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Jewish World Review Nov. 2, 1998 /12 Mar-Cheshvan, 5759

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell A voter's duty

WITH ALL SORTS OF INDIVIDUALS and groups asserting "rights" to whatever they want, the time is long overdue for more people to start thinking about their duties. One of the most important duties is also one of the easiest -- and yet one of the most neglected: the duty to vote.

Among the most disturbing letters I receive are those from people who say: "I am just an ordinary person and completely powerless. What can I do to affect the way things are going in this country?"

Cancer What makes this so painfully ironic is that it is precisely what millions of ordinary people do that over-rides what even the most powerful people in Washington want to do. The Republicans control both houses of Congress, but they are walking on egg-shells in dealing with impeachment issues because of what the polls tell them the voters believe and prefer. It was public opinion that enabled Ronald Reagan to force his program through a Congress controlled by the Democrats.

For better or worse, what the people think is what ultimately matters. Indeed, whether people think at all matters enormously. If the people just respond to words that are endlessly repeated by spin masters, that leads to a very different kind of country than one in which people take the trouble to inform themselves about the facts behind the rhetoric and to make up their own minds. Sound-bites do not produce a sound country.

It is not enough just to show up at the polls on election day. An ill-informed public can mean ill-informed policies that needlessly jeopardize people's lives, as well as the country's freedom and its future.

Our inadequate and obsolete military equipment caused many young Americans to die needlessly at the beginning of World War II, because the public had not understood the need for military preparedness in the years before the war. Congressional demagogues pooh-poohed the dangers and spent the money they "saved" from military budgets for civilian programs that had more political pay-off for themselves.

Some people find it too boring or too disgusting to read up on political issues and politicians. Lots of things in life are boring or disgusting -- and yet they have to be done anyway.

It is not fun to get vaccinated or to have a medical examination, but we do these things anyway, because that can be the price of life itself. There is also a price to freedom. Freedom doesn't just happen automatically -- and, in much of the world, it doesn't happen at all.

Even a country that is free can remain free only because of soldiers who put up with a lot of boredom and a lot of disgusting things -- not to mention the terror, bloodshed and death that go with war. We are free today because of people buried under a sea of crosses on the beaches of Normandy and in places like Iwo Jima and Anzio.

Wartime is not the only time when freedom is at stake. It is always at stake. There are always going to be people in power who are far more concerned with getting whatever they want than with the rights of other people or with whether the rule of law is preserved or the country's future safeguarded.

Your vote protects you and the country against such people only if you are informed and thoughtful enough that they cannot manipulate you with clever words and heady phrases. Is it really too much for a citizen to read a few things on both sides of an issue, instead of just going along with whatever rhetoric or TV image happens to catch your fancy?

Our children's future depends on our citizenship today, just as our own freedom is a result of American lives sacrificed in the past on battlefields far from home.

Maybe you can't get away to walk through those fields of crosses at Normandy. But perhaps there is a military cemetery not too far from where you live. Sometime before election day, you might take a walk down those long rows of crosses.

Look at the dates of birth and death. Notice how old they were -- or rather, how young they were -- when their lives were snuffed out. Then go home and look into the mirror and say that you don't have time to keep up with issues that affect the future of this country. Say that you find this stuff boring or that you have other things to do.

Say that looking yourself straight in the eye -- if you can.

10/30/98: The poverty pimp's poem
10/29/98: Random thoughts on the election
10/27/98: "Partisan" and "unfair"
10/23/98: Ed-u-kai-tchun
10/21/98: McGwire, Maris and the Babe
10/16/98: Lightweight Boxer
10/14/98: A strange word
10/09/98: Impeachment standards
10/08/98: Alternatives to seriousness
10/07/98: Heredity, environment and talk
10/02/98: A much-needed guide
10/01/98: Starr's real crime
9/24/98: Costs and power
9/18/98: Are we sheep?
9/16/98: Judicial review
9/15/98: Hillary Rodham Crook?
9/14/98: Taking stock
9/11/98: Moment of truth
9/04/98: Random thoughts
8/31/98: The twilight of special prosecutors?
8/26/98: "Doing a good job"
8/24/98: America on trial?
8/19/98: Played for fools
8/17/98: A childish letter
8/11/98: Hiding behind a woman
8/07/98: A flying walrus in Washington?
8/03/98: "Affordability" strikes again
7/31/98: Random thoughts
7/27/98: Faith and mountains
7/24/98: Clinton in Wonderland
7/20/98: Where is black 'leadership' leading?
7/16/98: Do 'minorities' really have it that bad?
7/14/98: Race dialogue: same old stuff
7/10/98: Honest history
7/09/98: Dumb is dangerous
7/02/98: Gun-safety starts with
parental responsibility
6/30/98: When more is less
6/29/98: Are educators above the law?
6/26/98: Random Thoughts
6/24/98: An angry letter
6/22/98: Sixties sentimentalism
6/19/98:Dumbing down anti-trust
6/15/98: A changing of the guard?
6/11/98: Presidential privileges
6/8/98: Fast computers and slow antitrust
6/3/98: Can stalling backfire?
5/29/98: The insulation of the Left
5/25/98: Missing the point in the media
5/22/98: The lessons of Indonesia
5/20/98: Smart but silent
5/18/98: Israel, Clinton and character
5/14/98: Monica Lewinsky's choices
5/11/98: Random thoughts
5/7/98: Media obstruction of justice
5/4/98: Dangerous "safety"
5/1/98: Abolish Adolescence!
4/30/98: The naked truth
4/22/98: Playing fair and square
4/19/98: Bad teachers"
4/15/98: "Clinton in Africa "
4/13/98: "Bundling and unbundling "
4/9/98: "Rising or falling Starr "
4/6/98: "Was Clinton ‘vindicated'? "
3/26/98: "Diasters -- natural and political"
3/24/98: "A pattern of behavior"
3/22/98: Innocent explanations
3/19/98: Kathleen Willey and Anita Hill
3/17/98: Search and destroy
3/12/98: Media Circus versus Justice
3/6/98: Vindication
3/3/98: Cheap Shot Time
2/26/98: The Wrong Filter
2/24/98: Trial by Media
2/20/98: Dancing Around the Realities
2/19/98: A "Do Something" War?
2/12/98: Julian Simon, combatant in a 200-year war
2/6/98: A rush to rhetoric

©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.