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Etc.: Tuesdays questions
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Election Day is Tuesday. After that, to paraphrase Gerald Ford upon becoming president, our long national nightmare will be over.

The biggest casualty of this election season is civility and the First Amendment, specifically the implied part about respecting different points of view. (This page of your favorite weekly newspaper has certainly shown different points of view over the past months, some of which in their original expression have been more respectful than others.) This area has seen vandalism of candidate signs, and this state has seen assaults on campaign workers. Just when you think things can’t get any more fractious, they do.

The blame for that lies with both parties, for exaggerating, demonizing the other side, promising too much, and then doing too much when in office. The 2012 campaigns might be the best argument for smaller government than any libertarian could ever devise.

The Journal does not endorse political candidates. Instead of telling you whom I’m voting for Tuesday (you can probably guess based on what you’ve read here before now), I’m going to ask a few questions that undecided or wavering voters might ask before casting their votes. When deciding whom to vote for, principles are more important than parties or candidates.

The number one question of every presidential election except possibly one in my lifetime was asked first by Ronald Reagan before the 1980 election: Are you better off now than you were four years ago?

Barack Obama asked that question himself four years ago. Four years later, nearly 15 percent of Americans are unemployed, underemployed (working part-time when they’d rather work full-time) or no longer looking for work. The average American family income has dropped almost $4,000 since 2009. Drivers are happy that gas prices are only twice what they were nearly four years ago.

Some might argue that the current presidential administration doesn’t deserve blame or even responsibility for the current economy. Which begs a question: If a presidential administration — Jimmy Carter in 1980 or George H.W. Bush in 1992 come to mind — isn’t accountable for the economy, then who is? No one? Are we stuck forever with barely noticeable economic growth, tens of millions of unemployed and underemployed workers, and budgets that will never be balanced? If Obama wins Tuesday and the economy gets worse in the next four years because of Obama administration policy, what is the recourse for voters?

The economy is and should be the number one issue Tuesday. To point out that most workers are employed in the private sector is not a criticism of public-sector employees, who are, after all, paid through private-sector-generated tax revenues. The question that thus needs answering is which candidate’s policies (and that candidate’s ability to get those policies enacted into law) are most likely to result in a growing economy in which businesses can best serve customers and employ people. (That does not happen by telling business people “If you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own,” and it’s not done by creating a Business Department within the Cabinet, as was proposed days ago.) There is no real way to erase trillion-dollar deficits merely by cutting spending or raising taxes.

Another question for voters to ask: Which candidate in a particular race supports true fiscal responsibility? The total federal debt four years ago was $10.3 trillion; 50 percent has been added to that number in the past four years. In this state, the budget is legally, though not factually, balanced (as in by Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, balance by which is required by every level of government in this state except state government).

“True fiscal responsibility” means not spending more money than you have, not using accounting tricks, and increasing taxes only as an absolute last resort. “True fiscal responsibility” also means tax law for the sole purpose of funding government operations, not for redistributing income out of some people’s pockets and into the pockets of others, and not to “encourage” certain behavior and discourage other behavior. Related to that is the intellectual honesty needed to understand that government fiscal problems will not be solved by increasing taxes on someone else, whether that’s “the rich” or “corporations” or your party’s favorite antagonist. (That statement doesn’t apply just to federal or state office, by the way.)

Another question: Which candidate has the nerve to stand up when necessary to his or her party’s leadership? The purpose of political parties, after all, is to get their candidates into office and keep them in office. You can probably use one hand to list the number of things the federal or state governments have done to benefit Southwest Wisconsin. (The only one that comes to mind is the U.S. 151 expressway.) On the other hand, which candidate is most able to get legislation passed that will specifically benefit Southwest Wisconsin? Politicians who propose but cannot accomplish are useless to voters.

One final question to ask: Which candidate will work to restore some semblance of civility to the political process? (For instance: When will campaign ad writers be honest and say that a candidate voted for or against something, instead of trying to make voters believe that this candidate cut education or threw money at the political villain du jour? Members of legislative bodies vote for or against bills; they are not dictators.) Who will work to oppose bad law without demonizing the opposing side? If your neighbor has opposite political yard signs from yours, is your neighbor evil, or just (by your definition) wrong?

However Nov. 6 turns out, on Nov. 7 I’d like to see everyone with a political yard sign go to a predetermined place in Platteville, Belmont, Potosi, Dickeyville, Livingston, Rewey and everywhere else more than one house can be found, put all the signs on a pile, and set them on fire. Think of it as an exorcism.

Cast an informed vote Tuesday.