It was just after the dawn of man, when cave wall drawings were the newspapers of the day. The wall-painter for one particular cave, a man whose name happened to be “Unnh,” was working on a picture of last week’s big bison hunt when “Oomph,” the cave leader happened by. “Unnh,” Oomph said, “I’d appreciate it if you could see your way clear to painting Gruh, my challenger for leadership of the cave, just a little shorter and rounder in the middle than you’ve got him here.”
I’m taking certain liberties in translation, of course. What Oomph really said was a series of grunts punctuated by the syllable “fat.”
“Also,” Oomph said to Unnh, “if you could depict Gruh running away from the bison while I single-handedly save his life, that would be swell. Thanks!”
Thus, modern politics was born.
It hasn’t changed all that much since.
Politicians have spent virtually every election cycle since Oomph’s fake news offensive against Gruh saying derogatory and demeaning things about those in the opposition party. But just recently, there’s been a turn for the worse. Those who play politics today (the candidates and a growing number of their backers) no longer limit their ad hominem attacks to their opponents.
The insidious chipping away at dignity and decorum has reached all levels of government. At the state level, a group called “Club for Growth” (not to be confused with Hair Club for Men, which is something entirely different) announced this week it is launching a campaign targeting former Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam to dissuade voters from considering him as a potential candidate to fill the U.S. Senate seat of the soon-to-retire Lamar Alexander.
There was a time, not so long ago, when most of us in the GOP would have frowned on such public action. During Ronald Reagan’s California gubernatorial campaign in 1965, one of Reagan’s competitors accused the former actor of having been a member of several Communist front organizations.
Yes, somebody accused Ronald Reagan of being a communist.
The state GOP chairman, a fellow named Gaylord Parkinson, told all his candidates, “Thou shalt not speak ill of any Republican.”
Parkinson added, “Henceforth, if any Republican has a grievance against another, that grievance is not to be bared publicly.” Reagan took that philosophy to heart as his 11th Commandment and it stood as a bulwark of the party philosophy for close to 50 years.
Apparently, nobody told the Club for Growth about the 11th Commandment. We’ll see whether they try to paint Haslam, who is worth a cool $2.7 billion according to Forbes, as a communist.
The idea of a primary system is not that members of the same party should tear each other down, or God forbid, hire glibly named political action committees to do it for them. It’s that each candidate should take the opportunity to convince the party’s voters that he (or she) is the best of a group of very good options. The subtle difference of saying, “I’m the best” and not “He’s the worst” is increasingly lost these days.
Please don’t think I’m lamenting this only among my own party. I have a colleague at the office who’s a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat. He was giddy when the blue wave turned out to actually be a real thing as the House of Representatives went his way in November. “Now you’re going to see some things,” he told me.
Yep. I’m seeing his Democrats act as badly toward each other as my Republicans have.
This should be a time when Democrats present a united front, sending a unified message to voters that they can provide stable government with sound judgment and a relative lack of corruption.
Instead, it’s reached the point where The Washington Post just ran a column by Dana Milbank titled, “Only one thing can save Trump now: Democrats.”
Democrats never even got as far as having Reagan’s 11th Commandment. So, instead of showing voters they can be the party of decency and honor, Democrats shout, “We’re going to impeach the (expletive deleted).” And, when the party leaders try to rein in the indignity, Nancy Pelosi gets called a white supremacist (yes, that happened).
At a time when the world is destabilizing around us and we are supposedly making ourselves great again, our leaders are instead continuing to decline in both comportment and integrity.
Both parties are now doing a great job of sending out a strong message to the voters: “We don’t have our act together. We cannot be trusted to govern. Also, please send us more money. That would be swell. Thanks!”