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Guest Column

Complacency, not incumbency, the problem during election season

Due to frustrations about the endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the country's continued bleak economic situation, being an incumbent officeholder has become a dicey proposition. No matter what you stand for, if you're currently a governor or a Congressperson, you're in trouble because you're an insider and thereby part of the problem.

Office-seekers use this anti-incumbency fever to paint their foes as "fat cats" who know nothing of the plight of the common man. Of course, no matter how rich or privileged these wannabe senators, representatives and governors are, they are not already in office, so they claim, they must be better than those who are.

Those seeking office using the incumbents stink argument always pledge to "clean things up," "end patronage," "reduce government waste" and do things entirely differently. If only we put them in the power seat then they would be free to correct the many wrongs which their opponents were entirely responsible for.

The exact same sentiment hit a few years ago due to anger with then President George W. Bush. The anti-incumbency fever resulted in a bunch of Republicans getting swept out and a bunch of Democrats getting voted in.

And, as we have seen, this "new" batch of legislators, governors and eventually, a new president have changed exactly nothing. Incumbent or not, the people we keep voting into office all come from the same cloth and simply changing the party in control of any one branch of the government does little to actually change anything.

If we want change, then as voters, we must stop getting swept up in the mania of anti-incumbency fever and party loyalty. Instead, we should look at each legislator, governor and presidential candidate and consider their actions, not merely their words.

It's easy to talk about change and say you are different, but as voters we should be smart enough to look beyond a 30-second campaign commercial. If a candidate's ad says he supports creating jobs in America, but the company he runs has shifted jobs overseas, then, well, we should be able to recognize a fraud for a fraud.

Campaign staff, media experts and poll results can tell a candidate what to say. It's not hard to deliver the right message. In fact, a candidate would have to be a fool to not know exactly what message the public wants to hear, but words should not mask past actions.

As voters, we get what we deserve, because we allow soundbites, headlines and campaign commercials to shape our opinions. Even when learning the truth would take minimal digging, we prefer to simply keep rearranging the deck chairs as our ship sinks and somehow we are surprised when we get wet.

We have many good members of Congress and a number of good governors. It's foolish to toss the baby out with the bath water simply because we have decided that incumbency invalidates whatever record an office-holder has built.

In looking at incumbents and potential office-holders, the voting public must consider whether the person attempts to actually do what they say. No one man can make Congress bend to his will (though many have tried) but there's a major difference between not being able to get your agenda through and abandoning your ideals.

- Daniel B. Kline's work appears in more than 100 papers weekly (dan@notastep.com).

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