FREE FALLING

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN BOB WOELK
Here we go again. Though the November election for president is still a long way off, the posturing is already well under way, and so is the rhetoric from political pundits about how unlikely the average American is to become involved in the process.

Is it a simple case of apathy, however, or are the citizens of the United States suffering from a sense that nobody is listening, so why bother?

I would have to give the nod to the latter. Here’s why.

We had barely hung up the new calendar for 2004, and the national media were telling us who was the front-runner in the Democratic race for a chance to square off against Dubya. No votes had been cast. No caucuses had caucused.

As it turned out, the early results were not what the talking heads on TV predicted. The so-called experts were left scrambling to change directions.

Not that it will matter to Kansans. By the time the Sunflower State has its primary, the top Democrat will have been anointed long before. Our little get-together means nothing in the big picture.

The antiquated presidential election process is another reason apathy rules around here. I have never understood why the electoral college is necessary. Rather than vote for the people who are supposed to cast votes for the candidates, why not trust the citizens enough to let them speak for themselves?

I say, one man (or woman), one vote. It’s time to do away with the archaic system we now use.

When’s the last time a presidential candidate was not from the ranks of the privileged? I’m thinking maybe Abe Lincoln, but he was probably fairly wealthy as well by the time he reached Washington.

Our political system has made it virtually impossible for a “common” man or woman to be elected to any prestigious office. If the campaign is a survival of the fittest of sorts, apparently only the rich have what it takes to be elected.

Maybe that’s why all the candidates seem to be cut from the same cloth, the only difference being affiliation with a political party, for which most, if not all, are willing to sell their souls.

Can a Republican hopeful break away from support of the business sector and call for stricter pollution guidelines, or a Democrat speak up in favor of curbing the flow of illegal immigrants? Certainly not in an election year if he or she hopes to retain support provided by strict adherence to the party platform.

Incumbent politicians are far more interested in what will get them re-elected than in what is best for this country, in doing the jobs they were elected to perform.

Pols are all about the polls, and then they wonder why their support in grass-roots America is eroding, why people don’t bother to get involved in the political process.

The citizens are not blameless in all this. Americans are more interested in which celebrities are doing what to whom than in picking a good leader.

Sometimes the two alternate universes come together, however. California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger kicked off his campaign with an announcement on the “Tonight Show” with Jay Leno. However, in a recent issue of Rolling Stone magazine, Leno said, “People don’t really know anything about politics.”

Frankly, I don’t blame them for not wanting to know more, however, when those who are placed in positions of power constantly lie to the very people who put them there. Let’s face it, our elected leaders treat us like stupid children, and we do very little to contradict that assertion.

So, what can we as the common people do to affect change? First of all, don’t believe everything you read or hear. Don’t be swayed by the loudest voice. Use common sense. I’ve never seen a definition of patriotism that states that we must blindly support everything our leaders say or do. Listen to other points of view with an empathetic ear.

Second, give voice to your concerns at the local level. Perhaps, if you can catch the attention of a state legislator, your wishes can be transferred up the ladder. At least our local representatives come around once in a while for face-to-face meetings with their constituents.

Third, and I think most importantly, do not allow the pundits to convince you that every issue falls clearly on one of two sides according to party lines. It is truly possible for a person to be both compassionate and frugal, to be the commander-in-chief of the best-equipped armed forces in the world and still be an advocate for peace, tolerance and understanding.

“Don’t buy into the all-or-nothing, black-and-white, us-vs.-them philosophy that seems so pervasive in modern society.

One anonymous writer to the Wichita Eagle’s opinion line recently pointed out the dangers of such narrow-minded thinking: “The extreme left and extreme right are driving this country toward civil war, and the news media are at the wheel. The rest of us were forgotten long ago.”

How about this election season we remind our leaders that we are indeed still here?

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