So much has been written recently about Mark Kirk, his military record, and how he apparently "misremembered it wrong" (I can barely type those words because they are so grammatically incorrect) which awards he did or didn't win and I've stayed out of the whole thing. This has been difficult for me because if you're a long-time reader of Little Merry Sunshine, you'll remember that I'm not exactly a fan of Mark Kirk's (here, here, and here, for example). Even though I've avoided this scandal, I applaud Ellen of the Tenth for the way she has relentlessly held Rep. Kirk's feet to the fire.
I can no longer stay quiet.
As I've read the articles in the Daily Herald, Chicago Tribune, and Sun-Times and the comments people have left in support of Kirk, against Kirk and also pro- and anti- Alexi Giannoulias (Mark Kirk's major opponent in the upcoming Senate race who also faces his own scandals), one thing stands out to me: We have the candidates we deserve and we have them in every single election.
How often do we all go to the polls holding our nose and pulling the lever for the "lesser of two evils" candidate? Most people I know complain a lot about how they wish we could get some better candidates. It's rare that candidates actually inspire us to be better and rarer still that we feel like they aren't bought by some deep-pocket lobbyist or another.
But don't we have responsibility for these lackluster (and often corrupt) candidates who constantly fail to live up to even minimal standards we expect of our leaders?
Less than half of all adults vote. The numbers are a bit higher during the sexy presidential elections and are truly pathetic during the "unimportant" local elections. I've got news for you: the President isn't going to do anything to get the snow plowed off your street or the potholes fixed, but your mayor's got some pull there. The local school board determines what kind of an education your child gets, not Congress. Voting takes 10 minutes, maybe, and with early voting there's simply no excuse not to vote.
Why do candidates spend so much money on tv, radio, and print advertising and do everything they can to get on the news? Because they know that most voters are too lazy to do any independent research. In the olden days (i.e., back when I turned 18 and started voting), it was tougher to do the research because the internet didn't exist. But today, we can all sit around in our pj's and vet our candidates. Doing a quick Google search of "Mark Kirk" gave me 13.9 million results in .21 seconds. Sure the tough part is going through those links and determining which ones have any validity, but you can find the answers. Oh, and if you find information that seems just a little outrageous, check it out on FactCheck.org or at Snopes.com before believing it. Most of it isn't true, especially if it comes via an email that's been forwarded 900 times.
Remember that a candidate who spends millions of dollars on tv, radio and print advertising or whose name you hear in the news constantly isn't necessarily the best candidate, they simply have a ton of money.
There are usually more than two candidates per office. In addition to the Democratic and Republican candidates, there are usually a number of lesser known 3rd party or independent candidates. Don't discount them simply because the media does and they don't have any money. If you don't know whether or not they exist, you can find the information at your county clerk's website where they'll have a complete list of all candidates in the upcoming election.
Get involved. Attend town hall meetings and debates or forums and ask questions. Write letters to the editor. Volunteer your time. Donate some money. Put out a yard sign. Host your candidate in your home and invite your friends and neighbors.
Support candidates who tell you why you should elect them rather than spending their time telling you how bad their opponent is. When we demand better, we'll get it.
Politics is nasty business because we allow it to be. Politicians lie to our faces and conduct themselves in ways that would surely get them fired instantly in the private sector because we allow them to and keep voting them into office year after year after year. Some people want to institute term limits, but I think they're unnecessary. We've already got term limits. They're called ELECTIONS.
The bottom line is this: Decisions are made by those who show up. When we show up for ourselves and demand better, we'll get better candidates. Until then, we've got the candidates we deserve.