Two years ago, I ran into a highly-respected former member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, whom I knew through church. We got to talking. “The partisanship and shenanigans are getting out of hand,” I remember him saying. “Really?” I said, “Is it really getting worse?” Oh yes, he said– much worse.
I’m not too concerned about attack ads anymore, or about negative campaigning in general. Truth (frankness, openness) is almost always a casualty in political speech, whether it’s campaign season or, after the campaign, when it’s spin season and those who have been elected are trying to look good in front of the camera. This has been the case since at least the time of Cicero.
Of concern is not what you and I are presented by candidates for consumption, but the inability of politicians– once elected– seriously to consider policy options and to act in the best interest of the country. It’s as though they actually believe the fatuous pablum of the campaign, and can’t adjust to the reality of governing– a reality that requires reasonableness, and the skill of compromise. Both of the major parties are guilty.
If politics is always a zero-sum game, we will lose (if we haven’t already) the domestic tranquility that is the result of good governance. The exercise of politics does not determine the meaning and worth of an individual life, or even the meaning and worth of a society: politics is too clumsy to be that fine. As the preserver of a public order in which individuals and communities can thrive, however, politics is important; and more wisdom in our political life– even (perhaps especially) if it’s behind the scenes– would be helpful.