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                             Where Dopey Lives.

 Unlike my previous campaigns I was spending little time talking to real people. I had to raise money, big money from deep pockets if I had any hope of paying for all the hard-ons and their plans. Any spare time and I was off to the library, where I really needed to be. I would read through mountains of position papers on dozens of issues I knew were important but knew little about. Concerns citizens would want McCain or me to deal with if elected, the hard-ons viewed my library time as a waste of time.

 Any citizen would be drop-jawed to discover how little candidates know about most issues. These candidates started just as you are now. For a sense of it just ask yourself, right now, how much we should be spending on each of the perplexing components of defense spending; or why Americans’ health care costs are so out of sync with the rest of the world; or explain why we have fewer people than guns to protect ourselves from each other and the government We, The People control; and at what point should a woman lose freedom over her body to the growing child within it. And if you can handle a real whopper, try to describe our taxing structure, explain why it has such colossal winners and losers. So complex, no citizen can fully comprehend it, forcing Americans to file blindly or fork over a fist full of cash to some brick-and-mortar tax advisor like H&R Block. Or if really fortunate, seven-digit cash to tax lawyers steering you clear of any tax at all.

 After a half century riveted on politics, I still have no confidence in answers to these questions for me, let alone you.

 When running for a major office or any office, particularly for the first time, you just don’t know what you don’t know, and most candidates don’t know diddly, they just need to appear as if they do. Today, once elected they mindlessly retreat into the party line, locked into the stream of money that makes their elections possible.

 If you doubt me, just digest this one statistic:

The blue and red dots accurately visualize the number of cross-over votes over a 50-year period:

  Any nincompoop can easily figure out the relationship.  For any not yet advanced to the nincompoop level, I ask, “Will your waiter give you a better table with a $5 tip or a $500 one?  It is just that simple.

 Major candidates are trained and practiced on all the questions hard-ons imagine they might be asked. In today’s politics the public doesn’t require you to answer the question asked at all, but back in my day, if you didn’t, couldn’t, or wouldn’t answer a question the media would feast on you for their evening news meal.

 We accept behavior from these candidates wanting to rule our lives that we wouldn’t accept from any other applicant for any other job. Let’s say you are hiring a babysitter. Johnny from down the street says he would love to take care of your kids and directly answers your question about your kids doing their homework, getting their baths and ready for bed and in it on time.  Then little Lucy comes in and says she wants the job too.  You ask her the same question, but she responds with, “That’s an excellent question but let me tell you about Johnny.  He flunked his reading exam, got sent to the principal’s office for spitting and there are rumors that he stole a popsicle at the Piggly Wiggly. You would never hire Lucy, that is unless she was applying to represent you in Congress. Because for that job, dirt works, that is why there is so much of it.

 Anyway, back in my day, one of the first to feast on me was mother.  It was one of those speeches I coughed up on an issue I knew little about other than from my library studies. As a 38-year-old, I pontificated about the elderly, the burdens of aging and their difficulties with health care.  When my talk ended, I was perfectly puffed up, thought it a great talk, on all the experiences older citizens face aging.

 Unfortunately for me, Mom had been quietly sitting in the back of my retirement community audience. Just another of those that had been living for some years now with the pains and worries only one in their last years understands.  When the talk was done, she looked up at me, got out of her seat, took my arm, and walked me out in silence. I was surprised, I thought I would have swelled her with pride as I was.  No, she just waited until we were off alone where others would not hear and then said, “My, you’ve grown a mighty big head, haven’t you?” It was her polite way of saying, “You don’t know shit.”

 After a month or so of listening and watching my hard-ons do their thing, I cut them off and insisted on giving a comprehensive speech on why I was running. There would be no bull, I would talk about what I would do on the issues about which I had some command, with a mention or two on important issues of which I was learning.

 It would be important, if only to me, and would not be some crap lifted out of a consultant’s can. I wanted and did give my sense of the world I thought was to come.  A world where I thought future battles would be won or lost with knowledge, not bombs.

 I nailed that speech covering concerns on education, defense, environment, health care and social security. With little help from the hard-ons, my staff and friends pressed the media to attend. For 50-minutes I poured out my heart on real issues, at a conference center filled to the brim with retired auto workers.

 Not a news reporter showed up. I was stunned. This was my reason for running, this was why I hoped people would vote for me. My speech was a total snore then, and since this chapter has a bit of what I said then, maybe now too.

 I imagined again, someone walking up and putting an arm around me with the refrain “Now, now, Richard!”  But it was only one of the hard-ons smiling at me from across the hallway as I exited with a muffled, “No attacks, no blood, no drugs, no sex, no drama, no media.”

 I hadn’t managed one scummy, newsworthy reference to John McCain. Like many back then, I blamed the media for an unwillingness to report the important. But it was no more their fault than a grocer for putting more ice cream on the shelves than spinach. You push what sells, not what is good for you.

 Today, like any other business, the news business chases money. Money comes from the number of viewers you have to buy products. In the media as in politics, attracting that audience is everything. Fear, sex, crime, the crooked, violent, salacious misdeeds of our species on parade gather audience. Like any species, we pay attention to and are forewarned by the behavior of others. Our senses are heightened when we’re threatened, when we’re told to be afraid, are in danger. Just cry out “FIRE” in a crowded theater and you will see what I mean.

 People have been drawn to bad news for some time now.  It’s instinctive and essential for self-preservation. The media has learned to take that instinct and turn it into dollars.

 So most everything we see on TV, hear on radio, or follow on the web is bad. The sky is forever falling–be afraid, very afraid. The media and politicians make the best, most obvious use of this, constantly telling their audience what to fear, who to fear, and blame for all your worries in your town or your nation. The competition for audience in the media and between candidates is now so vicious that it is impossible to tell what is so and what is not.

 In spite of it all, there would be a chance to correct much of this in my future, in what would become my life’s work, which I hope to get to before this book or I end. When that finally happens, I would be asking my young staff and students: “If you were sitting in the lap of God and he asked what generation of Americans would you like to be born into? You would be a fool not to choose mine.”

 As an American, my generation has had few burdens not recently self-inflicted. No revolution, no invading country burning down Washington, no Civil War killing hundreds of thousands of ourselves, no War to End all Wars, no Great Depression, no World War II.  My generation has had it easy. Not only that but we have become the most cunning of all American generations by far. We suckle on the milk filled tit won by our parents and our parents’ parents’ parents and have the brass to pile the burden of our growing debts onto the shoulders of our offspring and those of theirs. And yet, we have the pluck, as we party on everyone else’s dime, to complain about everything.

 No truer words have been spoken than, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Today the crescendo of fear knows no end. Americans own more guns than there are Americans, you’re more likely to die in your bathtub than in a terrorist attack. If you are murdered it is a hundred times more likely that it will be at the hand of someone raised in a Christian culture than a Muslim one, and if you are killed by a Muslim there is a better than 90% chance that you are a Muslim.  We all know that. Right?

 The United States of America conceived the beginnings of a culture where freedom enables common people to enjoy the invention, production, and prosperity of their own labors. We have learned, advanced, and enrichened, with an explosion of shared knowledge. An idea of freedom and democracy that has been cloaking the world. And if some culture was not ready for it, we have been so confident in it, and impatient for it, we’ll shove it down their throats.

 We simply think of it as free enterprise, a marvel that few of us really get.  As a species we cannot naturally run, swim, or fly faster than a thousand other species. We cannot hear, see, feel, or smell better than a thousand others.  The only anchor of our success, the only thing that gives us advantage, the only thing that has enabled such astounding success and the progress that gives us all the comforts that we now smugly see as our right, is our ability to know.

 Yet we do not see it, do not heavily invest in it, we barely encourage our ability to know.  In the human environment the least able to succeed, from the moment of conception to death is directly proportional to their access to knowledge.

 When you touch something today, anything at all that is in your field of vision, ask yourself how it happened, where did it come from. Unless you are reading this out in the woods, you will see that everything around you came from our ability to know. So extraordinary is this one tool that we have invented ways to run, swim, fly, hear, see, feel, and smell better than anything else on earth.

 If we should survive as a species, some future generation will look back and ask about us, “Good God, they had two centuries of advances unequaled in all prior human history. All clearly anchored in their freedom and ability to know, and they still could not see it. How is it possible they could be so brilliant and distressingly dopey at the very same time?!

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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