By Ken Trainor
Now that the Republican and Democratic conventions are over, and with less than two months till the election, only the debates stand between undecided voters and a decision on Nov. 6.
I follow the parties' quadrennial political gatherings because every four years we try to define who we are, what's important to us, and what kind of race the nation is running. Is it the loneliness of the self-reliant, long-distance runner or a cooperative, collaborative relay?
And every four years, we rehash the debate about how much government we should have. For the past three decades, the Republicans have successfully focused the discussion on whether we have too much government. This year, the Democrats have managed to change the emphasis to whether we have enough of the right kind of government.
That amounts to progress in this crazy debating society of ours.
Far be it from me, of course, to tell you who to vote for, but if you're still undecided, the following questions might clarify things a bit:
Which party is more responsible for getting us into our current economic mess?
Which party has done more to obstruct efforts to get us out of that mess?
Which party was in control of the White House the last time we had a budget surplus (1996-2000)?
Which party was in control of the White House when the economy collapsed in 2008?
Which party learned more from that collapse?
Which party supports the same policies that were in place when the economy collapsed?
Which party is more diverse and has a "bigger tent"?
Which party is working harder to register new voters and opposes efforts to make voting more difficult?
Which party is more inflexible and extreme in its views?
Which party generally favors the wealthy few?
Which party best represents the rest?
Which candidate grew up middle class?
Which has a clearer sense of what life is like for middle-income Americans?
Which is more likely to listen to, understand, and act on the concerns of middle-income voters?
Which candidate would you feel more comfortable having a cup of coffee with?
Which candidate is more likeable?
Which candidate is the more charismatic and inspiring speaker?
Which do you trust more to tell you the truth?
Which would be better at communicating with your own (or other people's) kids?
Which campaign is supported by more small donors?
Which candidate has stronger core convictions?
Which has been more consistent in his positions on the issues over the last 20 years?
Which candidate has released more than two years of tax returns?
Which acts more like he has something to hide?
Which candidate is more willing to do something that is politically risky or unpopular when he believes it's best for the country?
Which is more likely to reach across the aisle and cooperate with the other party?
Which candidate is more likely to do something to address climate change?
Which is more likely to do more to develop alternative energy sources and reduce our reliance on oil?
Which would be more sensitive to your suffering following a natural disaster?
Which candidate has said more about what he wants to do in the next four years and included details on how he plans to do it?
Which is more likely to think outside the box and take a more innovative approach to our challenges?
Which candidate is a more fully developed human being?
Which has more personal integrity?
Which makes you feel prouder to be an American?
Which has emphasized the positive more than the negative in his campaign?
Which candidate reads 10 randomly chosen, unvetted letters from ordinary Americans six nights a week before he goes to sleep?
Which candidate already has four years of experience as president and wouldn't require job training?
It's no secret, of course, where I stand, and you won't be surprised to hear that I think the answers favor Barack Obama. I didn't ask, for instance, which candidate has more experience as a private-sector businessman (actually, I just did). The Romney camp can put together their own list if they want (and we'll print it).
Questions have a way of leading to answers. If you're undecided, I recommend asking yourself these (and other) questions after watching each debate in October and before you head to the polls.
Here's to responsible citizenship.