Sunday, October 10, 2010

Mudslinging pols are cheapening the process

A friend of mine who has observed the election process up close like I have for many years commented last week that he had never seen the campaigns get as stupid and mean as they are this time around.

I had to agree.

Indeed, the candidates want you to vote for them because all hell would break loose if their opponents somehow got elected.
Pity guys like Republican Tom Ganley, who is running for Congress and who happens to be a very wealthy automobile dealer in Greater Cleveland. His opponent, incumbent Democrat Betty Sutton, would like you to know that Ganley "IS A CROOK!" and has found disgruntled car buyers to prove it. And that's why you should vote for her.

Give me a break.

At least one newspaper in Ohio -- the Plain Dealer -- is cutting through the crap with PolitiFact Ohio, which seeks to sort the truth in candidates' statements and commercials, using a "Truth-O-Meter."

OK, maybe the title's a little lame, but then we're talking about a goofy election. Somehow, it fits.

Both of our 18th Congressional District candidates -- Democrat Zack Space and Republican Bob Gibbs -- have starring "Truth-O-Meter" roles as do many other politicians.

Check out whose pants are on fire.

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Here's the problem with Congress. We generally send good and decent people to its halls (yes, I think Zack Space and John Boccieri are good and decent people). But something happens when they arrive in Washington for the first time after winning elections.

The machine gobbles them up and spits them out. Their first job, the machine says, is to raise money for the next election. And they are told that they need experienced Washington insiders to help run their offices. They are immediately subjected to the pressures of their respected parties. That means if you're a Democrat, you vote the way Nancy Pelosi wants you to. Or President Obama. Or any number of other Democratic power brokers in Washington.

When the young congressman bucks the trend, he is ostracized and threatened by the machine. Maybe with subtlety, maybe not. The pressure is enormous.

Meanwhile, there are constituent issues to deal with and chicken dinners to attend. (And in Zack Space's case, there are 15 counties in the sprawling 18th. How does one man cover a territory the size of a small state without suffering at least a mild case of exhaustion?)

What irks the American people is that most every issue in Congress is defined by partisan politics and that the public good takes a back seat to the political power play.

If they asked, I would advise Space and Boccieri to step away from the machine and if re-election is damned, well, so be it. Both men survived before they served in Congress and they will do so again. The sun will come up.

Should they win re-election this time -- and I think they will by small margins --  they should re-assert themselves as the managers of their offices and campaigns. They need to be in charge, not the machine and not the kids who come knocking for campaign jobs every two years.

Doug Applegate, who held the congressional seat for almost two decades, didn't worry too much about having to attend every chicken dinner in every corner of the district. And he was happy in his non-power role, excelling at helping constituents.

But the citizens and press didn't see him much. And it didn't seem to matter to voters. They elected him nine times.

But let's get back to the election of 2010. Every negative commercial that airs on behalf of sitting members of Congress serves to cheapen their roles and character. And their opponents aren't much better.

Isn't it a shame that we've turned over the election process to political Mad Men, whose strategy is always to beat up the opponent, using half-truths and innuendos?

I feel dirty just talking about it.

* * *
The New York Times has a good story on Nancy Pelosi and her bid to get Democrats re-elected. The Times acknowledges that Pelosi is not very well liked. No kidding.

You can access it here.

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