The late U.S. senator from my homestate of Kentucky, Alben Barkely, used to tell a story about elections.
The late U.S. senator from my homestate of Kentucky, Alben Barkely, used to tell a story about elections. Sen. Barkely was campaigning for re-election, and he ran into a voter whom he knew, and asked if he was going to vote for him again. The voter said he was thinking about voting for his opponent. Sen. Barkely reminded him that he was the one responsible for farm legislation that had benefited him. The voter replied: "Well, yes, that was nice — but what have you done for me lately?"
That anecdote illustrates an important point about elections: Voters are motivated primarily by their own interests, not by concern about others. As a political realist I accept that that is just the way people are and that those working for change have to accept that reality.
However, a society which is all about self-interest is a morally impoverished society, so in this election season I call upon voters to remember what Dr. Martin Luther King used to say: "The true greatness of a nation is determined by how it treats its most vulnerable members." In the current election there are three groups of vulnerable people whose interests we should not forget.
The first of these groups is the mentally ill. In Kansas in recent years there have been a number of cutbacks in spending for mental health programs. Talking to mental health workers here in Leavenworth County they have told me that they have had to make major cutbacks in their efforts to help the mentally ill.
When mental health programs do not get proper funding invariably the result is a surge in the number of homeless and a surge in the number of people in prison. We as citizens must demand that candidates pledge themselves to adequately funding mental health programs.
The second group is our young students; specifically, the need to make sure that they are not the targets of the school mass shootings that have become so common in our nation.
There is no easy solution to school shootings, but one measure that has demonstrated its effectiveness is to have enough money to hire armed guards at all schools.
This fact is largely forgotten, but the hero of the Columbine school shooting in 1999 was the school security guard, he engaged the two gunmen in a running gun battle that kept them away from the students long enough for additional law enforcement personnel to arrive.
The third group is unborn children. Kansas already has laws on the books that forbid abortion after 20 weeks, but simply passing laws against abortion is not enough to stop it. Large numbers of young women, particularly those who would become single mothers, have abortions because they feel that they cannot afford to support their baby.
It is critical that we as a nation adopt policies for more generous maternity leave, for better daycare, and for better wages and benefits for working mothers so that these young women are not faced with the heartbreaking need to abort their unborn child because they do not have the resources to raise it.
So, when we as citizens go to the polls this November there is nothing wrong with thinking of our own interests in the outcome of these elections, but let us also not forget the needs of the most vulnerable members of our society.