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Evaluating one candidate is not enough

For students, it is easier than ever to get informed about politics. But a part of educating themselves includes weighing the important political issues at hand. Even if students are familiar with one candidate’s position, they should not take his or her word as gospel. They need to avoid being blinded by party allegiance and dig deeper by comparing each candidate’s view on specific matters. Only then can they be sure that they’re voting for the candidate who truly stands for what they believe.

Sadly, the campaign commercials have been so negative and quite often flat-out wrong that one could easily ignore them altogether. Groups such as the so-called 527s that often have hidden ties to the candidates produce ads that are very misleading.

One particular group called Swift Boats Veterans for Truth heavily criticized Sen. John Kerry for what it deemed unpatriotic actions during his service in Vietnam. Only later, after the ads had been running for several days, was it disclosed that several of the persons speaking out against Kerry had not even served alongside him. Other ads, while not as far removed from the truth as this one, quote their opponent out of context, twisting the meaning of what he said.

The heavily moderated and guideline-ridden debates as we saw last night are a good way to start if students have little prior knowledge about the candidates. But the lack of actual dialogue between the candidates limits the insight that uninformed voters will get from them.

Third party candidates are being excluded altogether. They, however, often raise interesting points that may not convince voters to vote for them but help evaluate the two big party candidates.

Students could visit the campaigns respective Web sites but should bear in mind that the sites only represent the positive side of a candidate. Comparing candidates by their official sites helps but may narrow the issues down too much. Going beyond such “official” sites gives even more insight, but one should be careful about the allegiance such sites may have to the parties. A libertarian Web site will probably have a lot of good things to say about Libertarian candidate Michael Badnarik but is likely not going to criticize him too harshly.

This may seem as too much work just to cast one vote. But students will not only have to live with the policy choices the winner of the election is going to make, but also the long-term repercussions such choices will have. A couple of minutes per candidate are therefore hardly too much invested time.

The official campaign Web sites: