Politicians must stop with personal attacksBy Andrew Parks | 10/28/2014 9:56pm
To many Americans, “politics” is a dirty word. Many people just don’t have a high opinion of the field or those in it, and they can’t be blamed for it. It seems like every other day we hear media reports about a new scandal, or the latest personal attack mounted by one candidate on another, or some blurb of an elected official using charged rhetoric with no intention other than to energize one voting group and aggravate another.
Take, for instance, the District 13 race for Tennessee House of Representatives, in which Democrat incumbent Gloria Johnson is competing with Republican Eddie Smith. In a blatant attack that strikes close to home for fans of both the University of Tennessee Volunteers and our very own Crimson Tide, Smith saw the third Saturday in October as an excellent opportunity to hand out a flyer which contained the following statement next to pictures of both Johnson and current Alabama Offensive Coordinator Lane Kiffin: “Like Lane Kiffin, who made a lot of big promises to Tennesseans, Gloria Johnson went to Nashville claiming she was going to reform health care and create jobs. And like Lane Kiffin, Gloria Johnson didn’t live up to her word.”
In response, Johnson’s campaign aired a commercial in which she was endorsed by former Volunteers Head Coach Johnny Majors.
Such attacks are not unique to one side of the aisle. Another excellent example comes from my home state of Texas. Wendy Davis, the current Democrat nominee for the 2014 Texas Gubernatorial Election, took a statement made by Republican opponent Greg Abbott out of context implying that Abbott agreed with the state’s ban on interracial marriage, which was struck down alongside similar bans by the Supreme Court in 1967.
Abbott’s campaign responded by pointing out that Abbott himself is currently involved in an interracial marriage; Abbott’s wife of 33 years, Cecilia Abbott, is the grandchild of Mexican immigrants.
Neither the attack launched by Eddie Smith, nor the one levied by Wendy Davis, served any relevant purpose. In the case of Smith, the flyer’s only real purpose was to associate his opponent with a figure hated by many Tennessee fans. Davis’s charge that Greg Abbott may be against interracial marriage, despite the fact that he is in an interracial marriage, served no purpose other than to aggravate voters’ core egalitarian sentiments and unduly paint Abbott as a racist.
Both attacks did nothing to elaborate on a candidate’s platform or credibly level a real charge against either of their opponents. Both spoke more to the character of the people who issued the attacks than to that of their subjects. Indeed, one wonders if people who believe voters are so juvenile as to be swayed by a comparison with an unpopular sports figure or so ignorant as to be won over by a racist allegation in defiance of actual evidence, are actually fit to hold esteemed political office. One further wonders if people who are willing to stoop to such low, personal blows possess the moral capacity necessary to conduct themselves in a manner befitting of the offices they seek.
Most importantly, however, is that both attacks were simply distractions from the core reason we have a body politic at all – the actual issues. When Davis attacked Abbott over a non-issue, Abbott was forced to spend time and energy discussing his marriage instead of his platform. When Smith brought sports into politics against Johnson, Johnson was forced to expend resources publicizing an endorsement by another sports figure, not expounding on an issue.
If we’re going to get back to the issues in politics – if we’re actually going to get anything done in this era of hyper-polar ization – this kind of attack has to stop.
Andrew Parks is a senior studying political science. His column runs biweekly.