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King: We need an honest debate
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Have you voted yet? If not, you have a few hours left. Do it!

Will it make a difference? Probably not, but let me put it this way. It will make a difference if you don’t vote. Apathy is democracy’s worst enemy.

Even as I write this, I am conflicted. A number of years ago, I wrote a column saying some people shouldn’t vote, that people who vote for the wrong reasons — simply to express party loyalty or maybe because their neighbors put out a lot of yard signs — really ought to stay home.

I was working with the League of Women Voters at the time, and was part of its “get out the vote” campaign. I figured I’d draw a good bit of criticism for my words. Quite the opposite. However, when so many Americans don’t vote, the world asks why.

In some countries, people are fighting and dying for the right to vote, while here in the U.S., 25 percent of us say we’re too busy to bother. But there are better excuses than this. Many Americans feel money and special interests will run the government no matter who wins. Yes, but not voting only further enables the rich and powerful.

Is there nothing we can do about this? It all starts with the voting process, or to be more specific, with how candidates campaign for office. Each individual running for Congress tries to convince people he or she cares about them. They hire specialists to tell them what to say and how to say it. They pay for TV ads where they look the public in the eye and say, elect me and I will ...

Will what?

Whatever it is the public wants. But the public doesn’t know what it wants, not in specific terms. In general we all want the same things: security, a decent job, education for our children, care for the elderly. But at some point, it all breaks down and we fight over details. We need a different approach.

Let’s look at the election process. Georgia is pretty much a Republican state and considers itself to be “conservative,” so candidates for public office throw that word around a lot. But what does it mean? Let’s talk about that on the campaign trail.

Let’s talk about government itself. The question is not more government or less government; it’s what kind of government we want. I promise you, in today’s complicated interdependent world, government is not likely to shrink no matter who is elected. There are too many of us. We live too closely together, and we want too much.

The question is how do we manage our resources so the nation stays healthy, safe and free to maximize both human and corporate potential? This discussion needs to take place first, before candidates present themselves to the public, and these discussions need to start on a local level.

Debates are ordinarily held between political parties, candidates for office and those who would oppose them. These are people with a political agenda. Their goal is to win, to gain converts.

I suggest we hold debates where the agenda is not political and not adversarial, where the goal is understanding one another, not outmaneuvering an opponent. These discussions should be moderated by an independent party trained in the art of compromise and conciliation.

The end of apartheid shook the very foundation of South African society, but out of it the country established a working democracy. One of its tools was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The TRC is generally viewed as a success. Its relevance here is the opportunity it gave the general public to voice its grievances, and the right of others to explain their actions.

I’m in no way comparing U.S. society to apartheid, but I do see the need for a healthy airing of public grievances and an opportunity for the establishment to explain its actions.

Joan King lives in Sautee. Her column appears biweekly on Tuesdays and at

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