The fact that it is happening this time around as well isn't anything new, no matter how "unprecedented" folks would have us believe.
I would argue, however, that there is yet another threat out there, one that many of us are only quietly aware of even though they end up on tv more than they should simply because they're entertaining. Reporters love to find them in the crowds of humanity because they make for good television. One who many spread their ideology and hatred through the veins of America with sound bites and social media posts of little to no substance.
Who am I referring to? The uninformed voter.
Now, I'm not saying that you have to read the political section of every newspaper cover to cover to be informed. I'm not saying you have to watch C-SPAN 24/7 to be informed. All I am saying is make an effort to know more about the candidates, both at the national level as well as the local officials that affect your roads and schools, than the meme you saw online next to this article. Choose not to be an uninformed voter, and the beginning of that is to acknowledge what that may look like.
If the only thing you know about a candidate is what their opponent has said about them, you may be an uniformed voter.
If the only reason you vote for a candidate is that their ads are nice, you may be an uniformed voter.
If one solitary article posted on Facebook by some guy you went to high school with is capable of changing your entire opinion of a candidate, you may be an uninformed voter.
If all you know about a candidate is what they have published on their own websites and Twitter feeds, you may be an uniformed voter.
Yes, all of that may sound like a spin-off of a Jeff Foxworthy bit, but I also hope that if you see yourself in there then it gives you pause. Your vote matters; what are you doing to ensure you make the best use of it? How much research do you do if you are looking to hire an electrician or even looking into symptoms when your child is sick? Isn't deciding who will lead our country for the next FOUR YEARS worthy of a at least the same effort?
Tonight is the first presidential debate for 2016. Watch it. All of it. Start to finish for all 90 minutes. You have an opportunity in really only a hour and a half to learn a lot more about the folks who could potentially be running our nation. Isn't that work 90 minutes of your time?
Yes, it will be later chopped up into sound bite-sized morsels for us to consume, but what gets sliced and diced depends on what story of the debate they are trying to tell. Each campaign will put out their own clips they think best serves their purpose, while each media service will choose others. When they show a twenty second clip on the evening news without delving into what was said before and after it, you have lost your context. The producers will probably tell you that it is just to fit into a tight tv schedule, but there are reasons they chose one sentence over another. Not understanding the context around a single clip is yet another way that you may be an uniformed voter. Don't let that happen.
The only way to be fully informed on what the candidates actually have to say is to not allow yourself to be sucked into the sound bite. When that clip ends up on your Facebook feed tomorrow you will be in a position to say, "that's not all that was said last night".
Make an effort to be informed, and you may just set an example for someone nearby. Both of your votes matter.
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