The year of a United States presidential election always brings intense campaigning and debating, out of which we are supposed to choose our favorite candidate. But for many of us, election time also raises the question of whether a real choice exists. Since 1960, the percentage of eligible voters who actually go to the polls has steadily declined. A major reason for this, according to Curtis Ganes of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate, is "citizens' questioning the effectiveness of government and the efficacy of their votes." And according to another poll, "More people are feeling that the link between their vote and public policy is tenuous at best and that voting is simply not worth the effort."

If the nonvoting trend increases, it will pose a serious threat to the republic. As stated by Marvin Stone, editor-in-chief of U. S. News and World Report, "No political system can remain healthy forever if large numbers feel that their voices do not count."

But how much power do we have to determine events and make choices in our lives? Here is Lord Krsna's analysis in the Bhagavad-gita: "The spirit soul bewildered by the influence of false ego thinks himself the doer of activities that are in actuality carried out by the three modes of material nature" (Bg. 3.27).

By the words "false ego," Lord Krsna means the misconception of thinking the material body to be the self. According to the Bhagavad-gita, within the temporary body is the spirit soul, which is the real, eternal self. The body, therefore, is only a covering for the soul, much as clothing is a covering for the body. A person influenced by false ego, however, does not acknowledge that his body is a product of nature, which works under the supervision of God. He has no knowledge that everything including himself is under higher control. He thinks, Lord Krsna explains, that he is "the doer of activities that are in actuality carried out by the three modes of material nature."

This is ignorance. According to the Bhagavad-gita, if we revive our loving relationship with God and work under His guidance, we will achieve freedom from the control of material nature, from the forces that bind us to the miseries of birth, death, disease, and old age. Otherwise, even if we exercise our political choice, there will be no question of liberation from material nature.

Political debates that do not take into account the facts concerning nature and the control of God are futile. How can one party be better than another if both labor under the most basic misconceptions about God, nature, and the soul? As the Sri Caitanya-caritamrta states:

"In the material world conceptions of good and bad are all mental speculations. Therefore saying, 'This is good, and this is bad,' is all a mistake."

Political candidates and government leaders may express some kind of God consciousness, but observers often see this as no more than political maneuvering in the quest for votes. Unless we are in knowledge of the intricacies of nature and God's control, then our service to God and religion will be another illusion under which a politician and his followers will be misled.

We must know the basic laws of existence, such as the law of karma, by which nature awards us the reactions to our deeds. The law of karma is unyielding, and we cannot avoid its control any more than we can avoid birth and death. We must also be in knowledge of our own identity as spirit souls, separate from the material body. Without such a basic requisite as self-knowledge, how can anyone truly lead others or make an intelligent choice as to who is most qualified to lead? And unless our activities are in adherence to the will of the Supreme, as enunciated in the scriptures and exemplified in the lives of saintly persons, our choices are "choices" only within the realm of illusion.

The disappointment that is causing citizens to avoid the voting booth cannot be checked simply by patriotic speeches. According to the pollsters, nonvoters are not so much opposed to individual candidates as they are alienated from the entire system. Political analysis! Peter F. Drucker of the Clairmont Graduate School in California direly comments, "Nobody believes anymore that government delivers." But how can the government deliver as long as government leaders ignore the laws of nature? When the blind lead the blind, both fall into a ditch.

Considering present circumstances public ignorance on the one hand and the power of professional politicians and other sectarian interest groups on the other it is unlikely that we will soon see political leadership that is aware of God, nature, and the soul as described in the Bhagavad-gita. Meanwhile, due to the ignorance and mischievousness of our leaders, the world continues in great distress. Srila Prabhupada has written of this dilemma and of the hope offered by the Krsna consciousness movement:

At the present moment the rulers are so powerful that by hook or by crook they capture the highest post in government and harass countless numbers of people on the plea of national security or some emergency. One party defeats another, but the public continues to suffer.
When the people are godless and the presidents or kings are unnecessarily puffed up with military power, their business is to fight and increase the military strengths of their different states. Now, therefore, it appears that every state is busy manufacturing weapons to prepare for a third world war. . . . But the real business of the chief executive is to see to the happiness of the mass of people by training them in Krsna consciousness in different divisions of life.

Of course, we don't have to wait for the majority to elect such a leader. If we are tired of being cheated, we can seek out a bona fide spiritual master and, through him, take directions from the Vedic literature on how to perfect our lives. The Srimad-Bhagavatam states, "One who cannot deliver his dependants from repeated birth and death should never become a spiritual master or a leader of the people or even a father or husband." A misled nation may not be able to elect a qualified leader, but an individual can still save himself by sincerely seeking the truth. There is higher knowledge than that delivered by the political systems. There are real choices, and real leaders. SDG