This Campaign Goes To …

This year’s election is in 16 days, and it honestly cannot come soon enough. I say this not in a “Woohoo! Can’t wait to see the House flip!” or in an “Ah ha! Can’t wait to see the Dems pull off a surprise!” way; I say this as an exhausted voter, and someone genuinely concerned for the future of our democratic system.

I live in the 7th Congressional District, and daily I consider whether or not I should drag a wheelbarrow up to the curb just to haul down the mountain of flyers and pamphlets that are testing the soldered joints of my metal mailbox along with my fortitude to digest negativity.

I am not naive about how campaigns work. I’ve run more than a handful and used to make a living overseeing political direct mail. I know how the game works, but it feels like living in the scene from “This is Spinal Tap,” in which Nigel Tufnel explains that his amp goes to eleven instead of the standardized ten. To which Marty DiBergi asks, “Why don’t you just make ten louder?” Because, our politics now go to eleven.

Maybe it’s that we’re finally coming out of the pandemic. Maybe it’s the ever-increasing polarization. Maybe it’s that I’m now a spectator in the stands and not a player on the field. Or maybe I’m just getting older. But it feels like there should be a better way to run a democratic republic. Or maybe not.

In 1800, on behalf of Thomas Jefferson, the Richmond Examiner called John Adams a “hideous hermaphrodital (sic) character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” John Quincy Adams accused Andrew Jackson’s wife, Rachel, of being a bigamist, and James Blaine claimed Grover Cleavland had fathered an
illegitimate child.

More recently, in 1946, when JFK was running for Congress against Joe Russo, Kennedy’s father allegedly bribed another Joseph Russo, a 27-year-old custodian with no political experience, to run in the primary to split the Italian vote. Just four years ago, New York Rep. Lee Zeldin sent a targeted mailer that listed November 6th as the deadline for absentee votes when the deadline was actually November 5th. One could claim it was a mistake, except that he’d done the same thing two years earlier.

All this is to say that ugly campaigns are nothing new. Nonetheless, I again have to ask if this is the best way to pick our leaders.

It’s not just the negativity but the total lack of substantive debate. Two debates were planned for the 7th Congressional District: Vega pulled out of one, and Spanberger pulled out of the other.

Unfortunately, all that leaves voters with is 30-second sound bites and mail that is more Photoshop sleight of hand to make one candidate look ugly and the other look pretty than issues affecting your average Mom and Pop. The main point for debate seems to be rooted in power and control, as in who will wield the power of controlling the House of Representatives.

The problem is that that debate is about which group of elites we are going to give power to and not about what direction we want to move the country.

One could counter that picking the party to be in charge is equivalent to selecting the direction of the country, but lately, it seems like power is sought simply for power’s sake and not to use it for anything productive. Parties flip-flop on issues depending on their position of power instead of on core moral beliefs. Just look at the long will-they-won’t-they debate on getting rid of filibusters or the denouncements of Presidential executive orders.

Reagan called the Soviet Union an “evil empire” and the “focus of evil in the modern world,” but now Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene is praising Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

In 2016, Republicans wouldn’t vote on Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court nomination in an election year, but in 2020 they had no issue voting on Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination.

In 2014, Vice President Joe Biden called ID requirements at the polls “an attempt to repress minority voting masquerading as an attempt to end corruption.” However, when Sen. Joe Manchin included it in last year’s voting rights bill compromise, the bill was praised by everyone from Barack Obama to Stacey Abrams.

During the summer of 2020, many Democrats supported the poorly named “Defund the Police” movement, and then in 2021, passed the ironically named “Fund the Police Act of 2021.”

The truth is that which way the wind blows depends on who is holding the fan.

So where does that leave voters? Speaking for myself, it leaves me exhausted and without a lot of confidence about the direction of the country, no matter who wins on November 8th. Our country’s problems are more substantive than our current crop of candidates seems willing to tackle.

How do we undertake building back trust in our system? How do we move past name-calling and actually lay out plans of action? How do we fix the divide within this country? How do we fix anything if we are stuck in an M.C. Escheresque’s world where we keep climbing stairs but
never progress?

We would all do well to heed the words of Abraham Lincoln: “If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher.” It feels like we’ve picked up the quill and are starting to write.

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