MARTY RUSSELL: Candidates easily manipulate voters

By Marty Russell

I turned my editorial and opinion writing class into an editorial board the other day and charged the students with endorsing a candidate from among the four major party candidates in the 1st District congressional race here in Mississippi. In the end, the class voted 22-4 to endorse incumbent Rep. Travis Childers, the lone Democrat in the race.
Now I would caution Mr. Childers, as well as the other candidates in the race, not to read too much into the vote. By the same token, I’m not saying Childers isn’t the best candidate, this was just a class exercise and, besides, his daughter is one of my students and she sits on the front row and might kick me if I said anything bad about her dad.
But what I kept hearing during the debate over the candidates in class was essentially, “Why change horses?” It was evident that most of the students did very little actual research on any of the candidates and latched onto Childers simply because he has a voting record in Congress that is generally favorable to the 1st District – and the other candidates don’t.
It’s essentially lazy citizenship. Unfortunately it’s the same type of citizenship practiced by real voters only, instead of latching onto a candidate with a record (voting, not criminal hopefully), they latch onto ideologies. That makes it easy for candidates to manipulate the voters. Take the pulse of your constituency and pander to it. Doesn’t mean you have to actually follow through once you’ve duped them into putting you into office.
Sound familiar? It works for both parties and even the emerging Tea Party and now the newly-formed Coffee Party which purports to be the Middle-Of-The-Road Party. Personally, I’m waiting for the Keg Party to form. We may not solve all the world’s problems with a beer summit but everyone would leave happy.
Truth is, very few voters actually scrutinize the candidates but instead rely on perceived ideologies which may or may not be just a tool to get them elected. Instead of looking at campaign finance reports to see who is backing whom and why or experience or voting records on the local level, they simply go with the candidate endorsed by their friends, radio talk show hosts, their pastors or their parents.
Remember, we are our elected officials’ bosses. We hire them through our votes. And in the real world, bosses aren’t even allowed to consider a job candidate’s ideologies or beliefs, only their experience, training and ability to contribute to the business.
So if government is broken in this country, as so many seem to think, whose fault is it? The elected officials we voted into office or the people who hired them, us, for not taking the time to do our homework?
Marty Russell writes a Wednesday column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 222 Farley Hall, University MS 38677 or by e-mail at marusse1@olemiss.edu.