Privacy, politeness in politics please, thank you!

  • Published
  • By Maj. S.J. Brown
  • 934th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
"The fact is, it's rare that etiquette disappears altogether ... Instead, etiquette adapts." Anna Post (great-great-granddaughter of etiquette expert, Emily Post)

I have a love-hate relationship with election years. I love that my vote counts toward choosing a new president, congressional delegate or senator. I love the fact that my "voice" is heard through an electoral process. But what I hate is the public display of affection that political parties' campaign staffers are constantly urging me to bestow on my chosen candidate. I was taught just like Linus Van Pelt (the Peanuts cartoon character) says, "there are three things I have learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin."

Normally, I am a very vocal, outgoing, extroverted person. In fact, I am often told "Mom, that's TMI (which means "too much information" in teenage slang)," by my 16-year-old son. Yeah, I normally do share a bit too much personal detail in conversations. Normally. However, there are a few areas in my life which are completely private - one is my political view, specifically voting. And, tomorrow is voting day.

I hate that for the last few months, I have received phone calls, been approached on the street and answered the door to people all urging me to go public with my voting preferences. I've had young adults knock on my door and ask me, while I am standing in front of them wearing my Air Force uniform, if they can put a candidate's sign in my front yard as a show of support. First of all, a big red, white and blue graphic arts nightmare of a sign does not blend with my landscaping. More importantly, I don't "advertise" for anyone or anything that has a marketing budget. Call me crazy but I figure if sports athletes get paid big bucks to endorse running shoes, electrolyte drinks and specialty clothing, why should I wear brand names like "Juicy" or "Lucky" on my derrière or "Nike" or "American Eagle" across my chest without getting paid too?

On another note, why would I tell a complete stranger, who called me on the phone last week, who I am voting for tomorrow? I politely told them it was none of their business. Apparently, they felt that was the perfect opportunity to go into a schlep about how great their candidate is and how horrible the other candidate is. As politely as I could, I told them that if they didn't have anything nice to say about anyone, don't say anything at all. Since when have we abandoned our politeness and etiquette in talking politics?

As an Air Reserve Technician, I follow rules regarding election year support - the Hatch Act (, Department of Defense Public Affairs Guidance on Political Campaigns and Elections (April 27, 2010) and DoDD 1344.10, Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces. All have specific guidelines on what I can and cannot do publicly to support political campaigns. I am glad these rules are in place because they support my right to remain private with my vote. I believe they help bring some of the "politeness" back to politics.

Emily Post, the well-known etiquette expert, was pretty smart in advising against religion and political conversations over dinner. As her great-great-granddaughter, Anna, writes above, that etiquette isn't abandoned, it has just adapted. I agree that to have conversations about politics is fine, but to blatantly ask people who they are voting for is rude -- especially when my answer is met with "Oh my! Why would you vote for him/her?"

Anna wrote an article a few years ago that gave sage political conversation advice ( Here are her suggestions:

Just the facts: "Who are you voting for" is a personal question as compared to "what do you think of the position of all presidential candidates on the issue of school funding?" is a question that seeks information/facts about the candidates. Don't make political conversations too personal or you will inevitably touch a nerve and start an argument.

Go in with exit strategy: Have an exit plan in case the person you are talking politics with gets a bit overzealous in their opinions and starts to argue rather than exchange facts. Say something like, "I'll have to research that a bit more," or "I guess we will have to agree to disagree."

Know why you started: Did you start the conversation to discuss facts, sway the other person's opinion or vent? Learning new things through conversation is great but manipulating people's opinions and venting never led to any good.

Know when to quit or not even bring it up: Why would you want to be the one known for ruining a memorable celebration such as a wedding, christening or family reunion because you wanted to get all your family to vote for your favorite politician? Aunt Betty would never forgive you for ruining your cousin Pricilla's Sweet 16 party! Getting into a heated debate over political candidates is a great way to make a bad first impression on future in-laws, potential employers, boss' family, etc.

Never assume: You can't seriously know everything about another person's opinions. Maybe he/she is just telling you what you want to hear to shut you up because they never actually wanted to talk about politics in the first place.

As Anna says in the article, keep things simple with statements like, "we all know how lucky we are to live in a society with free elections," or "political discourse is central to making good decisions in the voting booth." A really good conversation is one where a person asks questions to learn more, not to merely change another's mind or opinion. This election season, I beg you -- be polite and respect other's right to voting privacy (and discussions about the Great Pumpkin, too). Please and thank you!