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Spring 2012 Columnist headshots Credit: Justin Cohen , Kyle Henson

Blaming our politicians for all of our nation’s problems has earned itself a special place in America’s heart.

For every challenge or disagreement that plagues our country — from health care reform (see “Obamacare”) to the War in Iraq — there seems to be a politician to blame.

At first glance, this paradigm doesn’t seem entirely unreasonable. Politicians are, after all, elected to lead and are granted power and responsibility.

The problem is that we haven’t really been choosing our officials to lead. Instead, we’re more interested in choosing a candidate that will best enforce our convictions.

Too often, if our politicians aren’t doing what we would in a given situation, they risk losing our votes. This is the case regardless of whether a decision is best for the entire body, be it a country or the undergraduate population at Penn.

Voting opened yesterday for the next group of Undergraduate Assembly and Class Board leaders. The winners of this election serve as representatives and leaders of the entire student body and make important choices that can influence us all.

These candidates should be judged for how well we think they’ll handle the unpredictable, which can even happen in the UA (as evidenced by the hazing scandal).

Many of the practices used by UA candidates are taken straight out of the playbook of national politicians. Take the GOP’s leading presidential candidate Mitt Romney for example — he seems able and willing to contort his platform into whatever shape is likely to elicit the most votes. Romney’s publicly reversed his views on big things like abortion (when he wanted to appear more conservative), and smaller issues like his aversion to eating catfish (when he needed southern votes), whenever necessary during his campaign.

Romney understands that many voters only listen for what they want to hear. This practice worked well for him until Eric Fehrnstrom, one of his top aides, inadvertently compared the presidential candidate to an Etch A Sketch by saying, “I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It’s almost like an [Etch A Sketch] — you can kind of shake it up, and we start all over again.”

Potential voters jumped on this statement since nothing is quite as disturbing as knowing that a candidate you support today may not be who you thought he or she was tomorrow.

This problem certainly isn’t limited to Republicans. In fact, I don’t really think it’s the candidates’ fault at all. Instead, it’s the result of incredible selfishness on the part of American voters.

When we cast our votes, we put far too much emphasis upon a candidate’s platform and not nearly enough upon their qualities.

This is significant for two major reasons. The first is that political landscapes change — often and rapidly. Consider, for example, how the 9/11 attacks changed the trajectory and ultimately defined President George W. Bush’s presidency.

Secondly, many of the most important political decisions go on behind closed doors. It’s not like President Barack Obama could consult the American people about the decision to kill Osama Bin Laden.

So even if candidates actually plan on sticking to the platforms they run on, their intentions are often overpowered by uncontrollable circumstances.

Last Monday’s Silfen Forum on the question, “Is America Broken?” underscored the sentiment that a fundamental problem exists. Regardless of whether America is actually broken, it could clearly use some renovations. This begins by electing officials that we trust will best lead our nation and our school.

Hopefully you were able to attend one of the six UA debates put on over the last week or so. They were an excellent opportunity to judge the candidates on more than just their websites, Facebook groups or candidate statements in The Daily Pennsylvanian.

The adage that you can’t complain if you don’t vote holds true for the UA as much as any other elected body. This doesn’t mean, however, that you should or even can complain if you end up getting someone different from whom you thought you elected.

Put faith in the person, not just his or her platform and you’re bound to be more satisfied with the result.

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