Make elections about ideas, not attacks
Game on. It looks as if it’s Hillary and Bernie versus the pack for now.
Out of the gate announced and presumed Republican candidates are spending more time trashing “Granny” than laying out specifics about their potential presidencies. One wonders what they’ll propose now that repealing the Affordable Care Act has lost its luster, the economy has steadily recovered under President Obama’s stewardship, and the deficit is becoming manageable.
Maybe they’ll suggest a new war, an Iraq War redux. Or perhaps they’ll stick their toes in liberal waters by giving a wink and a nod to same-sex marriages or by becoming Johnny-come-lately’s to the Occupy Wall St. movement and decry the increasing wage and wealth gap.
Or they’ll propose cleaning up the electoral system by getting the obscene amounts of cash out beginning by requiring those funding secret political action committees to publicly and proudly proclaim their civic contributions. It does seem cheeky, after all, that donors to the respective parties must provide personal information, but “dark money” sources skate unanimously.
George Wallace once famously lambasted the 1960s Democratic and Republican parties as not having a “dime’s worth of difference between them.” I’m not sure what a 1960’s dime is worth today—$1.00?—but noxious George, who to his credit cleaned up his shtick after an assassination attempt left him confined to a wheelchair, would be able to make the same comment about today’s Republican field. By spending time trashing an opposition candidate whom at this point they can only hope to run against, they’re cheating us out of knowing the specifics of where they stand on the complex issues in front of us.
Accordingly, there’s not a dime’s worth of difference, in 2015 dollars, between them.
Watching their antics along with those of the vehement right brings to mind the 1957 classic drama “Twelve Angry Men.” In the story 12 white men must decide the fate of a young Hispanic male accused of killing his father. Only in this case Hillary is not accused of literal murder just of being a power-grubbing Clinton, a liberal, and (unspoken) a brazen woman who has refused to “know her place” and dares to smash the ultimate glass ceiling by becoming the Commander-in-Chief and President of the United States.
Rather than taking the opportunity to distinguish themselves among their brethren, Republican candidates’ strategies consist of throwing a goulash of accusations against the wall to see if anything sticks.
I’ve been spending time scoping out an online group called No Labels. I’ve found it not to be some pie-in-the-sky dreamers who blissfully wish to somehow do away with our adversarial political system, but a pragmatic coterie of citizens striving to end the Washington dysfunction.
“No Labels,” its website states, “understands there are real philosophical differences between Democrats and Republicans that can’t be papered over with nice words about civility.”
In addition, No Labels “doesn’t expect people to shed their identity” or “to check principles or priorities at the door.” Instead, its “politics of problem solving begins with a willingness to sit down with anyone – conservative, liberal or anyone in between – so long as they are willing to work with you to find solutions.
“It’s about recognizing that having principled and deeply-held political beliefs doesn’t require an all-or-nothing approach to governance.”
Ironically, that in itself—a problem-solving approach to government—presents a problem. Many on the right adhere to a fundamentalist approach to Reaganism. Ronald Reagan held the scariest words one can hear are “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” Those fundamentalist Reaganites see the idea of functional government as anathema. They’re more interested in “drowning” government rather than making it work.
Coming together in a spirit of compromise assumes problem solving is in the best interests of all citizens, not just those with the fattest accounts who bankroll politicos’ campaigns, directly or indirectly through dark money.
The question before us as we anticipate—brace ourselves for—the 2016 presidential race is whether we will demand debate based on issues or will we settle for a campaign of ad hominem attacks, which Merriam-Webster defines as “marked by or being an attack on an opponent’s character rather than by an answer to the contentions made.”
If we’re to move pass acrimony and to a problem-solving approach to governance, the debate must be about issues, programs and credentials, not the crapola being spun thus far.