Wednesday night, my husband and I watched the presidential debates. Then we watched the half hour of commentary that followed. I was struck by how disappointed those news professionals appeared. Several mentioned that there were no “zingers” in the debates. Is that what it’s come down to? Zingers and sound bites?
In days leading up to the debates, over and over, mention was made of past election debates. Over and over we were shown the video of a sweaty Richard Nixon debating a calm and collected John F. Kennedy.
There was Gerald Ford proclaiming in the debate against Jimmy Carter, “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.” I'm sure that was news to the people of Poland in 1976.
In 1988, vice presidential candidate Dan Quayle defended his inexperience as being similar to that of JFK. Lloyd Bentsen responded with undisguised disdain: “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you are no Jack Kennedy.”
That zinger wasn’t enough to get the Dukakis-Bentsen ticket elected, but it earned the taciturn Texas lawmaker a place of distinction in election debate history.
If you’re old enough to remember any or all these debates, stop and think for a moment. What else was said in those broadcasts? What issues were argued, promises made? I can’t name any specifics and I suspect I’m not alone.
Just as disturbing as the focus on zingers to the exclusion of other substantive issues, is the emphasis on fact-checking. Apparently, sometimes the truth is no longer carved in stone but made of more fluid stuff, depending on the viewpoint of the speaker and the leanings of the listener. Call me old-fashioned but I don’t appreciate being lied to. And I’ve been known to hold a grudge.
As crucial as these elections are, I’ve been astonished at the number of people — good people, parents, people of faith — who don’t plan on voting. Some have never voted. One friend, who had worked for years as a housekeeper, recently reached retirement age. She confided that she had never registered to vote because she was afraid it would increase her chances of being called to jury duty. She simply couldn’t risk losing a week of work and wages.
Like my friend, many people believe that jury pools are selected solely from the list of registered voters. That’s simply not the case. Beginning earlier this year, the statewide Council of Superior Court Clerks of Court are tasked with assembling jury pool lists. They are drawn from every adult in Georgia who is legally eligible to serve. The information comes from myriad sources. It has increased the number of potential jurors in Hall County from 33,000 to over 100,000. Few, if any, live so far off the grid as to not be considered. So if you’ve been using this as an excuse for not voting, you’re just going to have to find another one.
Another acquaintance was born in Paraguay and spent his childhood in Mexico. His family came to the U.S. illegally when he was 15. He recalls, “I carried my mother across that river on my back.”
Now in his 40s, he’s a citizen. He sneered, “All politicians are crooks. I hate them all. There’s no point in voting.”
Apparently his version of the American Dream doesn’t include casting a ballot. That information changed my view of this sweet, funny family man who loves to cook. Now I can’t help but see him as an ingrate who enjoys the benefits of citizenship while not shouldering his share of the burden.
These days, many people can name more judges on “American Idol” than justices of the Supreme Court. They know intimate details of Kim Kardashian’s life but don’t know who represents them in Congress. Civic responsibility isn’t a topic that’s funny or sexy or exciting. But it is crucial.
I’m not trying to tell anyone how to vote. But I sure don’t have any reluctance in saying that all of us need to.
It’s not too late to register to vote in November’s general election. You have until Tuesday, Oct. 9. Hurry up. The clock’s ticking.
Teressa Glazer is a Gainesville businesswoman. Her column appears biweekly on Fridays and at gainesvilletimes.com/viewpoint.