TWO facts about this political season, which culminates Nov. 8 in midterm elections, call for thought and action from those who cherish democracy:
Fact 1: These are particularly important elections. Polls show both houses of Congress could go Republican. More close races are under way than any time in recent memory. If Republicans win majorities, they will appoint a new Senate majority leader, House Speaker, and committee chairmen. The legislative agenda - what bills reach the floor or die in committee - will be radically changed. Thus those who usually ``vote for the candidate, not the party'' this year are also voting for the party that best represents them.
There are also 36 gubernatorial races this fall, and most state ballots contain referendum questions on important issues such as immigration, term limits, and tax reforms.
Fact 2: Many Americans are angry, fearful, and cynical about politics. For some, this negative energy is being put to a positive use. They are intending to vote and encouraging others to do so - for the candidates and issues they favor. But frustration and discouragement are leading too many others to another conclusion: that the political system is so corrupt that voting isn't worth the effort.
We disagree. We realize we're mostly preaching to the choir among our readers, who have demonstrated their active interest in public affairs by subscribing to and reading this newspaper. But perhaps you can help us in the effort to convince potential voters to reject cynicism.
We might encourage our discouraged friends with talking points like these:
Don't judge candidates on the basis of misleading ``attack'' ads. These rarely give a completely accurate or balanced picture; too often they lead to the dismaying conclusion that neither candidate merits support.
Get first-hand information by listening to the candidates at length in debates or interviews. Hear them on a variety of issues.
Many states provide useful information booklets that discuss referendum issues dispassionately and from all sides.
And of course newspapers are an important source of information, especially when they get beyond who is ahead or behind in polls and discuss what the candidates believe and why.
Cynicism - the disbelief that any candidate can be sincere or competent, or can act out of any but selfish motives - is fatal to democracy. It stands in contrast to healthy skepticism, which begins without preconceptions and makes an honest, open search for truth.
Political candidates rarely lead perfect lives or reason through every issue to the conclusion we might like. But we believe the majority are honest, hard-working, and sincere. And they all are willing to undergo the kind of rigorous scrutiny of their lives that modern campaigning entails.
A participatory democracy can operate effectively only when we, the voters, choose to participate.
It's the right choice.