Politicians are proud of blaming their low standing in public respect on the press.
The more tawdry practices the press reports, and the more lies the press exposes, the lower the public esteem for those politicians who engage in them. Who would have figured?
Of course, there’s the other conundrum: the press and politicians are pretty much neck and neck in the standings at the bottom of the public opinion food chain.
As a print journalist for the past half-century, I blame this on television reporters, whose bias (whether left or right) is generally easy to spot. I’m not sure who the TV people pass the blame to; I am sure they have a target. Maybe it’s print journalists.
But when it comes to the low esteem for politicians (worst at the state and federal levels) I suggest that the villains can be found by looking in the mirror.
The primary election was held this week, and the primaries have not been without their tawdrier moments. But the really heavy stuff is at the general election level, and the attack hounds of politics no longer wait until the party primaries are over before unleashing their vitriol for the general election campaigns.
To hear Florida’s two major candidates for governor speak of each other, each is a crook, and each sabotaged educational funding. This is not what the press is reporting; this is what each is saying of the other in paid commercials.
In 52 years as a voter, I have been registered at times with each of the two major parties. This year, I voted in the local races on the ballot. But I did not cast a primary election vote for a candidate for governor in the party with which I am registered, nor would I have cast a vote for governor if I were a member of the other party.
As a “super voter” who never misses an election, I am equally disgusted by the campaigns of both the incumbent governor and the former governor who seeks to unseat him. Neither candidate has earned my vote.
The lieutenant governor, No. 2 man to the incumbent, spoke to the Bartow Rotary Club last Wednesday, and muffed a chance to present a positive message on behalf of his boss without taking cheap shots at his challenger.
The next day, the challenger didn’t show up for Bartow’s political forum, for which he had registered as a participant. He didn’t cancel; he just didn’t show up.
These are our choices in November, voters.
But at Thursday’s forum, Adam Putnam and Thad Hamilton demonstrated how opponents can seek the same office (Commissioner of Agriculture) while respecting each other and the political process.
Each acknowledged the other as a worthy candidate. Adam (yeah, he is Bartow’s favorite son in this election) said that Thad had referred to him as a friend at a political forum held in Thad’s home territory of Fort Lauderdale.
Adam returned the compliment in Bartow.
Thad told me before the speeches began (somehow I ended up as moderator for the forum) that he was aware that he was in Adam’s hometown, but said he was going to give it his best shot.
After each candidate gave his three-minute campaign stump speech, I made the observation that these two men could show the major candidates for governor how honorable candidates can campaign in an honorable fashion. That observation got a hearty round of applause.
Politicians offer the excuse that they engage in hate-filled negative campaigns because it works. Some even say that’s what the voters want. Have they asked?
Do they really think the voters want to choose between the lesser of two evils, not the better of two candidates?
For all the faults of my journalistic vocation, and there are many, the blame for voter disgust rests with candidates who set such a low standard for the elective process.
Voters deserve better than this.
(S. L. Frisbie is retired. When moderating political forums, he regularly expresses respect for any person willing to enter the political forum and seek elective office. Some candidates make it hard to embrace that concept.)