Although I’ve certainly had my opinions, I’ve not been a faithful participant in our political process all my life. As a child, a teenager, and even through my 20s, I had the impression that those in political office were older and therefore much wiser than myself. I thought my ignorant and uninformed involvement in electing politicians would simply muddle up the process and be a disservice to my community and nation. With age comes some experience, however, and I’ve started to see that many of these politicians are just as ignorant and uninformed as I ever was.
The illusion of my inferiority dissolved a few years ago when I read the campaign material of a certain candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives. He was spouting off about the reasons he switched parties, recounting great hidden “discoveries” he had found in our nation’s history. Having majored in history at BYU, none of these discoveries were at all new to me, and I suspect they would be fairly common knowledge to most people with even a casual interest in history. But to this candidate such information seemed enlightening. It was enlightening to me that I actually knew more than he did, and that senators and congressmen were mere humans as stupid as myself at times — and sometimes more so. Then and there I realized that if this guy had somehow managed to get nominated by his party, I’d better check into the process that got him there.
I found out it all starts in our own neighborhoods. I attended my first party caucus meeting and made a hidden discovery of my own: We were all in the same boat. My own experience — or the profound lack thereof — actually had a voice in a little group of a dozen or so variously uninformed, unenlightened, yet highly opinionated non-experts in anything. Undaunted by our ignorance, and acutely aware of it in each other, we still cobbled together a fairly coherent strategy and nominated delegates, all clueless to various degrees, to represent our wishes at county and state conventions. These completely unprofessional delegates, of which I was one, then went on to select from a slew of other equally flawed candidates for government offices. These fallible mortals then became the only ones the general public got to choose from to put in positions where they can decide everything from whether or not my street gets repaved this year to declaring war on the Middle East enemy of the week.
Now I don’t mean by all this that we should treat such candidates and office holders with disrespect. Like all fellow travelers, we should honor the good we see in them and each other. However, there is really no such thing as a “professional” politician worthy of any worship, or at least there shouldn’t be. If our democracy is working like it should, every one of them will originate from within the ranks of our befuddled masses and will be given their power by our foggy-headed neighbors.
The beauty of a true democracy is that if a great number of citizens chose to be involved and voice their imperfect opinions, we tend to do all right. The process breaks down somewhat, however, if we don’t have enough of those half-baked ideas to put together. Our collected imperfections stand a better chance of canceling each other out if we have a greater pool to draw from.
So don’t be afraid of your own lack of knowledge, we’re all in the same boat. You have insight another may not have and together you can make more informed decisions that will ultimately result in the nominations of better candidates. See you at this week’s caucuses.
John Hamilton, who holds a bachelor’s degree in history from BYU, is the creative director for Transcript Bulletin Publishing.