The political scene has always been a bit trashy. One can look back at the early elections in this country and find numerous examples of name-calling and trash-talking between political candidates. Those candidates could sling mud with the best. But the level of trash-talking seems to be escalating with time and has reached new levels. One must simply adjust and acquiesce — or tear one’s hair out to no purpose. But one must also regret that the level of discourse has dropped so low. At the level of the Presidential race, especially, one would like to think the candidates would be shaping their political agendas and informing the voting public what their plans are for the next four years. Instead we read stories like the following:
WOLFEBORO, N.H. (AP) — President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney have one campaign strategy in common: Each is trying to convince voters that his opponent in the closely contested race for the White House is not trustworthy.. . .
Romney’s campaign said Sunday that Obama is willing to say anything to win a second term and should say he’s sorry for attacking the Republican’s successful career at Bain Capital.
“No, we will not apologize,” the president responded, adding that if Romney wants credit for his business leadership, he also needs to take responsibility. The Obama campaign says that with Romney at the helm, Bain Capital sent thousands of well-paying American jobs to China.
One is reminded of little boys in the school yard after school calling one another names:
“You’re an idiot!”
“Oh Yeah? You’re an idiot!”
“You’re a bigger one!”
“Oh yeah? ”
“Well, I’m rubber and you’re glue. Whatever you say about me bounces off me and sticks to you!” [This, of course is the equivalent of the triple-dog-dare and there is no possible rejoinder. Unfortunately, there is no such response in political exchanges: they can go on forever.]
Such an exchange, however, doesn’t advance the argument much does it? It doesn’t inform of instruct. It just makes noise: sound and fury signifying nothing. I have blogged about “uncivil discourse” back in March, and we expect this from little boys and from people who rely on text messaging. We don’t expect it from grown men and women in the public arena though it seems to be more and more commonplace.
One would hope that elections would bring out the best in people. Instead, they seem to bring out the worst. But we must realize that the level of political discourse that seems to be dropping lower and lower reflects the level of discourse in this society as a whole where vocabularies have shrunk and tired and underpaid teachers seek the latest technical toys to give their entitled and spoiled students what they want rather than what they need. In effect, we are getting what we deserve.
Our attention spans have grown shorter and our lives busier than ever. We are bombarded on every side from morning until night with images and thought bites, most of which we filter out. We have lost the ability to listen and to speak intelligently or write a coherent sentence. We don’t have time to stand in the hot sun for hours as the folks did in Illinois to listen to Honest Abe and his opponents address critical issues of the times. I doubt that we could do it even if we were willing. And clearly we are not willing. As a people we are terribly ignorant of our own history and focused almost exclusively on the economy. As long as we can pay the cable bill and have beer in the ‘fridge we are content. If not, we’ll vote the bums out of office!
If a candidate were to stand up and declare himself or herself for the public good, to address the real issues of the day in no uncertain terms, and to sketch out a viable plan about how those problems might be addressed there would be precious few who would listen. And those who did would doubt: we have become jaded and skeptical of all political promises. And with good reason. But this is not likely to happen anyway. Instead we will get the shouting and name calling. It’s what we have come to expect in politics. And it may very well be just what we deserve.