express your representatives’ views on those issues most important to you. Keep them updated about educational concerns at your children’s schools, business issues in the workplace, or general thoughts about how they are doing in their jobs. Work with trade/community organizations to formulate educational “talking points” to be used in lobbying efforts. For those folks you agree with, let them know by attending a fundraiser or volunteering at their campaigns. For those others, express your disagreements or simply assist their opponents. Most importantly, however, exercise that civic responsibility at the voters booth in November. That action provides the most effective method of expressing our opinions to the powers-that-be. We should never feel more proud to be Americans than when we drop that ballot in the box on election day. Unfortunately, far too many will not experience that prideful feeling this year. Then again, at least, they will still be watching “Nightline.”
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