A NATION’S HEALTH & VOTERS’ EDUCATION

            Here’s a very rare rant on the topic of today’s politics, comments are welcome. I assure you, I can take them. Please keep in mind too that this does not consider the electoral college history and process or the voting rights of citizens within U.S. territories. So, it may be no secret that I am an occupational therapist and that I work in higher education, meaning that I am an educator. Being an educator, having taught at many colleges and universities, the one thing I’ve learned is in order to learn, one must study. Also, to ensure learning has taken place, the learner must be subjected to examination to some extent to ensure some level of minimal competency of the subject matter. This is especially important in healthcare, for instance. No person wants a doctor who has failed his initial board exam, a nurse who has not been deemed minimally competent to treat, or a therapist who really never finished school, yet calls him or herself a therapist. This applies to many professions where a minimal set of standards distinguishes those who are adequately prepared, from those who are inadequately prepared. Why should this apply any less in politics? I am not asking this of you in reference to our politicians, or any particular politician, who has run for office and won or lost an election.

            I ask this question of you, the voter. How are you qualified to vote for one candidate over another? What is your knowledge? What is your minimal competency, set standard and place of study? I suspect that the answer to these questions are somewhat mindboggling. The answers or truths here may be simple for many. Unless you are in the trenches, on the front-lines, and involved with or practicing politics on a daily basis, you probably have very little factual knowledge of most topics being discussed in politics. Your places of study are probably in front of the television set, in your car listening to the radio, on the internet, or reading the newspaper and your teachers are probably the media, your friends and family. If in media, perhaps your teachers seek high ratings to remain profitable and in business (keep the money coming in), therefore, they provide firey stories meant to go after your emotions and sway you one way or another; perhaps even depending on their sources and the political opinions of their sources (whom also fall in the category of voters). If your influences are your friends and families, perhaps their knowledge has not been verified as fact, nor has the person or people they “heard it from” been verified as legitimate resources either.

            Let us take another look at the voters. Voters are people, agreed? Standing back and taking a broad look at the United States population, it can be determined that individuals are extremely variable.  Some of the many variable factors include socioeconomic status, health, accessibility, interest level, occupation, and even perceived wellness and of course all of the equal opportunity factors. Without going into much detail about percentages, let’s take a peek inside and see who we are. Millions of Americans are above a certain age in the U.S. and with age, of course, comes illness. Of these many illnesses are Alzheimer’s, stroke, myocardial infarction or heart disease, cancers, depression, suicide, PTSD, and the list goes on and on and again, counts for millions of us. These are some of the commonalities in the later stages of life. 

            On the younger voter age-appropriate stage of life, there is also PTSD, depression, violence, drug abuse (and alcohol), and lots of other health related issues. Also on the younger stages of adult life are those who have no interest or who are so consumed with advancing through college or their early careers that taking on a study of politics is just not a big priority for them. Those with the most time to study (i.e., by methods mentioned above) are those who do not work, are retired, are genuinely really interested in what is going on in the world and in our country, and who are mentally capable of learning, retaining, and understanding the issues at hand in an unbiased manner. Not only is understanding the many concepts important, but also understanding how they are all interrelated is important too. The ability to make sound decisions, when it comes to electing the leaders of our country, is a much desired trait to have.


            Oh, and I almost forgot another small detail about voters. Millions of Americans are taking prescription drugs for the conditions mentioned above, plus numerous other conditions. It is well known that many drugs impair cognitive functioning. For example, if it says not to operate a motor vehicle then it probably affects your cognitive functioning. Then, consider all of the side effects medications have. If you can’t operate a motor vehicle, conducting many simple functions that may be almost second nature to you after years of daily practice, then how can you vote, which requires an opinion about knowledge of many complex functions that is far from second nature to you that you may only perform once every few years or so?

            The big question here is what is the minimum set of standards, or competency that we should expect of voters in order for well-informed decisions to be made in politics? In this day and age, technology and resources have afforded us with the opportunity to learn. If the politics of our country were seen as synonymous to the health of our country, as if the country were the patient and the voters were the healthcare providers (or other qualified professionals), then shouldn’t they too have to demonstrate a minimum qualification or competency level to vote? Maybe a process which ensures that not only having a beating heart, being of age, and citizenship (in most places) are the requirements to vote in politics in the U.S., but also that a minimal score on a Basic Political Examination be attained as an additional qualifier to ensure voters are voting on and comparing apples to apples, and not hay and peanuts. This should serve as a wake-up call to the element of Voters’ Education in U.S. Politics.

Dr. Robert J. Mullaney