In a Fargo Forum column over the weekend Syed Sajid Ahmad writes about the nastiness of campaign politics.
“Does it make one good by proving that the other is bad?” he asks. “In the political debate, this makes a critical question both for candidates and voters. Voters and the media should demand that candidates prove the robustness and validity of their plans for the country and show their ability to make improvements in the physical and economic welfare of the masses.”
Yes, we should demand that, but we won’t. Because I’m not convinced a majority of the public wants that. Which undermines the central point of Ahmad’s piece:
Rather than addressing the needs of the masses, some candidates go for each other’s throats and display each other’s dirty laundry. Television networks help fuel the fire by digging out dirt from decades past. By attacking each other’s character, candidates display the worth of their own moral standing and their ability to lead when under personal or impersonal attack. The sizzling venoms at the top trickle down to masses, poisoning the whole society.
Is this a trickle-down problem? Or is the venom at the top – the politicians slinging mud and the political press peddling invective – just supply rising to meet demand?
Politicians and pundits are performers, and they tune their performances to provoke specific reactions from the public.
Support this policy.
Oppose that policy.
Vote for me. Pay attention to me. Vote against that guy. Ignore that commentator.
If politicians engage in demagoguery, if they demonize their opponents, it’s because they see it as a means to an end. A means which works because most in the public fall for it. There’s a reason why Senator Heidi Heitkamp has amassed a war chest of millions of dollars of contributions that mostly aren’t for her constituents, and it isn’t so she can articulate a thoughtful argument in favor of her accomplishments in office.
It’s so she can tear challengers to her incumbency to shreds. That’s how she won office in 2012, and that’s how she’ll try to win re-election.
None of that makes Senator Heitkamp unusual in the world of American politics.
The simple truth is that, despite how fashionable it is to gripe about bombastic and venal politicians and the nasty tactics they use, most incumbents get re-elected every election cycle. Because those tactics work on us.
There’s nobody but we voters to blame for that.