Friday, February 22, 2008

The Politics of Nasty

[Welcome to "" readers! My appreciation to Care2 for quoting from this post. - Woody]

One of the basic premises of politics is the need to discredit one's foe in order to further your own agenda. This has been true since George Washington announced that he would relinquish his presidency. This simple act not only established the precedent that would enable our republican form of government to thrive, but also created the politics of nasty. Once it became clear that two or more opposing points of view would have the opportunity to attain this high office, the nastiness began. Oh, it sounded much more civilized two hundred years ago, but it could get nasty enough all the same.

To think that your side isn't as nasty as the other guy's side ("side" = "poliical party of choice") is just plain naive. Every candidate pledges initially to run a clean campaign; no dirty tricks, no negative campaigning, no torpedoing the other guy's boat! In reality, from the moment they first begin exploring the possibility of even running they are putting together reams of information about their opponents — real and potential — so they can find and exploit their weaknesses.

Of especial interest to candidates and their staffs are those items that make it appear that an opponent in fact acts contrary to their stated position on any given topic. Hence the furor over McCain's apparent lack of ethical behavior in his relationship (whatever form that relationship may or may not have taken) with a D.C. lobbyist. McCain has presented himself as a fierce proponent of ethics in Washington. This means that any situation that even has the appearance of a conflict of interest is going to be exploited hard and fast. In fact, the only surprising thing about the NY Times' report is that it waited so long to publish. This, in turn, smacks of "questionable timing," and merely perpetuates the politics of nasty. (Read, by the way, this piece in regarding McCain's masterful handling of this drive-by politicking. McCain knows how this game is played.)

This is the part of the political game that only the masochistic enjoy. For all the theatrics of campaign managers and spokespersons who loudly decry such "underhanded tactics" and "smear campaigns," this is exactly the sort of thing for which they live. To them it's a tonic; the soothing rhythm of a political machine running on all cylinders. Do you think for a moment that McCain's handlers are losing sleep over this issue? If they are, it's only because they thrive on living on the edge 24x7, and the act of alternately creating or reacting to malicious politicking is what they eat at every meal. This is their breath of life. They would mount and frame their ulcers, if they could.

The only reason that similar dirt hasn't been flung at Obama or Clinton from McCain's side (I'm not talking about frivilous comments about Obama's lack of substance or past drug use, or Clinton's dangerous positions on the issues; I'm talking about hit pieces like the NYT article) so far is that we're probably waiting for the dust to settle when the Democrats are through cutting each other to shreds. Let them do the heavy lifting until one or the other drops out. Then go after them. This would be a logical strategy for McCain and his camp to follow, in my mind. But mark my words: the moment it becomes clear exactly who it is that will face McCain in November, the nastiness will appear.

Thus it becomes the burden of every voter in America to find enough truth in every story to be able to make an intelligent choice at the ballot box. Did McCain have an inappropriate (either politically or morally) relationship with a lobbyist? No idea. Can't really trust the Times if I believe (as I do) that they are nothing more than a liberal shill. Some papers wouldn't even pick up the story, with one editor in Seattle calling it "thin beer."

Likewise, I'm never sure what to believe about the Democrats. My opinions of Hillary were formed many years ago during her husband's facetious presidency, and those opinions — right or wrong — are not kind. I don't know Obama yet, except to understand that his positions on most of my key issues (border control, immigration policy, abortion, same-sex marriage, probable Supreme Court appointments) are unacceptable to me. As an individual he may very well be as charismatic and "hopeful" as his supporters claim him to be. Charisma and hope are not what I'm voting for in this election.

Don't get me wrong. It's a good thing to hope. But hope has to be tempered by reality, and the realities of today's world call for far more than just hope. A firm commitment to defend this nation against any and all comers is mandatory. A firm plan to improve the economy without increasing a normal citizen's tax burden (preferably by reducing government interference) is most desirable. Improving health care choices without socializing our medical profession is what I want. Using tax payer money to support those who refuse to reasonably assimilate into our society and pay their fair share of that tax burden is out of the question. Unequivocal support for the traditional family unit is an absolute. Those are my benchmarks. When I measure the three currently viable candidates for the presidency, McCain comes the closest. He's nowhere near perfect, but he's closer to the mark than either of the Democrats.

So that's my personal formula for dealing with the politics of nasty. Ignore (or sneer at) the hype, measure the candidates, vote for the one that comes closest to the mark. The politics of nasty is all about inflating our normal emotional responses to any given candidate. In some cases, as with Obama, those emotions may carry one away into a swooning fit. (Note: Woody would not swoon. Not for Obama. Not for McCain. Not even for Romney. I reserve my swooning, such as it is, for Mrs. Woody.) The NYT piece on McCain was a calculated move to inflame emotions against the candidate, and it will have worked for many who read it.

The rest of us have already tuned it out and are waiting for this long national nightmare to be over.

UPDATE: I gotta be careful when writing from memory. The quote from the Seattle editor was "thin beer," not "weak beer." The Woundup apologizes for Woody's random neural firings and has corrected the quote.

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