My favorite book on writing is William Zinsser’s On Writing Well. Even after 30 years in print it is still considered the “bible for a generation of writers looking for clues to clean and compelling prose” and a resource offering significant principles and insights. Interestingly, Mr. Zinsser’s principles can also serve as a primer for the few of us expected to vote in next Tuesday’s election.
From Measures Q&R in San Bernardino and Measure L in Riverside to the election of three city council members in Moreno Valley, Inland area voters will be making some significant and far reaching decisions. Here I offer a guide to voting from Zinsser’s “scraps, morsels, and admonitions” that may help you move beyond the campaign propaganda and into a better decision-making mode this election cycle:
1. Prune the Clutter
“Clutter is the disease of American writing…look for the clutter and prune it ruthlessly.” Like writing, when voting you must review the merits of each measure and candidate and prune the clutter. It is “laborious work” that he likens to fighting weeds, and we are always slightly behind. We must practice this pruning candidate by candidate…measure by measure. Begin with examining who is funding the candidate or measure. What are their motives? Do their motives align with yours and the well-being of your community?
2. Beware of Hyperbole
“Our national tendency is to inflate…” Beware of campaigns that rely heavily on exaggeration or overstatement. In The Art of Wordly Wisdom, Gracian reminds us that hyperbolic language is the enemy of truth and discernment – two attributes we need in our elected representatives. “Never exaggerate. It is a matter of great importance to forego superlatives, in part to avoid offending the truth, and in part to avoid cheapening your judgment.”
3. Demand Credibility
“Credibility is just as fragile for a writer as for a President,” Zinsser declares. Weed out lies, half-truths, and anything he labels “bogus statements.”
“The secret…is to strip (everything down) to its cleanest component.”
Read the candidate’s statements. Review the websites for both sides of the issue. If you examine how candidates choose to present themselves then you know what they value. Do you have similar values? Are those values best for his/her constituents? For future residents? When looking at our local and statewide measures, will they improve our quality of life?
5. Avoid Clichés
“Cliches are the enemy of (good) taste…and (too often) everywhere in the air around us.” Avoid cliché candidates… either speaking or being one.
“Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote.”
George Jean Nathan