In my undergraduate studies in political theory in the 1960s, I learned that our actions may be dictated by two primary principles. One is how we look at our fellow human beings and the assumptions we make about ourselves and each other. The other is our ability to look at the truths that may be staring us in the face if we take a second look.
I am now witnessing how these principles play out in our everyday lives.
I do not need to go into detail about how our views of people who are different from us affect the policies and people we identify with and support. These policies include a publicly supported safety net, civil and voters’ rights, public education, health care, the treatment of immigrants and how we deal with the effects of climate change.
What most dismays me here is how some of us, even though we consider ourselves to be progressive in the policies we advocate for, are buying into assumptions about our fellow citizens that do not bear up well with a second look. It does not help that these assumptions may be promoted by outsiders with money who know nothing about who we in West Virginia really are as a people.
The most damaging assessment that I have heard is that outside Democratic Party funders may invest less money in political campaigns in our state unless Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., jumps ship from his current position to lead the Democrat ticket as a candidate to be our next governor.
I have also heard rumors, which may or may not be true, that some incumbent Democrat legislators will not run again for the offices they hold now without the senator running for governor to provide them with cover.
At first, I could not fathom the basis for these assumptions. Later, it occurred to me that some of my fellow Democrats may feel that our voters are distracted or unwilling to think for themselves and, thus, will not make an informed choice on a candidate who is running down-ballot for a lower level office. Apparently, there are analyses of data that support this view of our fellow human beings.
I have the greatest respect for data. At the same time, I put the most faith in what I have seen with my own eyes and ears of the people in our state.
As a counting clerk for primary and general elections in a small rural precinct where paper ballots were still used, I saw the evidence on ballot after ballot of voters carefully selecting who to vote for regardless of party. This dynamic was particularly evident when a person was popular, regardless of party, and was running for a county office. But it also happened during other years that I was in this position.
The same approach held true in conversations with numerous voters I met during canvassing throughout Kanawha County in our last election cycle. Voter after voter explained how they supported this person and not that person, again without regard to party, based on their personal history of knowing the candidate and his or her track record with the community.
We also heard from virtually everyone we met about the importance of voting and studying in advance who would be on the ballot. Not all of us would agree on each other’s decisions, but the ability to decide for ourselves is a fundamental tenet of our functioning democracy. This self-determination is also the core value embodied in our state’s motto, “Mountaineers are always free.”
Voters also expressed their total aversion to negative campaigning. I do not question the fact that last-minute and dark-money tactics, fueled by basically unlimited funding, have affected the results of an election.
At the same time, it is clear to me that the practical and functioning antidote to these tactics is ongoing work on the ground, through vehicles such as one-to-one visits and town hall meetings. This outreach brings good information and candidates to our fellow citizens so that they can see for themselves who is asking for their vote and what policies these candidates support.
A first-time candidate told me that he does not buy into this push for a strong, proven candidate at the top. He said that our other candidates are strong enough in their own right to make their appeals on the merits of who they are and what they believe in.
I also know there are a lot of us who trust that making our case will bring people out to vote who can make a difference based on their numbers and their individual decisions.
September has been designated as Voter Registration Month. Each of us can do our part to encourage and help to register voters day in and day out from now until the deadline prior to each election, and to help them to get to the polls.
We can also engage in discussions that respect our fellow citizens by asking for their views, respecting where they are coming from, looking for common ground and giving them information that they can use in their own individual decision-making processes on each of the candidates.
One of the truisms that applies here is that we need to be the change that we want to see happen. Let each of us apply this truism in viewing our neighbors and the politics of our state through the positive and respectful lens that they deserve.