Democracy, security, and economic freedom are always on Policy Analyst Ana Quintana’s mind. An expert on Latin America, Quintana works at The Heritage Foundation’s Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies. In between writing policy papers, she sat down with JW Magazine to discuss why women need to vote—even if they aren’t thrilled with the candidates. She also tells us why average Americans should consider foreign policy when casting their ballots. Part of our #VoteLikeAGirl series, the following is an edited version of our conversation.
Q: Why do you vote like a girl, by which we really mean, why do you vote?
A: I feel like we all have a duty and an obligation to serve our country in any way that we possibly can, and voting is just one way of doing so. Our elected representatives’ actions and votes directly correlate to the way we live our lives and the quality of our lives and the lives of the people around us. We have a duty to do it. I understand and can empathize with this idea of people feeling powerless and not being able to hold their government officials accountable, but the vote is the best way to do so.
Q: What would you say to those—and young women especially—who aren’t planning to vote in the upcoming election, for whatever reason?
A: I think now more than ever it’s very difficult to like the candidates. Regardless of which side of the aisle politically you’re on, they mirror each other in many ways, so it’s difficult. But we have to remember, presidential elections are not the only elections. You also have down-ballot elections [for congressional, mayoral, and other offices] and we have a lot of important elections coming up, so we have a duty to those as well.
We have to remember the balance of power within our government, right? You have to make sure Congress is stacked in favor of the party that you support to try to get policies passed that you want to see. So while the presidential election might be a little frustrating, let’s look down the ballot and see what other branches of government we can potentially affect.
Q: Do you feel that it’s particularly important to vote in this upcoming election? What’s at stake?
A: I work on foreign policy issues and that’s largely how I see the world. Obviously we see the issues we’re having domestically, but if we look at where the United States stands abroad, a lot of damage has been done in the last seven-and-a-half years. We have the Iran nuclear deal, which has potentially left Iran nuclear capable. We have the new Cuba policy which has reduced our position in the Western Hemisphere, a hemisphere that we largely were the leaders of. Iraq and Afghanistan are both consistently destabilized, as is Libya in North Africa.
There’s a lot that the next president is going to have to rectify. We have to take a look and analyze both candidates and decide: do we want a continuation of the past seven years or do we want somebody who could potentially fix the United States’ position? So that’s why it is important, from a foreign policy perspective, to vote.
Q: Why should average Americans care about those issues?
A: We see what happens when the U.S. abdicates its leadership position. We abdicated it in Syria and Russia has stepped in to fill that vacuum. Within the past few years you’ve seen an imperialistic Russia emerge. Russia took a chunk of Ukraine [in 2014] and a chunk of Georgia in 2008. This is something that Russia is going to continue doing, and that’s just one particular issue.
Why should the average everyday American who’s not working specifically on foreign policy issues care what happens in Iraq? Why should we care what happens in Afghanistan? We have to consider what happens when the United States is not actively involved in securing the stability and security of these countries. If we’re not there, other foreign actors who are potential adversaries of the United States will step in, and they’re the ones who are going to maintain a dominant position. We have to look at the cost of allowing that.
Q: Why is economic freedom an issue that potential voters should care about?
A: We all want to have the opportunity to become something in life and not to be held back by useless government regulations. At Heritage, we publish the Index of Economic Freedom alongside The Wall Street Journal. The index has consistently found a correlation between economic freedom, democracy, and prosperity. Those three things are totally intertwined.
The country of Venezuela is making the news now. Everybody has seen that Venezuela is on a downward spiral, and it’s because of socialist economic policies and government mismanagement. In the past 21 years of being monitored by the index, Venezuela’s score has dropped the lowest. Right now, Venezuela is only doing better than Cuba, Zimbabwe and North Korea. This is a country with the world’s largest oil reserves—more oil than Saudi Arabia—and its economic freedom score has absolutely tanked.
Economic freedom is important, because individual people need to be free to pursue entrepreneurship without being encumbered by the government. Venezuela is the perfect example of what happens to a country’s economy when economic freedom is taken away.
Q: Is there anything you’d like to add that you feel young women voters should really know or be thinking about during these next few weeks and months?
A: People tend to feel that their vote doesn’t matter. They are just so disconnected from what happens in Washington, D.C. that whatever their congressional representative or senator is doing, they think they have absolutely no effect or impact on it. The fact is—and you’ve kind of seen this with the start of the Tea Party—grassroots movements and individuals are powerful. I think that’s what people should really remember. At the end of the day, the government is here to serve you. It’s not the other way around. You really have much more power over your government than you think you do.