Broad thread. Tldr - go to the bold at the bottom.
The politicians we elect to act after our best interests & pander to us in ways responsible and not in order to gain our votes and continue their terms, push their policies, collect their funds... How much is the public responsible for their inefficiencies, and oppositely how much more should the public be responsible to ensure efficiency for the public good?
So, either-or. The climates of westernized nations does ruin the efficiency of federal and nationwide policies; the less governments are reigned by the whims and wills of the people, the more efficient that government will employ itself. But it's probably a necessarily sacrifice. We aren't interested in that kind of tyranny (even if and when we are intellectually curious about what would be accomplished). This q will opt out of could-be would-be convolutions. In addition, never mind the problems attributed to corporate interference, economic philosophies, puppeteering from other powerful governments / corporations / lobbyists in unstable political climates, and whatever other causes make their contributions (even when these are the more pressing concerns).
The rights of the people to people their government is the foundation of modern liberty, right? The give and take in this relationship goes without saying. There is no one answer for or against, since this thread isn't about whether or not anybody should do anything so radical as removing that liberty. But we can still find some problems in its modern function. The united states has cultivated an extreme political theater, larger and more intricate than the presentations of punishment and prosperity popularized by earlier governments in earlier tyrannies. It happened naturally and it's being sustained naturally. The recent presidential debates are halved between policy criticisms and being distracted by performance niceties (was this candidate too aggressive, did this candidate seem eager, which one looked sharper, which one was more genial). It's obvious why theater is bad, but less obvious are the positive results of putting on a show. Theater connects with voters who don't have the wherewithal to feel stake in policies; civility and presentation are accessible to everybody from all walks of life, and if that's what some people need to get their foot in the door and their voice in the discussion, so be it.
& for those reasons political theater is equally irresponsible, ensuring a portion of the pie between a government and its people will be made up with distracted and irresponsible sideline commentaries.
I'm all over the place, but I'm leading up to an admission. If we accept that people will get the government they deserve, which places the blame on the people more than it does the governments, I want to admit that I'm part of the problem. All this would be dramatically moot if we had lose our grip on our country to the influences I listed above, but I don't think we have, which is why I wanted to dismiss any mentions of those other influences right off the bat. I'm still under the impression people have a stake in their governments and can change things for the better if they apply themselves for the better and set better examples for their politicians to cater to. Politicking doesn't have to be so detrimental. It has become detrimental because we are asking after detrimental things.
We vote a lot on social issues, suggesting our culture is something we identify with more than our government. I vote culture over policy. I supported Obama over Bush for many many many long winded reasons, yet I have dismissed Obama's continuation of Bush policies because I supported Obama's background, presentation - I believed there was something necessary in the difference between the two men, even if their policies didn't reflect that, and this belief came from an overriding impression of each candidate's culture. At the end of the day I am taking substantive things from the behaviors and mannerisms of politicians before their policies are even whispered about. I vote socially. I vote for my impression of american culture, and I side with the candidate who reflects my impression of american culture. And whenever I want to remind myself how bad that is, I look across the aisle at people who don't want a president with dark skin because that doesn't reflect their impression of american culture. It's just as irresponsible (if not as shitty).
I think people like me are causing problems. Because we're so preoccupied with our culture, we are mindless of policy and heavily influenced by the backgrounds, histories, influences and demeanor of the candidates. When the candidates try to win votes from people like me, they do so in ways furthest from policy. They show their books. They talk about their upbringing. They talk about their vision.
How do you approach politics? How do you vote? How does how you vote distract politicians, and is this distraction helpful? People who vote for policy insist politicians explain their policies, whereas people like me, who vote for culture, insist on unproductive political theaters where politicians present their characters and backgrounds in affable, relatable ways. I think I'm part of the problem.
American politics has devolved. There's more proper critiquing in a dog show then election campaigns, and political candidates have become products for the media to sell; rather than focusing on important issues, it boils down to whose American flag pin is larger.
In a society that provides more votes to reality tv shows than a ballot box, politics is a hard sell. So to advertise the product campaigns will stoop to the lowest means by labeling and creating an image of the candidate (ie. Obama's "Hope" poster). They will create the lowest intellectual stimulus to affect someone's vote; who's more likable? who's tougher? who's younger? who's more handsome? Image is everything in politics today.
Relating to a candidate is important, just as it's important for the candidate to be "in touch" with the voters. So in a sense, political theatre isn't so bad. It's just how far some are willing to take/view it. Focusing on candidate backgrounds, characters and personable traits doesn't reflect the platform that candidate is putting forward. So if you focus less on the individual and more on the party he/she represents, you'll be able to see the important issues and provide a proper critique of the candidate. Political theatre shouldn't be the determining factor of voter preference, but rather a complement to a product being sold (candidates policies, etc.).
So to answer your question, I vote based on what I consider essential: policy. We democratically elect those in office that would best represent our needs, wants and values. And in my case, I need/want/value a stable, just and transparent government that respects the middle-class, offers support for the needy and limit the power of the corporate world.
I agree on voting on policy but what I need/want/value is a government that respects the Constitution of the United States. Government isn't supposed to be like a charity to support the needy. Charity isn't protecting individual private property rights and our freedoms rich or poor. That's the duty and primary function of government.
Personally, I'm cynical about my participation in a system I can only honestly consider hopelessly broken due to how hucksterish and unserious the people who participate in an administrative capacity too largely act and bend over to the wants of financial and corporate oligarchs. I still vote, because it's honestly a civic duty, but I always vote for the third party candidate who expressly advocates things I care about. Even though I accept they will not win, I consider it my responsibility to vote my conscience and reject being emotionally baited into choosing the less repugnant candidate in a duopoly I don't believe in.
I always pin my hope on the idea that maybe one day enough people will feel the same way that these candidates can not continue to be ignored.
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