Behind the podium I pinched my knees together as hard as I could. It was a big crowd, live TV and I was young, suddenly very nervous and afraid they would all see my quivering legs.
My U.S. Senate Campaign staff had told me to close the debate with a vicious attack against my opponent in an effort to expose his temper. But as I looked at him during the final commercial break, I knew I would not do it.
Instead, when the lights came back on, I looked into the camera and said these words, "Understand what it is we do to you. My opponent and I both spend all of our time collecting money from people we do not know, people who will want access to us if we win. And we both spend the money the same three ways. First we measure you, we find out what you want to buy in the political marketplace. Then we hire consultants to tailor our image to fit what we know you want to purchase. And finally, we buy all the television time necessary to bombard you with the meaningless issueless nonsense that inevitably results. And the one who does this best is gong to win."
The audience was dead silent, as was my staff following the debate. However, two weeks later in Washington I visited retiring Senator Barry Goldwater, whose seat I hoped to win. As I entered his office he shooed out his staff and closed the door. I listened as he talked about having entered politics as a young man, how he had such passion about the issues and wanted to make a difference. But as he put it, for the last dozen years he had been doing what I had described in my closing argument and he found it "humiliating, even dangerous." We talked about how as candidates had simply learned to move people emotionally instead of intellectually. Something needed to change.
Thus the idea to build a Voter's Self-Defense System was born. A system that would allow any citizen to instantly defend themselves with abundant, accurate, relevant information about who we were as candidates and what we were likely to do for them—or to them—if elected.
It has taken years and the efforts of over 100,000 people and the Voter’s Self-Defense System is finally ready for delivery to the American people. Voting records, biographical details, issue positions, campaign finances, public comments and the evaluations by more than 200 liberal to conservative special interests. All instantly available on a web site with live toll-free voter assistance (www.votesmart.org or 1-888-VOTE SMART).
It is uniquely protected, requiring every board member to be balanced by a political opposite, taking no money from corporations or lobbying interests, and staffed by hundreds of volunteers and student interns. It now enables any citizen to check up on the often misleading and manipulative claims made by candidates and elected officials.
You have a right to the facts. Help us if you can, but most importantly, use our information to defend yourself and every American upon whom you are absolutely dependent for their good judgment.