Debate Bishop McAleer

Representative Rob Bishop and Donna McAleer move toward their seats for a debate Monday, October 15, 2012 at the Pleasant Valley Library in Washington Terrace, Utah. (NICK SHORT/Standard-Examiner)

It’s a tired refrain these days: “politics is just rhetoric.” But this is not the American way. Political debate, the civil, even spirited, exchange of ideas among candidates for office, is an essential characteristic of American government and politics. In 1787, Alexander Hamilton, in the first of the Federalist Papers, invited the people of the United States to deliberate and engage in “reflection and choice” — on a new Constitution for the United States. At stake, Hamilton argued, was nothing less than the very existence of the union — the safety and welfare of the most interesting nation in the world.

The safety and welfare of our communities is at stake in every election. So tomorrow, the Olene S. Walker Institute of Politics & Public Service invites the citizens of the First Congressional District to deliberate on the candidates contending to represent them in Washington D.C. by watching the inaugural Utah Debate Commission debate, on the Weber State University campus,Tuesday at 6 p.m., in the Shepherd Union Wildcat Theater.

Citizens of Utah have the opportunity to listen to the candidates, either as audience members or on the statewide-televised broadcast. They can judge the candidates’ understanding of the issues and evaluate their solutions to the challenges Northern Utah faces. The Walker Institute invites citizens to formulate their concerns into questions and submit them on the Utah Debate Commission website The moderator will select a fair and representative set of questions.

The responsibility of the people to deliberate on the challenges confronting us and to reflect on which candidate best represents us, remains the central feature of American civic life. Too often we abdicate that responsibility by failing to educate ourselves about the big questions at stake in a particular electoral cycle. When we fail to educate ourselves about the issues, our vote is either uninformed, or we even decide not to exercise our vote at all. A knowledgeable electorate is critical to the strength of democracy in Utah and American democracy as a whole. Low voter turnout and public apathy are symptomatic of a civic-education deficit concerning the function of government and the needs of the community. The Walker Institute’s aim is to replace cynicism with active leadership and civic participation events like the First Congressional District debate.

Alexander Hamilton said that it was up to Americans by their reflection and choice to establish good government. The aim of the Federalist Papers was to persuade the people of the United States that ratification of the new Constitution was the safest course for the liberty, dignity and happiness of the American people. He wrote to engage their interest at a momentous time in the history of the United States. But we would do well to understand every election as an opportunity to secure our liberty and the well-being of our families, our communities, our state and our country.

The Walker Institute encourages you to participate fully in a robust debate in the upcoming election. Debates are an opportunity for citizens to educate themselves on the issues of the day and the traditions of American democracy -- from the time of the Constitutional ratification debates to today. It is our responsibility to listen, reflect and choose. Be part of a living tradition.

Carol McNamara is the director of the Olene S. Walker Institute of Politics & Public Service at Weber State University. McNamara has a doctoral degree in political science from Boston College and conducts research in the areas of the American presidency and political theory.

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