Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Why we're in the ditch

By Bill Kraus

The rocky road to political civility has many detours, potholes, and even switchbacks. It may end up being inaccessible. But the voters, who told us that they disliked no fault recalls more than they disliked the governor, may find an unexpected, creative route to civility as well.

The first obstacle is deafness. The Supreme Court which opened the floodgates to third-party campaigners and their money have not noticed the collateral damage to the integrity of campaigns and campaigners and the unfairness of the playing field which their decisions have tilted toward unregulated, undisclosed attack advertising.

The second obstacle is incumbents whose lives are made miserable and expensive by the presence of those third parties and by the unfulfillable need to raise enough money to counter the damage done to them and their campaigns but not miserable enough for them to take advantage of the one remaining weapon they have to defend themselves: full disclosure of who these third parties are and where they get their money to do the awful things they do to the trade and its participants.

It was always this way, some say. It wasn’t. A good, gloves off, no holds barred, ad hominem battle for voters' attention and support is healthy, they say. It isn’t. In the first place it empties the talent pipeline by scaring off the people who political offices need in these complicated, difficult times. There is no second place.

The third obstacle is that as governing has become more complex we have become more sure of everything than we used to be of anything. Fewer and fewer of us are persuadable. More and more of us are looking for someone who will give us what we say we want.

The last obstacle is us or those of us who say we want more civility, more positive campaigns about ideas and solutions, fewer personal attacks, less spending. This is what we say. Those who are shaping the campaigns and the character assassinations don’t believe us.

They say demonization works.

They say that no attack can be left unanswered, that it must be countered with an equal and opposite attack.

They may be right.

What “they” point out is how few of us actually vote and how many of those of us who do are not all that interested in the vague virtues of civility and compromise our protestations to the contrary notwithstanding.

The proof “they” offer is the 18 percent turnout number. For a while I thought that 13 percent of the voters showed up in August to effectively elect a third of the state Legislature and to pick a candidate for the U.S. Senate. Horrifying. Actually the number was 18 percent. Less horrifying, but not much.

Either this proves that talk is cheap and that most voters want the campaigns they are getting, or that the voters who say they don’t want what they are getting are trapped in a world that doesn’t offer what they want.

Some of each.

Is there a turnout rabbit in that hat that produced an anti-recall vote? If so, I don’t know what it is. Until and unless turnouts double and voters are given a chance to vote for what they say they want, money and personal demonization are going to be the two most important criteria determining election strategies and tactics.

Anybody for a low-budget, big issue and idea based campaign that doesn’t feature an opponent's defects and missteps?

I didn’t think so.

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