Show respect during elections

Well, it’s here. Election season has begun. Even though the presidential election is more than a year away, already candidates from both sides are declaring their desire to become the next president of the United States. Before the rhetoric really ramps up, before the politicking perplexes us too much, I think it’s important for us to remember some key pieces of social etiquette that will serve all of us well between now and next November.

First, let’s avoid generalizations. Hesitate before you say things like “they always” or “they never” when speaking of a candidate or political party. In an election that has already become so much about generalizations – due to former Secretary of State Clinton’s being a woman – it’s easy to devolve all conversation into generalizations.

When we do this, we kill dialogue. Sure, elections are won and lost because of generalizations, as candidates and their campaigns pay attention to what certain blocks of voters are looking for. But when we allow our conversation to devolve into “Democrats always” or “Republicans never” statements, we’re no longer clarifying our thoughts, but making them muddier.

Second, let’s decide to respect the men and women running for office by using the candidate’s title. This is a valuable lesson I’ve learned while watching “The West Wing.” The president’s closest friends and counselors call him “Mr. President,” not because he’s pompous or power hungry, but because he’s not just a person, he’s an office. In one episode, the president says, “There are decisions I have to make in this room, you understand, and it’s helpful for me to think of myself as the office, not the man.”

It’s for this reason that I never call President Obama by his last name only; I do my best to remember to call him “the president,” because that’s what he is, regardless of how I feel about his decisions and performance and his positions. When we talk of candidates, let’s remember to call them by their title, even if it’s a title they held in the past. This keeps before us that we are electing people, yes, but we are electing them to an office. In short, let’s keep it classy, people.

Third, unfriend any Facebook friend who says something derogatory, slanderous, rude, or just unkind about any candidate, any party, or any issue. To begin, you don’t need that kind of negativity in your life, and for that matter, these kinds of posters are looking for a fight. Commenting won’t change their mind, so just choose to ignore them for a year or so. It’s easy to win a fight and lose a friend; so, be the bigger person, and choose to ignore their posts for a year if it gets annoying.

Fourth, and most importantly: do your research, make a good decision on the basis of what you’ve studied, and then vote accordingly. Go to a candidate’s website and read his or her own positions on the issues that matter to you, then compare them with similar statements of other candidates. It’s a good idea to get an idea for what a candidate thinks from the candidate, instead of from sound bites and headlines.

At this time of year, it’s easy to be annoyed by the political ads, the yard signs, the sound bites, the outrageous Facebook posts. Yet, what is before us is a sacred duty – choosing who will lead us. It’s time we treat this duty with the dignity it deserves.

Write Kyle Tennant at columns@tribtoday.com.