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New Year's Resolutions

Resolve to Shape Up Politics in the New Year

By Damon Circosta

RALEIGH - As we celebrate the new year many of us will engage in the annual tradition of making resolutions.  Gym membership will spike and diet foods will fly off the shelves. And while most resolutions have to do with eating better or exercising more, it’s not just our physical bodies that need improvement. Our body politic could also resolve to do better.

Here then are a few New Year’s resolutions for our civic life.

For all of those new voters who finally came out of the woodwork to participate in 2008’s historic election, let’s resolve to make voting a habit in 2010.  This year might not be the glitzy, celebrity-filled, all-consuming spectacle that was election 2008. But civic participation, like a classy New Year’s tuxedo, never goes out of style.

Resolved for the New Year: Make political ads that are less cliched than the one produced by the "Attack-Ad-O-Matic" above.

For the folks who produce campaign ads, let’s resolve to find some original ideas.  The grainy, unflattering photos of the opponent, followed by the candidate standing next to some kids and a flag are so predictable they are becoming satire. For the kind of money they are making, media consultants need to start earning their keep instead of recycling the same cookie-cutter ads for half-a-dozen different candidates.

For our friends in the news media, we should resolve to appeal to the more noble instincts of readers. Times are tough in the news business and the juicy details of a politician’s extramarital affair can sell a lot of copies. But if we spend all of our time covering the dirty and scandalous, there is precious little space to cover policy.

It has been said that people are smart, but the public is stupid. It’s up to the professionals in the journalism industry to change that. No one expects the media to shut down its coverage of the sensational and the salacious. The public wants to read about it and there is money to be made. But maybe, just maybe, news people can resolve to shift a bit more coverage to more substantive matters.

The media would have a much easier time making their resolution a reality if only politicians would resolve to conduct themselves according to the highest of standards. Let’s face it: the percentage of politicians who behave irresponsibly is extremely low. Most everyone who enters public service does so in an effort to serve the public good. But as the saying goes, it only takes one bad apple to spoil the bunch.

“Public Servant Works Hard and Does Right by People” isn’t the kind of headline that makes the front page. So it is up to each politician, regardless of party or position, to ensure that we can trust every politician.

For those of us who have voted in every election and never fail to exercise our civic duty, it’s time we resolve to give a little more. Every county board of elections in the state is always scrambling to get enough people to run the polls on Election Day. If you really want to understand how our democracy works, spending a day as an election official will teach you all you want to know -- and then some.

For those of us who shy away from public affairs and think that the whole thing is a mess beyond repair, let’s dedicate ourselves to engagement. Our democracy, with all of its flaws, provides us with an opportunity that so many do not have. The system, despite its flaws, will respond if enough of us resolve to change it.

The diets may come and go and the gym membership may lapse by February, but self-government, with all of its promise, is a resolution worth keeping.

Damon Circosta is the executive director of the N.C. Center for Voter Education.