Last night I watched the mud-slinging at the Republican Presidential Debate in Florida. Mitt Romney who lost big in South Carolina decided to take it to Newt Gingrich. Mitt remarked that he had to go negative because he had been so beaten up by Super Pacs supportive of Gingrich.
For his part, Newt Gingrich who is up in the polls, had gone negative because it works, having been the victim of Romney’s Super Pacs in Iowa. Which is all to say that this is going to be a very long and negative campaign season. We can only imagine what it will be like when we move into the general election.
Here in Oregon’s Willamette Valley we know this negative approach all to well. In the final days of a special congressional election, both the Democrat and Republican and the Super Pacs that support them (courtesy of a ruling by the Supreme Court) have spent millions on negative ads.
These politicians get down in the mud because history shows that it works. Of course, this isn’t new. Currently I’m reading the book American Sphinx by Joseph J. Ellis. The book is a study on the character of Thomas Jefferson. Ellis describes the politics when Jefferson ran against John Adams. Both candidates used proxys who saw their opponents personal lives as fair game. Rumors were as good as facts in making accusations. Thomas Jefferson was accused of having an affair with his slave Sally Hemings. John Adams was accused of being mentally unbalanced.
The hopeful part in reminding us of this, is that somehow our democracy survives and on occasion, even thrives. Despite our propensity to throw the mud, enough good people are still willing to run to serve the common good.
When we are at our best as a nation we remember it is not about me and mine but about yours, mine and ours. It’s about seeking a way forward whatever the issues of a given time, so that the most benefit. Such a vision helped our nation over come the Great Depression, get through the trauma of war, move beyond segregation and the list goes on.
Right now we don’t see many signs of our coming together as a nation. But our history tells us that over the long haul, we have found a way to work together, to stand together, to be one people.
This political season we can’t control what the politicians or their Super Pacs say and do. But we can choose to filter out the propaganda guided by this principle: “Tell us why we should vote for you, not what’s wrong with your opponent.”*
*Quote by William Ruckelshaus, former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, on what politicians need to do to restore faith in government office (Seattle Times, December 30, 2011)