Vote smart this year

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As the campaign heats up, go beyond the rhetoric and soundbites to make an informed decision at the polls.

A recent graphic on a political website showed that, second only to Ohio, Virginia is the state most likely to decide the 2012 presidential election.
Virginia has already been a key state during the campaign, with President Obama’s “You didn’t build that” speech in Roanoke becoming the source of a Republican rallying cry, and Vice President Biden’s “They goin’ put y’all back in chains” tirade in Danville being another example of Joe being Joe.
Virginia will be key, and with our Electoral College system of choosing a president, a small number of voters in one state can turn an entire election.
If 300 people in Florida had voted differently in 2000, Al Gore would have defeated George W. Bush.
This is not an endorsement of a candidate. It’s a plea for an informed electorate, because a well-read and informed electorate will make a thoughtful, fact-based decision.
Each candidate’s campaign has given us plenty to think about. The Mitt Romney camp will tell you that Barack Obama is taxing and spending the U.S. into a European-style financial calamity.
The Obama campaign will tell you that Romney is a silver-spoon elitist who made a fortune selling failed businesses and putting people out of work.
The Democrats say Romney-Ryan will end Medicare in its present form. Republicans say the current administration will end Medicare, period, by allowing it to become unsustainable.
Don’t count on a campaign to educate you about either candidate. That job is squarely on your own shoulders. If you vote Obama, hooray. If you vote Romney, that’s great. But do so because you have convinced yourself that you are making the right choice.
Don’t take this decision lightly, because it’s an enormous one. Put some effort into it.
How? Turn off the TV, or at least take much — if not all — of what you do see on TV with a grain of salt. Network newscasts are undeniably biased.
Nor should you to pay much attention to cable news outlets such as the conservative FOX or the liberal MSNBC, unless you spend an equal amount of time with both.
There is no real thing as an unbiased mainstream news organization. None hides its political leanings very well (on the contrary, some revel in it) and as for their viewers, those networks are often preaching to the choir.
Nor should you rely heavily on political ads to form your decision. Both candidates can find plenty of reputable news sources with which to edify themselves or to bash their opponent, often over the same topic.
And for goodness sakes, don’t pay attention to what some celebrity has to say about it, either conservative or liberal. The only celebrity quote concerning politics that resonates with you should be what Brad Pitt said recently. Paraphrased, Pitt said, “Who cares what I think. I’m a ******* actor. Somebody hands me a script, I read it.”
You have the world’s largest library — the Internet — at your fingertips. And online is where you should start your research. If you really care, you may find yourself immersed in it.
You will find yourself bookmarking sites and authors with which you agree, but you should also bookmark those with whom you disagree, because an opposing opinion will either confirm what you already believe or it will open your eyes to what you didn’t realize you believed.
Challenge yourself. Above all, be honest with yourself about it. Think Romney is a scoundrel? Read a conservative’s take on his recent overseas trip, or about Romney’s time at Bain Capital and decide for yourself.
Think Obama is incompetent or a Marxist? Read a liberal’s opinion of how the Affordable Care Act will help the U.S., or how the economy might be showing life, and make up your own mind.
If you are a Democrat or consider yourself a liberal, go to sites such as HuffingtonPost.com, TheDailyBeast, Salon and MediaMatters.
If you are a Republican or conservative by nature, start with DrudgeReport.com, PJMedia, DailyCaller, NationalReviewOnline and the like.
A good starting point is RealClearPolitics.com. It comes across as an unbiased resource that contains links to well-written observations, opinions and analyses from both sides of the aisle, from reputable sources like The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The New York Times, other metro dailies and independent blog sites.
You’ll find conflicting views of the same story, often listed one under the other, which is a great tool.
Read stuff you agree with, but also read the other side’s opinions. The thing about political sites is that they often critique one another’s stories. That is a wonderful way to get to the truth.
And that truth is what you believe it to be, deep down inside, if you are honest enough with yourself. It’s how you feel about something without being swayed by poll numbers or soundbites or weekly trends or a 30-second TV ad.
The tools are there, and you have about two months.
Vote smart in 2012, whichever your choice.
Even if it means four years of an “outsourcing corporate raider” in the White House or four more years of being a heartbeat away from President Biden.