Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Asking For The Politics You Want

Sometimes I hear people say that we voters are sick to death of negative political campaigns, the relentless personal attacks in place of reasoned debates about policy.

Some doubt that there are many policy wonks among us voters, and some think the majority of us are downright stupid and need to be lead by beneficent elites. Some, however, think that the public will develop an appetite for public business and policy when explained in an intelligent layman's terms. (By the way: republican democracy has no hope without a commitment to universal public education.)


If there are a number of us voters who are sick of personal attacks being the norm in an election campaign, suppose we started to revolt a bit? Suppose we started asking campaign managers and candidates themselves, consistently and repeatedly, on the phone and by email and fax and at public events, of all political parties, to knock it off and get back to solutions?

Like this email I sent to one of my district's Congressional candidates:

Dear Mr. Pearce, and perhaps also to Jason,

As you and Congressman Teague work out the number and format of your campaign debates, I wonder if you would consider keeping a civil tone at all times. I am asking this in response to quotes like this one:

"This is typical Harry Teague – afraid to speak to voters in an open forum. He proposes debates on narrow subjects so his staff can write answers.” That was Jason Heffley talking to the press and slighting the honor and character of the Congressman.

I'm a voter in Deming. I'm not an enthusiastic fan of Harry, but he has made frequent visits to Deming, holing up at the LaFonda restaurant over on Pine Street so that anyone can come and talk to him. Please consider this open season on Harry's initiatives and favored policies, but going at his character like this is just ugly. I'm asking you to please model a more professional and civil tone as you pursue this campaign. Thanks.

The campaign manager actually wrote back to me an hour later, saying (and I paraphrase) it's not us, it's the other guy who's doing it. In reply, I told him that I teach at an elementary school and I hear that kind of defense every day.

An occasional message like this won't make any difference. But with a consistent and long-term campaign to respond and reject this kind of politics, it begins to send a message. And there's an event stronger message some of us could send: "This donation would have been twice the amount, if you would simply refrain from attacking your opponent's character." Another version: "I cannot donate to a campaign that insists on negative mudslinging. If you change your tone, I will reconsider." When it gets tied to fundraising, the message is harder to ignore.

Just a thought. Good morning.


Kelly said...

Often on the higher level (National, in particular) their "war chests" are such that a threat of no donations from a bit player like myself wouldn't carry much weight.

I loved your reply about hearing that defense every day!

Algernon said...

It would require a lot of people. A lot of them. And a consistent effort. If we want to do it, we can. It we don't want it that badly, we won't.