Jewish World Review Oct. 25, 2004 / 10 Mar-Cheshvan, 5765

Thomas Sowell

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Stop and think | While many people are urging us to vote — regardless of for whom, for what, or for what reason — there are very few urging us to do what is far more important: Stop and think!

Voting is not a matter of personal expression but a serious responsibility for choosing what course this country will take in the years — and decades — ahead.

Seldom have two Presidential candidates presented more starkly contrasting visions of what course to take, both internationally and domestically. But this election is not about John Kerry or George Bush or even about the next four years.

It is about a country at a crossroads and closely divided as to which road to take — roads from which there may be no turning back for many years. We are talking about our future and the future of our children and grandchildren.

If you don't have the time or the inclination to give that the serious attention it deserves, then it is irresponsible to vote on the basis of watching a couple of men exhibiting their debating skills or watching TV anchor men spin the news to suit their politics — or watching the shouting matches between spinmeisters on what are charitably called "discussion" programs.

If there are issues you care about, there are records of how John Kerry voted on those issues in the Senate and what George W. Bush did on those issues as President and as Governor of Texas before that. Never mind how they talk now. Look at what they did when it was time to put up or shut up.

On education, do you want to hear rhetoric and "plans" or do you want to know what the candidates actually did when the chips were down? Secretary of Education Rod Paige was a district superintendent in Texas when Bush was governor. What did he do? What happened to test scores in Texas? Test scores of black children? What is the "No Child Left Behind" Act all about?

How did Senator Kerry vote when the issue was making vouchers available to let parents take their children out of failing and dangerous public schools in the District of Columbia? It is all in the record.

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If you can't spare the time from watching sit-coms to go check out a few facts one evening at your local library, with the help of your local librarian, then don't pretend that you are a responsible voter, or even a responsible parent.

Whatever your views, you can see the opposite views argued out on the op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal versus the New York Times. Whether the issue is the Iraq war, higher taxes, or prescription drugs, you can depend on their editorials to be on opposite sides, along with most of their op-ed pieces.

Your local library probably has back copies of both papers or you can get them on the Internet. There is no excuse for ignorance — or for having heard only one side, which is worse.

Words like "strong," "strength" and "stronger" ring out from Senator Kerry on the campaign trail and from his campaign literature and bumper stickers. But how did he vote on military spending during his two decades in the Senate?

Senator Kerry has talked about his time in Vietnam longer than he actually spent in Vietnam. Does his war record more than three decades ago give him lifetime immunity from all questions about military issues? Do those who rely on the mainstream media even know whether his war record is for real?

If a decorated combat veteran must be believed, then why are the many decorated combat veterans who served with Kerry in Vietnam — and served longer — not to be believed, or not even have their very different picture of him in Vietnam examined against the facts, instead of being dismissed?

Even Benedict Arnold was an American war hero wounded in combat but that doesn't stop us for criticizing him for what he did later.

Vice President Cheney has had to cast votes breaking ties in the Senate. How did he vote? It's all on the record. Or are you content to know what he says now or what is said about him?

If there was ever a time to stop and think, this is it. Slogans and images are no substitute for knowing what you are talking about — and knowing what you are doing when you enter the voting booth on election day.

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JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author of several books, including his latest, "Applied Economics: Thinking Beyond Stage One." (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.) To comment please click here.


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