"Son, you're 18 now. As an American citizen that means you'll vote for the first time in the upcoming election."
"Gee, dad, I can't wait to do my civic duty. How do you suggest I prepare?"
"Well, son, a good place to start is to re-read the American Constitution to understand the basic principles upon which our country was founded."
"It's been a while since I read it in school, dad."
"Son, the Constitution is the highest law of the land. All new laws in our country originate from it or should. However, not all politicians buy into the Constitution. Some think it is old and outmoded."
"The Constitution establishes a framework for how our government functions. It establishes a system of checks and balances, so that none of our three branches of government ---- the legislative, executive and judicial ---- can become too powerful. Some politicians hate having such limitations placed upon them, however. They want to do as they please with the taxpayers' money or impose laws on citizens without following the constitutional process. So you'll want to know their position on the Constitution before you vote."
"OK, dad, I'll re-read the Constitution and be sure to research what each candidate thinks about it. What else should I do before I vote?"
"You'll also want to study the Bill of Rights, son. The bill represents 10 amendments to the Constitution designed to protect the civil liberties of individuals. For instance, the First Amendment protects the freedom of speech, religion, assembly, the right to petition the government and freedom of the press."
"I remember learning in civics class that a free, objective press is essential to the survival of our republic."
"Which is a worrisome thing, son, when you see how in the tank the major media are for one presidential candidate over the other. You'll also want to read the 17 other amendments. The 16th Amendment, for instance, was passed into law in 1913. It created the federal income tax."
"I'm already very familiar with that painful amendment, dad. What else can I do?"
"Well, son, it's important to study the issues. There's lots of disagreement in America and how to move the country forward. Some people think our government is too big and isn't following the limited-government spirit of our Constitution. However, other people think the government should double down and spend lots more."
"Yes, some people think 'the rich' aren't paying their fair share. They think we can impose massive tax increases on them and redistribute the money to others who don't have as much. But others think that would create a huge negative economic backlash that would end up hurting everyone, in particular the poorest among us."
"So you want me to study the political promises each candidate makes and then vote for the best person, dad?"
"Yes, son, but that takes time and effort and too few voters are willing to do any due diligence on the candidates. Since many people get their information from the mass media, candidates who raise the most money to pay for the most negative advertising are often able to sway poorly informed voters."
"That's disturbing, dad."
"It surely is, son. A thoughtful, well-informed public is the heart and soul of a thriving republic. In my opinion, the candidates who best embrace our country's founding principles will be best able to tackle the incredible challenges we face ---- debt, spending, government bureaucracy, a flat economy. Regrettably, however, few people think as I do."
"Maybe so, dad, but you offer sound advice. I promise to be as well-informed as I can before I pull a voting lever on Election Day."
Tom Purcell, author of "Misadventures of a 1970's Childhood" and "Wicked Is the Whiskey," a Sean McClanahan mystery novel, both available at Amazon.com, is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist and is nationally syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc.