Politics has long been a contentious activity in America and every other democracy. Opposing sides, fervent in their desire for victory, endeavor to sell their stances, visions and goals to the electorate. Often the candidates talk about their beliefs and experience. But more often, these days, they address the beliefs and experience of their opponents.
The depictions of their opponents are never flattering. They call one another liars. The goal no longer is to defeat the opposing candidate on the issues. The goal seems to be to crush the other … to portray him or her as despicable. Small-town America, up to now, has escaped the offensive tendencies displayed on the larger stage. But this political season seems to be more corrosive than usual.
The corrupting influence of virtually unlimited money has changed politics for the worse. Billionaires, from the left and the right, now pour millions of dollars into causes and candidates in Maine. Nationally, Democrats and Republicans have raised more than $1 billion in contributions for this year’s congressional and legislative elections. In Maine, $7 million has flowed into the state from outside our borders for the governor’s race, with several million dollars more being spent on negative campaigning for the Second District House race. Couldn’t these vast sums of money be used for more positive messages to voters rather than on ads that assault and then insult our intelligence?
This year’s campaigning has reached annoying new lows locally that match the mischief on the national scene. Though the local candidates themselves have been reasonable, respectful and courteous, their respective state and national headquarters have been anything but. Large flyers shouting negative slogans and adjectives fill mailboxes. Robo-calling requests for financial contributions make answering your phone hazardous duty. Oppositional research background checks unearth old data on candidates that have little if any relevance to who those candidates are today. These tactics shower us all with mud.
Campaign organizers claim negative advertising and messaging works, steering ill-informed voters to or away from candidates. The two parties — and their money machines — are each in a race to the bottom of a cesspool where nothing good occurs. Is this really what voters want or deserve?
Many candidates, maybe most candidates, are well-intentioned citizens looking to serve or, less idealistically, advance an agenda. Yet who recognizes the people portrayed in the unflattering characterizations displayed in the unending stream of negative ads? These abhorrent creatures can’t possibly have mothers who love them.
Ben Franklin said that an educated citizenry is essential to our republic. Voters must decry the morally bankrupt negative campaigning that attacks us, seek accurate data and make informed choices at the polls. We must also expect our elected leaders — from both sides — to forcefully denounce the debasement of what was once an energizing contest. We are ill-served by the current path.
Step 1? Call for an end to hate campaigns and a return to civility. Party members are being badly served by distorting campaigns that threaten to reshape politics and make ugly a process that is supposed to be exhilarating.