The American Voice 2004: A Pocket Guide to Issues and Allegations

The American Voice 2004: A Pocket Guide to Issues and Allegations

Date: 1 Jun 2015 | posted in: From the Desk of David Morris, The Public Good | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

Welcome to the Archive of the American Voice 2004 Project.  The bedrock of good government is an informed citizenry. American Voice 2004 was launched in mid 2004 to fill a need to go beyond 15 second soundbites and attack ads and one-sided perspectives. We aspired to fill the need for reasoned debate leading up to the November 2004 election.

An informed citizenry comes from hearing both sides of the issues. American Voice 2004 explored issues in-depth, presenting both sides with well-documented arguments. It was designed to cultivate good citizenship. The American Voice 2004 was a project of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

Project Resources:

Which direction should you go? Find out what both sides are saying. Visit Issues and Allegations askdavetemplateNeed advice and counsel on politics and policies? Check the Ask Dr. Dave Archive. justfactstemplateCrave a simple fact that sums up an attitude and tells a story? Visit Just the Facts


Project Background

What is the Institute for Local Self-Reliance?

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) is a non profit, non-partisan organization based in Washington, DC, and Minneapolis, MN, and Portland, ME. ILSR was founded in 1974. Its mission is to strengthen geographical communities. To fulfill that mission ILSR offers research, technical assistance and promotes “rules” that foster local self-reliance.

Strong communities depend on an active and involved population. The American Voice 2004 project strove to nurture such a population by providing substantive and reasoned information regarding national issues.

Who is Dr. Dave?

David Morris was, at the time of this project, Vice President of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and its Co-Director. (Today he directs ILSR’s Public Good Initiative) He was the author of five books ranging from a history of Chile to an inquiry into the future role of neighborhoods and cities in America’s political and economic life to an assessment of the future of the American electricity system. Mr. Morris had served on a congressionally created advisory committee to federal agencies on energy policy. He was appointed by the Clinton Administration and reappointed by the Bush Administration. He held degrees in Industrial and Labor Relations (BS), Political Science (MA) and Public Policy (Ph.D.). Dr. Dave was a general interest columnist for 14 years for the Saint Paul Pioneer Press.

How did we choose the content for American Voice 2004?

As we said at the time, “For the Ask Dr. Dave questions we tried to be responsive to those of you who emailed us. On the other hand, as the sign in the restaurant says, “We reserve the right to refuse service to any customer.” We preferred inquiries that helped us illuminate a part of the political terrain. In almost all cases the question related to a subject that had been on the 6 o’clock news or the front pages of the newspapers. We stayed away from loaded questions like, “Isn’t George Bush a liar?” or “Isn’t the Democratic Party a tool of organized labor?”

The subjects we chose in our Issues and Allegations section were also are often proposed by you. But here our staff was more actively involved. We tried to address a range of issues. Some were well-known and central to the political campaigns (e.g. minimum wage, same-sex marriage, social security). Others involved issues that clarified differences in the political parties and candidates but may have been less familiar (e.g. Country of Origin Labeling.)”

Impact and Lessons Learned offered a healthy dose of civic education in the midst of an election year in which candidates collectively spent about $4 billion in campaigns that largely consisted of 20-second sound bites and negative attack ads.   The process taught us a great deal about the willingness, desire and capacity of Americans to educate themselves about the issues.

The exercise of presenting both sides in non-partisan fashion and of answering readers’ questions helped us understand issues better. Sometimes we came to conclusions that surprised us.

For example, we discovered only one other country, Barbados requires its citizens to pledge allegiance to the national flag. We discovered that for almost 1800 years the Catholic Church held a position on abortion that was remarkably similar to the decision issued by the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade. We found that social security is getting more, not less, actuarially sound. We found that the fairness doctrine had not been overturned by the courts but by the Federal Communications Commission and thus could be revived through that same administrative route.

We arrived at less surprising conclusions as well. Even those willing to spend the time to learn about the issues need easy-to-digest information. That was one of the reasons we created the Ask Dr. Dave and Just the Facts sections. These sections attracted a far greater number of visitors than the more in-depth issue examinations in Issues and Allegations.   We discovered that visuals and graphs, a la the front page of USA Today, are extremely useful.

Traffic to grew steadily, from one thousand unique visitors per week in early May to ten thousand in the week before the election and 3500 on Election Day itself. Recall that the internet traffic at the time was a tiny fraction of its current volume.

We were largely, although by no means universally, perceived as non-partisan even by conservative visitors.

More than 30 public libraries, at least 14 university libraries and many on-line publications linked to AmericanVoice2004. Many libraries posted favorable comments about AmericanVoice2004 on-site. Here is a sampling:

AmericanVoice2004 is a treasure trove of “non-partisan, credible and pertinent information”– Springfield, Illinois Public Library

“Find succinct, nonpartisan discussions of both sides of issues driving this year’s federal elections”— New York Public Library

a “clear discussion of the issues at stake in the 2004 Presidential election”— The British Library of Political and Economic Science

“readable” and “scholarly”– University of Michigan

Many libraries listed us in the company of much better financed and visible organizations.

The Minneapolis Public Library listed us in its Become Informed section, along with, CNN and the Center for Voting and Democracy.

The New York Public Library included us under Election and Voter Information, along with the League of Women Voters and the Federal Election Commission.

The Hampton Public Library in Virginia listed us under Debate Resources alongside the Brookings Institution, Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation.

The Vienna Public library in West Virginia included us in its Government section. We were the only non-federal agency (e.g. CIA, FBI, EPA, NASA, etc.) included.

The budget for AmericanVoice2004 was a very modest $70,000.

David Morris
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David Morris

David Morris is co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and currently ILSR's distinguished fellow. His five non-fiction books range from an analysis of Chilean development to the future of electric power to the transformation of cities and neighborhoods.  For 14 years he was a regular columnist for the Saint Paul Pioneer Press. His essays on public policy have appeared in the New York TimesWall Street Journal, Washington PostSalonAlternetCommon Dreams, and the Huffington Post.