Thursday, February 22, 2018
Opinion

Stop lying and start campaigning

My DVR's ability to zip past political commercials is the only thing standing between the television and a big rock.

Living in a swing state in an era of poisonous politics means never having to say to yourself, "Gee, I wonder how the guy running for president will destroy the country today?" Just turn on the TV and the answer appears in neatly packaged 30-second spots. Apparently the attack ad accusing President Barack Obama of giving welfare recipients a free ride is doing so well it has been upped to airing once a nanosecond, almost as frequently as Mitt Romney has been seen warbling an off-key America the Beautiful.

No matter one's political leanings, it is easy to become cynical. Yes, Obama's stance on welfare is relevant, but not outright lying about it. And yes, Romney's overseas tax shelters are fair game, but not the use of embarrassing lounge lizard video.

We are in another presidential election cycle where persuading the electorate using facts, evidence and reasoning is lost to emotional manipulation and lies.

You have to wonder if that was always the case. I got my answer on a recent trip to southern Vermont where I enjoyed a dramatic reading of The Rivalry, a 1959 Norman Corwin play based on the debates of Abraham Lincoln and Sen. Stephen Douglas during their Senate contest of 1858. It was performed at the Dorset Theatre Festival as part of a community conversation on civil discourse.

Lincoln was deeply opposed to Douglas' Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, the law that allowed new territories to elect to become slave-holding. This locus launched their road-show debates, a seven-town, 21-hour spectacle that addressed a national disagreement so deep and divisive it could only be decided by a civil war. Even with emotions so high, the political adversaries focused on the issues and persuaded through rational discourse.

Could some reasonable facsimile of these debates happen today? That question was put to Madeleine Kunin, Vermont's first female governor, who took the part of Douglas' wife, Adele. Though generally pessimistic, Kunin thought it possible with "different rules."

She's right about new rules. We need a set for civil discourse. Not new laws — that would violate the First Amendment — but a set of culturally enforced standards. I believe it could happen even with America's take-no-prisoners politics. Think about war, the most horrendous acts human beings do to one another. Yet, the civilized nations of the world have adopted the Geneva Conventions to regularize wartime conduct. If we can agree on rules for war, we should be able to do the same for political campaigns.

Here are mine:

Rule One: Identify yourself. Reputation is a powerful civilizing force, while anonymity exerts the opposite push. The role of anonymous money for vicious political attack ads coarsens the debate. The people giving would never affix their names to what's being said. Stop the cowardice and lower the temperature.

Rule Two: Be factually accurate. It's the most fundamental element in honest debate, according to Roy Maynard, editorial page editor of the Tyler Morning Telegraph in Texas and head of Civilitas, a civil discourse project of the Association of Opinion Journalists (of which I'm a member).

Media organizations like the Tampa Bay Times' PolitiFact are providing an essential service by fact-checking candidate statements. This labor-intensive effort is supposed to bring light to issues and chide campaigns into being more truthful. But Romney's campaign publicly asserts it will ignore fact-checking verdicts if it sees political gains. Ending the lies will allow for real policy debates.

Rule Three: Stop the hypocrisy. Don't accuse your opponent of doing evil if he's embracing your own policies. Obamacare and Romneycare, for instance, are essentially the same approach to health care reform. Admitting the obvious leads to voter clarity.

Only voters can hold politicians to a new set of normative values that would make for cleaner campaigns and a stronger democracy. Otherwise, our choice is to gear up those DVRs and tune the clatter out.

Comments
Editorial: They value guns, not kids

Editorial: They value guns, not kids

They value guns over kidsSix days after 17 were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High by a teen-ager firing an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, the Florida House refused to even debate a bill banning the sale of assault weapons. The vote, 71 to 36, wasn...
Published: 02/21/18
Editorial: Listen to Marjory Stoneman Douglas students demanding change

Editorial: Listen to Marjory Stoneman Douglas students demanding change

Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are traveling to the state capital today and declaring "never again.íí A prominent Florida Republican fundraiser vows he wonít raise another nickel until his party approves new gun controls. Across F...
Published: 02/19/18

Editorial: No more doubt about Russian meddling in election

The latest indictment by the Justice Department special counsel, Robert Mueller, refutes President Donald Trumpís claims that Russian interference in the 2016 election was a Democratic hoax. The indictment details the lengths Russian conspirators too...
Published: 02/19/18

Another voice: Tips should belong to workers, not their bosses

The Trump administration is under fire for proposing a Labor Department regulation that could result in hotel and restaurant employers dipping into the tips customers leave for their employees, depriving the nationís 14 million hard-working restauran...
Published: 02/18/18
Updated: 02/20/18
Editorial: Trumpís rising deficits and misplaced priorities

Editorial: Trumpís rising deficits and misplaced priorities

Itís not popular in Washington or virtually anywhere else these days to express concern about the rising federal deficit. Congressional Republicans who used to be deficit hawks first voted to cut taxes by $1.5 trillion over the next decade, then rais...
Published: 02/17/18
Editorial: Buckhorn should not appeal verdict in firefighterís case

Editorial: Buckhorn should not appeal verdict in firefighterís case

The city of Tampa should have taken Tanja Vidovic seriously from the start when the Tampa firefighter complained about her treatment in the workplace. Now that a jury and judge have spoken, itís time for City Hall to cut its losses, learn from its mi...
Published: 02/15/18
Updated: 02/16/18
Editorial: CareerSource troubles mount as public trust drops

Editorial: CareerSource troubles mount as public trust drops

The dark cloud enveloping Tampa Bayís job placement centers keeps growing. There are accusations of forged documents, evidence of nepotism and concerns about grossly inflated performance numbers that could be tied to receiving more public money and b...
Published: 02/15/18
Updated: 02/16/18
Editorials: Prayers and platitudes after shootings arenít enough

Editorials: Prayers and platitudes after shootings arenít enough

Even before the victims of another mass shooting at another public school were identified, Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, state legislators and members of Congress rushed to South Florida or to social media to offer their thoughts and p...
Published: 02/15/18
Editorial: DCF review should get to the bottom of Hillsborough foster care issues

Editorial: DCF review should get to the bottom of Hillsborough foster care issues

The Florida Department of Children and Families is right to call for a timely and "comprehensive" review of Hillsborough Countyís foster care system. Though the probe is a reaction to a recent case involving a child who was left unattended, the revie...
Published: 02/14/18

A Washington Post editorial: Modernize 911 calling before it becomes an emergency

This Friday marks the 50th anniversary of the first 911 emergency call placed in the United States. Since then, uncounted lives have been saved and people helped. It has been a great accomplishment of government.But even as an estimated 240 million 9...
Published: 02/13/18
Updated: 02/14/18