The racket of the current ad exchanges is deafening, and the campaigns of both Travis Childers and Alan Nunnelee are using the same playbook:
1) Hit hard and often.
2) Tear down your opponent and distort his record.
3) Call him a liar when he hits back and does the same.
We’ve got another 51⁄2 weeks of this before the election, and it’s only going to get worse. Both camps have huge bundles to spend, so there will be no letup in the ad barrage.
We should have expected this, of course. Truth, context and civility in political campaigns is such a foreign concept today as to be a quaint idea. And this is a swing district, one that both parties are fiercely contending for and cannot be fully successful without.
Still, the fact that the two candidates are in real life decent, honorable men makes the campaign’s descent into what today is the prevailing political tenor a great disappointment.
Contemporary politics and political campaigns unfortunately – or perhaps fortunately, as the case may be – are not real life. They bear no resemblance to it. They are money-laden forays into fantasyland.
In searching for a way to describe the back and forth of this campaign’s ads and daily e-mail blitzes which we in the media see, one word comes to mind: childish. It’s all like one big schoolyard spat – with about as much illumination for the voters trying to figure things out.
Thomas Friedman, author of the seminal 2005 book “The World is Flat,” which traced the technology-driven emergence in Asia of a new class of American economic challengers, laments in a recent New York Times column the fact that politicians are unwilling to ask the American people to be adults – that is, to sacrifice or delay gratification in any way.
Friedman quotes David Rothkopf, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment, that the debate between the two parties these days is “about assigning blame more than assuming responsibility. It’s a contest to see who can give away more at precisely the time they should be asking more of the American people.”
Friedman goes so far as to attribute this to a change in values that cuts across the political spectrum – from the sacrificial ethos of the “Greatest Generation” to a give-me-mine mentality among Baby Boomers.
“All solutions must be painless,” Friedman writes of our current political climate. “Which drug would you like? A stimulus from Democrats or a tax cut from Republicans? ...
“Rothkopf and I agreed we would get excited about U.S. politics,” he writes, “when our national debate is between Democrats and Republicans who start by acknowledging that we can’t cut deficits without both tax increases and spending cuts – and debate which ones and when – who acknowledge that we can’t compete unless we demand more of our students – and then debate longer school days versus school years – who acknowledge that bad parents who don’t read to their kids and indulge them with video games are as responsible for poor test scores as bad teachers – and debate what to do about that.”
Instead, we operate in a political world in which nothing is asked of anyone save a consuming concern for immediate self-interest, where tax cuts and spending cuts can go hand-in-hand with untouched preservation of favored and hugely expensive entitlement programs, and where anyone in or running for office who dares broach the idea of giving up something in order to keep the nation from bankruptcy will be savaged by the political opposition.
Ultimately, this environment and the type of tawdry campaigns it produces says as much about us as it does about the politicians. After all, they’re saying what we’ve signaled to them we want to hear. These days, we don’t want to hear anything about what we can do for our country – at least anything beyond platitudes.
The flat world out there has a different attitude, Friedman notes – an attitude of hard work and sacrifice. That’s why they’re gaining economically and educationally on us, and why they’re set to pass us by.
These are times that call for transformational political leadership. Instead we get playground brawls.
Lloyd Gray is executive editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at (662) 678-1579 or firstname.lastname@example.org.