The nastiness of today’s political campaigns serves as an excellent example of how civility and respect have lost their way in our nation. Take, for instance, the past Florida primary races where the negativity sank to new lows. The Miami Herald called the GOP primary for governor a “slugfest” in which the candidates’ negative ads left a bad taste in voters’ mouths and inadvertently raised the prospects of the Democratic candidate winning the governorship.
About the Senate race in that state, an August article by the Associated Press starts out this way: “The level of political discourse in the Democratic Senate primary boils down to: Your celebrity friends are low lifes. Response: So’s your mom.” The article goes on to say that the two Democratic candidates’ positions on the issues that matter were basically the same. How sad that Democratic voters were forced to decide between two adults who act like juveniles in middle school on the campaign trail!
Of course, for this author to continue to single out the Democratic Party over their poor conduct is a bit disingenuous. They did not start the “death panel” nonsense, for example. We all do our credibility and arguments a disservice when we continue to be partisan at a time when both sides of the aisle are mired in name-calling, prevaricating, and pursuits that do not have the interests of the people they represent at heart.
Now, mudslinging in political races is nothing new; people who lament the “increase” in partisanship in Washington forget, or never knew, that Alexander Hamilton was killed in a duel with Aaron Burr over political and personal squabbles. And many presidential historians call the race to the White House of 1800 between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams one of the most deeply partisan campaigns in modern history. Two book titles about the race — America Afire and A Magnificent Catastrophe — remind us that gutterball campaigns are nothing new in America.
But that doesn’t make it right, nor does it mean we should settle for even truthful smear campaigns as the status quo in our election process. No one wants to feel as if they’re voting for the lesser of two evils when they drive to the polls; what’s more, we don’t want people deciding against going to the polls altogether, on account of the perceived worthlessness of the endeavor.
This is one of the reasons the Tea party folks are fed up with Washington; we can all understand that and embrace it, in many respects. Historically, the discontent started during Bill Clinton’s administration, continued full force under George W. Bush, and not surprisingly, is part and parcel of Barack Obama’s presidency now. That’s why I keep a daily blog, The Right Side, in addition to my broadcast work. I write it to help keep our elected officials accountable to “We the People” and not just to themselves. I strive to do this without the name-calling, self-righteousness, and belief that I have a monopoly on the truth. Yet even the Right Side misses the mark from time to time.
Furthermore, when this writer and others castigate the Democrats only, we make it seem like it’s a party problem rather than an endemic aspect of Washington culture. We’re all responsible. Republicans would do well to keep that in mind should they secure the House come November.
Some truths have a practical advantage over other truths, just as some animals have great advantages in nature over others. For example, the barbs the Florida Senate candidates hurled at one another — one about the other’s mom, the other about one’s association with “low-life” celebrities — may be true. But what good have these “truths” done, both to the candidates themselves and to the larger public the candidates aim to serve? Which truths actually matter in a Senate race in which two candidates are vying for the same ideological space in the Senate chamber?
Much of what was said in the Florida race, even if completely true, is utterly irrelevant to the most important question: Which of the two candidates is best qualified for office? Which of the two will best represent his constituents? What’s lost in all the back-and-forth about each other’s mother and whether or not one of them has “shady celebrity friends” is this: Which of the two has the strongest record of public service? Which of the two has proven to be a reliable, honorable official, to the extent that he should be trusted with even greater responsibility by his constituents?
The civic virtue of patriotic bipartisanship has been ignored for years. That’s why we’re in serious trouble. If we are to save “our America,” we must put aside factionalism and first examine ourselves. As political pundits, my colleagues and I should feel an even greater sense of responsibility to elevate our rhetoric and assess political situations in Washington more judiciously. We won’t always get it right, but if the tone in this town is to change, it must begin somewhere. And it might as well begin with me.