Just when it seemed political campaigns couldn’t get any worse, a new tactic or theme emerges to make voters even more disgusted. It’s hard to believe that’s possible this year when we’ve seen an ungodly number of ads bombard the airwaves — most of which have been negative, misleading or downright nasty.
Candidates, political parties and political pundits will tell you it’s because “the stakes are high.” I personally believe it’s because candidates care about their political careers, parties care about winning at all costs and political pundits — the media and political consultants — care about ratings and raking in the dough.
Lost in all of this “win at any cost” mentality is what is best for our nation, our state and our citizens.
It’s about getting in power and staying in power. It’s about amassing money, relationships and influence to attain titles and to continue climbing the political ladder. It’s about winning an office only to set your sights on the next higher office.
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What it doesn’t seem to be about is representing those that elect you. And it damn sure isn’t about being honest with voters and truly educating them on the issues. Parties and consultants came to the conclusion that fear is a great motivator and that boring policy discussions don’t win elections.
Color me nostalgic, but I long for the days when running for office was more akin to applying for a job and selling yourself as a capable, ethical, intelligent choice for the job. The goal was to convince voters that you could do the job effectively with their best interests at heart.
Now the goal is to discredit the opponent and make him or her so repugnant to voters that you appear better by comparison.
If you have the misfortune of having a popular opponent — no worries — tie him or her to someone unpopular. President Obama and U.S. Sen. Harry Reid seem to be the GOP’s favorite bogeymen. Democrats don’t employ this strategy as well, but when they attempt to, they point to Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and rogue U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.
If your opponent did a good job — no problem — just make something up. A good scandal is not too hard to manufacture: Change the numbers, blame them for something out of their control — you know, rewrite history.
The TV stations will run the ads as long as you’re laying out the cash. The pesky news media might point out that your ad isn’t factual but who’s listening to them when you have the bucks to run it a thousand times?
If your opponent wants to correct the record, he’s going to have to come up with millions and now you have him on the defensive. Brilliant strategy.
You’re winning! But the voters are losing.
They’re losing out on a meaningful and truthful debate. They’re losing out on the ability to make an informed choice. They’re losing out on the feeling that either candidate cares about them, their families and their futures.
Then they lose their patience and their desire to vote. But hey, that’s OK, too! Low voter turnout is better for your party or candidate. In fact, your strategy may call for suppressing your opponent’s supporters by depressing them with a little trash talking — their candidate has no chance, no money, no ground game, no ideas, and no successes. The old head fake.
Now you have to motivate your supporters to get out to vote and, of course, the best motivator is fear. When it’s harder to scare voters on their pocketbook issues, it’s time to appeal to their basic instincts, their personal safety.
Surely I’m being too cynical. Candidates for office, especially those currently serving in the U.S. Congress, would never resort to scare tactics to advance their political careers at the expense of those they serve or seek to serve.
Unfortunately, it appears nothing is off limits when the race is close and time is running out.
Recently candidates have begun airing ads that seize upon two issues that stoke America’s fears — ISIL and Ebola. Instead of educating voters and trying to allay their fears, they stoke them with scare tactics designed to cast a negative light on their opponent or his or her party. Is winning worth causing a panic?
Any candidate that uses ISIL or Ebola must be truly desperate. They don’t deserve our respect.
My question for any current congressman that would stoop so low to inject this into their campaign: What have you done about either? Oh, that’s right...nothing!
Voters deserve better. If you don’t have something positive to run on, don’t run.
Paula Dockery is a syndicated columnist who served in the Florida Legislature for 16 years as a Republican from Lakeland.