Stop Rewarding Negativity
August 1, 2018 | View PDF
As the 2018 primary season thankfully ends, King Solomon’s lament in Ecclesiastes 1:9, “So there is nothing new under the sun,” might well be applied to Alabama politics, with the “nothing new” being the absolute viciousness of campaign politics. I think after each election that it can’t possibly get any worse, yet I’m proven wrong each cycle.
Worse is the fact that this latest nasty war of words was waged amongst those who ran under the same political banner.
The next time you question why we can’t find new faces or good people to run for office, remember this 2018 Republican primary season. I no longer wonder why people don’t subject themselves and their families to the political candidate process; in fact, I marvel that any have the courage and stamina to endure the constant attacks that are more personality than issue-driven, and grieve for what their spouses and children witness in campaign fliers and media ads.
Have you ever taken an unflattering photo? I’ll one hundred-percent guarantee that it will be dredged up from cyberspace and plastered across a political mailer for delivery to every mail box in your district. And that’s just the beginning as a candidate’s spoken or written words can be taken out of context and manipulated to make the most negative impression possible on voters, particularly in those critical final days before an election.
It’s the bloodbath of politics and has become the status quo because the political consultants have seen that negative attack ads are effective. And I’m afraid that effectiveness unfortunately says as much about our culture as it does those who convince political candidates to utilize them.
If negative campaigning is effective, is it because we have become so conditioned to destructive politics that we base our decisions on the mudslinging, accepting as truth whatever is printed or spoken across the airwaves, especially if it is portrayed as scandalous? Of all the negative attacks during this Republican primary runoff, and there were numerous from which to choose, one of the most offensive and disgusting had to be the political mugging of Agriculture Commissioner candidate Rick Pate. If a candidate, in this case State Sen. Gerald Dial, is unable to adequately convey his own qualifications for office without resorting to the public exposure of his opponent’s divorce filings of over 30 years ago, that candidate doesn’t need or deserve to be in any political office where he would wield enormous political power over others.
The attacks don’t have to be complete truth – a sliver of truth is too often exaggerated into a full-blown misapplied assault and is unfortunately at times all it takes to sway a voter – and the political consultants know it. Add the hypocrisy of some of these negative strikes, much of it revealed after the election as in the Las Vegas gambling-money funding of the last-minute Judge Roy Moore endorsement ad for Troy King, and no wonder most voters don’t even care to participate in the process.
I understand the trap – no one enters a political race with the intent of losing, and consultants are hired to win elections. But it’s the win-at-all-cost, sell-your-soul mentality with which I take issue, particularly when almost every piece of campaign literature espouses a candidate’s Christian values that supposedly define them. Perhaps it’s the campaign consultants pushing hard to go negative against an opponent, but responsibility for the decision ultimately falls on the candidate, and too few seem willing to risk losing an election for the sake of civility. I can’t tell you how many times Matthew 7:20 came to mind during this primary season: “Therefore by their fruits you will know them.” If a candidate wants to prove their character and integrity to me, they can start with conducting a campaign that rises above petty or vicious attacks on their opponent.
A conversation with a friend pertaining to the runoff election choices echoed my disgust with this primary season as she shared that her husband might not even vote in the runoff, and this is a man who always exercises his constitutional right to be heard. He asked her, “When was the last time we actually voted FOR someone instead of AGAINST someone else? And does it really matter? Nothing seems to change.”
To a certain extent, I agree with her husband as I find myself voting far too many times for “the lesser of two evils” and can only recall a handful of times in which I was enthusiastically voting for someone. And while it’s easy to say that nothing changes, the result of this runoff in at least the Agriculture Commissioner race gives me a sliver of hope that voters have had enough of the nastiness. Remember, it’s ultimately up to voters to restore civility in elections – if we truly detest negative campaigning, we can send our own message by rejecting those who participate in the tactics we all allegedly bemoan.