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Cotherman: Party, or not

Cotherman: Party, or not

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Like everyone else, I’ve been reading letters to the editor and editorials supporting or opposing candidates. I hope everyone reads and listens and observes a lot before voting, but I am inclined to think the letters, brochures, ads, etc., tell us more about the writer than about the candidate. It is not what is said about the candidates or what they say about themselves that seem to determine how we vote in Wyoming: it is the party label. I haven’t concluded yet that political parties should be eradicated, but I do think they are not working as they should when members of one party have to “invade” the other in order to have a say about who governs us.

According to the information we gathered, all the candidates possess honesty, integrity, fiscal responsibility and lots of experience; but if they don’t, it is not a good idea to vote a straight party line. Surely candidates in both parties have or don’t have these qualities and the voter has to determine the difference between their positions on principles as well as policies.

We also say we want candidates to have experience, but seem to believe that change comes only by voting for those who know nothing about government, policy, public desires or what a democratic republic stands for. We seem to want them unsullied by experience or knowledge.

I don’t think the founding fathers expected us to accept all the policies of a political party, but to the principles outlined in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

We know that political parties are meant to establish and organize groups that are united in cause or opinion, and that’s not a bad idea, but it does require that voters take the trouble to analyze those causes/opinions as living policies; that is, policies that can change and adapt as needed on the basis of the principles we have in common.

We say we stand for certain principles, yet we undermine them by our decisions. I asked myself why we often proclaim one belief and then deny it with our actions, and the answer seems to be that we are complex beings with many ways to filter the information we receive through what we already know and have experienced. We strain information through personality, beliefs that may or may not stand the test of truth, our personal characteristics, our spiritual longings, our yearning for power, our sense of dependency or our desire for independence and recognition as unique individuals.

I am examining again the struggle to unite the American colonies and I appreciate both the courage it took to break from the mother country and the desire to keep what independence the colony/states had built. Who cannot understand the balancing act of giving some authority to a central government with the desire to keep decision-making closer to the state/people? The conflict is still with us.

Thankfully, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Washington, et al., knew that they had to achieve a balance. They had to compromise, and we seem to have forgotten how to do that. Why do we equate compromise with weakness? Perhaps it is because the parties seem to insist that what binds us together is not principle, but policy.

If we peel back the layers of disagreement and realize we generally agree with what we stand for (principle), we can compromise on how we put our standards into practice (policy).

Though I rarely understand scientific verities, I was browsing the dictionary and stopped on the page that defines polarization. I don’t really understand the scientific process in which “waves of electromagnetic radiation can be polarized using special filters” but I shouted “Eureka!” because that’s what has happened politically.

We are filtering our decisions about candidates solely through the party label, and that’s polarizing what used to be one of the major hallmarks of a democratic society: spirited civil discussion of opposing points of view. Instead, we’ve told ourselves that any view opposed to ours must be ill-informed if not evil and that policy, rather than principle, is locked in place as “party line.”

If we don’t want to have spirited disagreements about positions, if we only want to have a government where everyone agrees with everyone else or is silent, maybe we should forget about principles, policies and postures, and filter our decisions based on our judgements of candidates’ character, intelligence, personality, courage and integrity.

Maybe we should investigate whether candidates want a job or a title; maybe we guess whether they are truthful or not; maybe we ask ourselves whether we’d want them as relatives or friends.

I just know it doesn’t make much sense anymore to vote solely on the basis of party when we’re not even sure whether the party is a group or several groups vying for control. I am tired of “wings” (left or right) when I want welcoming arms and devoted hearts. I’m voting for the individual, regardless of party!


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