Demise of Politics or Politics on Steroids?

The gloves are coming off in the political battle between Republicans and Democrats.

The word “politics” now comes covered in green slime, piling on with every evil word, contradictory statement (previously called “a lie”), and rolled eye at an opponent. The sense of political life as a profession has been on a steep decline for several years, but now politics appears to be on a downward roller coaster ride headed for a brick wall. No political party appears to get a pass on this. It’s the last thing you would recommend as a calling for a son or daughter. ”Why get caught up in all that? You could ruin your reputation.” 

Complicates life for a sincere candidate who wants to represent the concerns of the people in their district or state. And even harder for someone who doesn’t want to be lumped with the “in-it-for-me” candidates. No doubt many of those entering political races in the past were required to have an out-sized ego in order to overcome the jabs and barbs anticipated in modern politics. Unless a candidate has gobs and gobs of personal funds that they’re willing and able to throw into the contest to purchase advertising—digital and broadcast—they’ll be spending hours and hours cozying up to wealthy people they don’t know (and might not care to otherwise).  

In 2012 Each Senate Candidate Spent $410,476,451

An average Senate candidate in 2012 (last figures available from Maplight) spent $10,476,451—that’s per candidate—one-third of the Senate are elected each year. That comes to a continuous fund-raising of $14,351 per day.  The most expensive Senate race in 2012 belonged to Senator Elizabeth Warren, who spent $42 million to defeat Scott Brown in Massachusetts.  Congress and statehouse elections cost $6.3 billion in 2012, according to Maplight.

Prior to that election, in 2010, the Supreme Court voted to complicate political spending, agreeing to allow U.S. corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money in elections. This would not be the first time that “unlimited money” would create chaos in any American system. With money comes influence, an influence John Q. Citizen cannot match. Decision making begins to float away from “the people” as in “government of the people, by the people for the people,” as defined by Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address as he worked to pull a nation back together. 

Thirty-five years ago, I left my role as a Senate aide and never looked back, though I continued to work in communications in DC until 2014. When I moved to Texas, truth be told, I didn’t mention working in DC, fearing what expletives or disparaging words I might hear from people across the table. Prior to working on the Hill, I’d worked as a reporter, if not a noble profession, then not something we’d hide from the neighbors and whisper to the kids. No one picked apart our stories (except maybe an editor) or called us out as “crooked” or “liars.” When a journalist’s story came into question, it was judged individually on its own merits or demerits. One journalist does not make up the press gallery, but then we knew calling out the entire press corps and questioning the viability of every story left the public without a counterbalance to politicians’ statements. Something a free nation depends upon.   

Checks and Balances Worked in the Past

When we’ve had a wily President in the past, say Nixon, the media-government contest got heated in the lead up to the Pentagon Papers release and Watergate, but the stories came out and the public had an opportunity to make their own decisions. It didn’t devolve into a he-said-she-said contest that passes for fast-paced political coverage these days.   

Congress, America’s chief political body, has been on slow-go because of the split between the Democratic House and the Republican Senate nearly since the inauguration in 2017. But now as both political parties throw venom, the question will be whether or not the States follow their example or work to serve their own constituents throughout what promises to be a nasty 15 months until the November 2020 elections.  

Decisions about the future of American Politics depend as much on us as on the politicians themselves. What will voters be willing to accept from their leaders?  Will we work in our individual states, attempting to ignore the shenanigans, working to solve the issues at home, waiting for a more productive future? Will we fall into the trap of divisiveness? What will be required of the media in order to restore their role as the Fourth Estate, necessary for an informed public?  As others have said, it will be a bumpy ride, but it will be up to us to create America’s political life and determine if we can melt the slime to show its value when politics is not played like a blood sport. 

Stayed tune next week for a discussion of   How Politics Could Change (for the Better)

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