Voting is a skill. It's like basketball. Not everyone is good at it. Sure, everyone likes to think he or she is a good voter, just like everyone likes to think he or she is attractive and has a sense of humor. Sadly, the numbers do not support these claims. If everyone was a brilliant voter, we would never elect bad leaders, and the last eight years might have turned out quite differently. So this election year, before you step into a voting booth and possibly screw things up for the rest of us, I ask that you take a moment to answer the following questions and determine whether you have the skill and the know-how to vote responsibly for our next president.
1. Do you feel you made a mistake in 2004 when you voted for George W. Bush?
If your answer is yes, then maybe you're just not good at voting. Every single thing you probably hate about Bush's second term was either already in evidence during his first term or was a direct result of actions taken during those first four years. The arrogant foreign policy, the massive deficits, the deregulation, the cronyism, the wasteful spending, the endless war, the bad environmental policies -- all this was on the table in 2004. In fact, Bush probably made more mistakes in his first term than in his second. But why didn't that sway your vote when it mattered? Perhaps you were uninformed or perhaps you were misinformed. Perhaps you were fully aware of Bush's faults but chose to cast your vote on the basis of personality rather than policy. We'll deal with all of these points in a moment. For now, you should ask yourself this: if I got it totally wrong in 2004, how do I know I won't get it wrong again in 2008?
2. Do you believe Barack Obama is a Muslim? Do you believe he "pals around with terrorists"? Do you believe John McCain wants us to be at war in Iraq for one hundred years?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you need to ask yourself where you are getting your information. If you actually believe any of these voluminously debunked claims, your grasp on reality might be looser than you realize, and this could very well make you a bad voter (see next question).
3. Do you believe any of the following to be unbiased and even-handed sources for political news: The Drudge Report, The Huffington Post, Air America, Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, Lou Dobbs, Glenn Beck, Michael Savage, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, or the Fox News Network?
Seriously? There's nothing wrong with getting your partisan fix, but you need to know the difference between news that attempts to be objective and "news" with an agenda. If you are relying on any of the above as your exclusive source of news, then you are watching the world through a skewed lens, you are hearing only one side of the story, and this doesn't make you a good voter. Spend a few months varying your media diet, and then maybe you'll be ready to step into a voting booth.
4. Are your political opinions easily swayed by forwarded e-mails, messages on your answering machine, or frightening campaign commercials?
If yes, you might be a bad voter.
5. Do you vote based on who you feel is the more "patriotic" candidate? Do you worry about having a president who is a member of the "elite?"
These are made up issues, meant to distract you from real things like the economy and foreign policy. If you fall for this stuff, it might be an indicator of poor voting skills. Every president in U.S. history -- the good ones and the bad ones -- have been both elite and intensely patriotic. McCain and Obama are no exceptions. To ask who loves their country more is akin to asking which candidate is a bigger fan of oxygen. Nobody would ever put him or herself through the public rectal exam that is a modern political campaign without a passionate love of country. As for being a member of the "elite," just remember that Franklin Roosevelt, who couldn't be more elite if he bathed in money, was also the president who probably did more for the working man than any in our history. The lesson: these labels don't matter. If they matter to you, you may not be a good voter.
6. Are you planning to vote a certain way because of Barack Obama's skin color or Sarah Palin's gender?
If yes, what century are you living in? Please do not vote.
7. Are you afraid of accidentally electing a socialist president to the White House?
Please reread the responses to questions 2 through 6.
8. Do you want your president to be just like you?
Are you the most brilliant person you know? Are you smart enough and experienced enough to be the sort of president whose face is put on currency? If you are not, then I, for one, do not want a president who is just like you. You shouldn't either. Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, and Roosevelt were not ordinary men. Good voters vote for extraordinary. Or at least they try.
9. Are you upset because you don't know where the candidates stand on the major issues? Do you feel there is no real difference between the two candidates?
If you answer yes to either question, you clearly have not been paying attention. Barack Obama and John McCain represent two very different philosophies of government, and if you don't understand that, please don't vote. These men have spent the last two years explaining where they plan to take the country. If you still don't know where they stand, then go online and do some research. If you're too lazy to figure out the differences between the two candidates, or if you plan on waiting until you are in the voting booth to listen to what your gut tells you, then please do not vote. This election is too important to be left to the mood swings and ignorant guesswork of bad voters like you.
You've reached the end of the quiz. Thank you for taking this time for self-examination. Now let's be honest: How did you do? Are you a good voter or a bad one? If you've just discovered that you are a bad voter, do not despair. Remember, not everyone can be good at everything. I, for example, am terrible at bowling. That's okay. There's no reason to feel ashamed. And there is an upside too. This year, you don't need to vote! You are officially absolved of your responsibility. Across the nation, millions of more skilled voters will happily pick up the slack, and we will shatter participation records even without you. So, on November 4th, I ask you to take it easy this time. Please, for the love of your country, stay at home.
[Do you have opinions about what makes a good voter? If you have questions you would add to this quiz, please let me know by leaving a comment here or on my blog at www.billfolman.com/blog. I'll post the best questions on my blog soon.]