By regularly promising the impossible, political candidates give the dangerous impression that salvation is only one bill, one policy solution away. It breeds impatience, impetuosity and ecstatic hopes in citizens.
And it can make us bad voters.
James Madison and Alexander Hamilton had a different understanding of voting than we currently do. The authors of The Federalist Papers understood voting as an exercise in elevating citizens’ minds above the concerns of their engrossing private lives. That is, voting was to be a kind of civic education, preceded by genuine debate, perhaps similar to the Lincoln-Douglas debates.
Such elections might be like the ones Winston Churchill observed during his youth. Common men “took as much interest in national affairs and were as good judges of form in public men, as is now that case about cricket or football,” he wrote. “The newspapers catered obediently for what was at once an educated and a popular taste.”
Today citizens appear far more often interested in and better informed about sports than politics.
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