Note to candidates: Knock it off

candidatesDear 2014 candidates (and ballot initiative sponsors) trying to win my vote:

If you’ve bought advertising to try to woo me during the final days before election day, you’ve wasted your money. I’m an early voter, and I filled in and mailed my ballot more than a week ago. At least in Arizona, I’m sure that’s true of most thoughtful voters.

At this late date, I assume you’re going for the undecideds, and it looks as though you think the best strategies for reaching them are:

  • Smear your opponent, and make nasty accusations about them that are, at best, attached only to a sliver of truth about them.
  • Use fear to drive voters away from your opponent and into your protecting arms. Both the right and the left love this one. One side drags out the “scourge” of Ebola, the other the elimination of Social Security and Medicare. One side pushes the idea that their opponents will confiscate your guns, the other that their opponents will bring about the death of public education. One side tells us that illegal immigrants will steal our jobs and freeload off America, the other tells us we’ll fall behind the rest of the world if we don’t open our borders to talent from overseas. And on and on.

I can recall precious few ads touting candidates’ accomplishments or their hopes for the direction my state and country should go. When I see an ad like this, I treat it as a breath of fresh air.

I dismiss out of hand any ad sponsored by a group whose money is untraceable. If there’s dark money involved, I assume there are dark motives as well, and I’m not about to listen. I advise my friends (or anyone who will listen, really) to ignore any and all dark money advertising.

I also tell my friends to turn off MSNBC and Fox News. They’re both good at creating an adrenaline rush, but they usually add more smoke than clarity to the issues and candidates of the day.

Instead, I encourage people to read their local, hometown newspaper, and the print version of it at that. By turning the pages of a paper, people typically are exposed to issues and points of view they wouldn’t gravitate to themselves. Also, the stories generally are told by real journalists unearthing real news and committed to telling multiple sides of a story without hype and vitriol.

I make up my mind about you by reading position papers on your websites, not by quick, flyby hits on your opponents. If I get one of your robocalls, I don’t answer. If I pick up by mistake, I hang up immediately. Save your money.

While I’m at it, stop pretending that if you’re elected, you’re singlehandedly going to fix everything that’s wrong with government. If, for example, you’re headed to Washington, you’ll be one of 535 legislators. To accomplish anything of substance, you’ll have to play nice – or at least cut deals – with your fellow legislators and, yes, with the president. If you’re headed to the state capital, you’ll have to play nice – or at least cut deals – with your fellow legislators and the governor.

I’m tired of hearing that government is the enemy, or that government is the be-all and end-all. Sure, government needs to be efficient, but it has a legitimate role in our society, so don’t tell me you want to drown it in a bathtub. We need it:

  • For defense.
  • To rebuild our infrastructure.
  • To create policies that encourage private-sector growth while protecting us from the excesses of business.
  • To create a safety net for our weakest citizens.
  • To set a sane course for us in an increasingly complex world.

I’m looking for pragmatists in government who will stop the bickering, stop the name-calling, stop the gridlock and get something done. I think most Americans want the same thing.

One last thing: I appreciate your running, and I admire your willingness to put up with the crap that accompanies any modern election. I understand that, even if you have no skeletons in your closet, your opposition will manufacture some for you. I also understand it’s not hard to turn molehills into mountains if people aren’t paying attention. So, thanks for running, thanks for putting yourself on the line, but stop playing to fear and our baser natures. If you’re elected, do your best to unite us and make something decent happen.

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4 Responses to Note to candidates: Knock it off

  1. Susan Baerwald says:

    My thoughts exactly – thanks for expressing them so well!

  2. Thomas Penn Johnson says:

    Ditto. Keep writing, Peter.
    [My conservative-radical side is less even-handed than your fair-minded temperament and more proportional in my criticism of one side or the other, for I believe one side is less even-handed and more uncompromising and less loving in its generosity to others. Don’t let them off the hook too easy! —TPJ

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