"In a democracy, the people get the government they deserve."
Over the centuries, versions of this warning have been attributed to a diverse lineup of luminaries, including Shakespeare, Alexis de Tocqueville and Thomas Jefferson.
A similar caution — whose origin is not in dispute — was delivered by Benjamin Franklin at the close of the Constitutional Convention of 1787.
Approaching Franklin outside Independence Hall, a woman asked, "Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?" Without hesitation, Franklin responded, "A republic, if you can keep it."
The Founders understood the health — even the survivability — of this new form of government depended on citizens willing to educate themselves continually on politics and government, and be involved in the civic arena.
Today, almost everyone laments the government and the politics we’ve given ourselves. Since the advent of modern opinion polling in the 1930s, public trust in government hovers near all-time lows.
In 2017, the Pew Research Center reported that only 18 percent of Americans trust the national government to do what is right "just about always" (3 percent) or "most of the time" (15 percent). Public trust in state governments also has been on the decline.
Playing to this dissatisfaction, candidates and their handlers conduct campaigns designed to reinforce distrust. Each election cycle delivers ever more negative, misleading and untruthful advertising, especially on television.
There’s no better illustration of this destructive trend than the hotly contested battle for Ohio’s 12th Congressional District, the preliminary round of which will be decided in Tuesday’s special election. The campaigns of Republican Troy Balderson and Democrat Danny O’Connor (whom The Dispatch has endorsed) have turned two decent, well-regarded individuals into untrustworthy miscreants.
And if you like them apples, just wait for the fall campaigns. Given the stakes in the November election, the current 12th District mud fight just might look tidy compared to what’s in store for September and October.
That’s because the Nov. 6 election offers Ohioans a Halley’s Comet-like rarity — a statewide ballot on which none of the six constitutional offices — governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, auditor, secretary of state and treasurer — is being sought by an incumbent.
Since 1908, when Ohio moved its statewide elections from odd-numbered years to even-numbered years, incumbent-free slates of candidates have appeared only once before, in 2006 — 14 years after Ohioans voted for term limits, which took effect in 2000.
Without records of service in the offices they are seeking, candidates are even more susceptible to the politics of character assassination. And that’s what we’ll keep getting, unless and until sufficient numbers of citizens decide to reject being spoon-fed by 30-second TV smears.
There is only one cure for this civic sickness, and it’s as old as the republic. Voters must take the time to educate themselves by taking advantage of multiple opportunities to learn about the candidates.
Check out candidate websites to read their biographies. Learn about where they grew up, where they were educated, what jobs they’ve held, which organizations have endorsed them and why, and which accomplishments they choose to publicize.
Be open to attending grassroots events, many of which feature candidate appearances. Attempt to meet the candidates in person and ask questions. The nonpartisan League of Women Voters usually sponsors several such events during campaign season and lists them on its website well in advance.
A good example of such an event took place Saturday at the Ohio State Fair. Democrat Richard Cordray and Republican Mike DeWine mounted a small stage adorned with straw bales to tell fairgoers what they will do if elected governor in November.
Read local newspapers for campaign coverage, letters to the editor and notices of upcoming campaign events. Ask friends, neighbors and relatives about candidates they know. Lawyers often can offer insights into the candidates for attorney general and various judgeships. Accountants often have perspective on candidates for auditor and treasurer.
Understand the truism that the nastier the TV ad or campaign mailer, the more likely it is to be grossly exaggerated or flatly untrue. The highly-paid creators of those ads assume you are uninformed and easy to fool. Surprise them.
— Columbus Dispatch