Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Beware of Politicians Bearing Bromides

We are about to start a ten month sprint to our next national election. Control of the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives is at stake. The results of the election will determine the direction the country takes, or stalemates, in matters of immigration, gun control, climate change, economics, taxation, health care, foreign policy and gender equality.

These issues are big; they are serious. We are all impacted by the outcome of the elections. The positions of competing candidates demand serious consideration. A vote in support for one candidate over another should be cast after a careful weighing of the qualifications and fitness for office of each of the competitors. 

I had planned to write generally about my frustration with the mindless name calling and fear-mongering that passes for electioneering these days. The appeals to our viscera shortcut the ability and willingness to look in depth at the merits of each candidate seeking our support. My need to deal in generalities fell by the wayside when I received a solicitation from Minnesota Eighth Congressional District candidate Stewart Mills.

I have known Stewart Mills for about 20 years. We have mutual friends in the Gull Lake area and have socialized together. He has proven to be a valuable executive with the the Mills family businesses, negating jealous assumptions of nepotistic promotion.  Mr. Mills has been a generous benefactor to local charities, providing support when asked to numerous fundraising ventures. I expect him to be formidable, well-funded candidate as he seeks to wrest the Eighth District seat from Congressman RickNolan and the DFL in November.

It would have been nice to have received campaign literature from Mr. Mills that signaled his intent to run a campaign on legitimate issues. It would have been refreshing to see this newcomer to politics renounce relying on soundbites and half truths to garner support. It would have been nice to see a display of courage evidenced by a discussion of substantive differences in approaches to addressing our nation's ills. Instead, yesterday's opening gambit from the would-be congressman was little more than mindless name calling and fear-mongering.

Consider the claims in Mr. Mills' literature. President Obama is 
  • hostile to small business owners (underlined and in boldfaced)
  • contemptuous of spending restraint
  • obsessed with raising taxes, and
  • hell-bent on a government takeover of health care.
As to Congressman Nolan, the picture is just as frightening and just as short on substance. Congressman Nolan is

  • to the left of President Barack Obama! (underlined and boldfaced)
  • an unapologetic liberal
  • recipient of an F (underlined and boldfaced) rating from the National Rifle Association
  • convinced that President Obama's health care takeover doesn't go far enough, and
  • an advocate of more Big Government stimulus spending despite the fact that the first round was a trillion dollars down the drain.
Congressman Nolan's call for campaign finance reform is referred to as "welfare for politicians!" (underlined and boldfaced). According to Mr. Mills' literature, Congressman Nolan's "biggest gripe" is that "President Obama doesn't go far enough in his Far Left policies!"

You get the idea. The solicitation consists of a four page letter, devoid of substance, but full of references to Reagan Republicans (good), Big Government (bad), repealing Obamacare (good), Nolan's liberalism (bad), Mills' business experience (good), Nolan's business experience (just kidding; not mentioned). Drop me a line and I'll send you the entire diatribe.

As I've said, I've known Stewart Mills for 20 years. But I've known Rick Nolan for nearly 37 years. We were acquaintances when I worked on Capitol Hill in the '70's (he had the better job). We became close friends when we both returned to Minnesota. I've had the honor of offering counsel to him, when asked, in his capacity as a Congressman, as a private citizen and most recently as a candidate. Rick Nolan is one of the most thoughtful, dedicated public servants I have had the pleasure to know. 

He has strived to make good on his 2012 promise to promote the civility in Congress he enjoyed during his first tenure in D.C. His stand on campaign finance, for example, is not a plea for "welfare for politicians". It is the result of his recognition of the very real damage sustained by us all when our elected representatives are expected to spend 36 hours a week fundraising just to meet the threshold of modern day campaign costs. Similarly, he takes President Obama to task for not pushing for a single payer system of health care first proposed by Republican politicians and generally acknowledged as the only way to successfully assure universal coverage. Recognizing that the Affordable Care Act is here to stay, he spends his time trying to fix its ills, not waste time on meaningless repeal votes.

 My point here is not to argue for Congressman Nolan's views over Mr. Mills. That will likely come later. My point is that we should strive to be an educated electorate and demand that our candidates, Republican AND Democrat, rely on more than a series of inflammatory one-liners to earn our support.

Unflattering pictures of a bearded Rick Nolan from the '70's or attacks on his age are no more relevant to the issues in this campaign than complaints about the length of Stewart Mills' hair or his social exploits. When you see a campaign relying on such tactics, or on the scare tactics of Mr. Mills' campaign literature, it is time to stop and ask whether the proponent is so lacking in actual justification for his election that baseless pandering is the central theme of his or her effort.

No differently than any other job interview, a campaign should clearly identify the substance of the office-seeker and why he or she is the best person to fill the position. Few of us would seek employment by merely describing ourselves in platitudes to the interviewer and promising illusory solutions to the challenges posed by the job. A political candidate seeking our support should be held to the same standard we impose upon ourselves.

As we sprint toward November 4, let's take the time to consider the actual merits of each candidate and refuse to accept easy answers and slick campaign promises as substitutes for thoughtful resolve to make a difference in public service.


tom hendrick said...

Hi Sam -

I'm trying to get National Press Club involved in fact checking campaign ads. So far to no avail.

Charles Leck said...

Thanks, Sam. Your wisdom is your great strength. Your sincerity is your shield. Great blog. I wish we could expect such an honest and above-board kind of campaign. Basically, they are a thing of the past and the age of the attack, attack, attack campaign has been born. The voter must work extremely hard to find the truth and sense the realities of the issues.