Somehow in the evolution of politics as usual here in America, many of us have accepted the inevitability of lying, deception, and incivility as a necessary evil. This is demonstrated in great clarity during every political campaign. Whatever it takes to get elected is tolerated no matter how obviously unethical or contrived. Behavior which would draw immediate censure in normal everyday life is seen in politics as pragmatic or even praiseworthy.
Given this prevailing political nastiness, we hear after every election that many are just relieved to have gotten beyond the constant drumbeat of political inanity and meanness. While the public expresses exasperation, paid political operatives devise ever more slanderous and illogical rhetoric to promote the political fortunes of whichever candidate has the necessary money.
Many of us may feel that all candidates operate the same, so we have no choice but to grit our teeth and hold our ethical noses. That may sound correct, but I notice that anytime a candidate attempts to take the moral high ground in campaigning, he or she is likely to be soundly defeated. This indicates that the average voter actually is swayed by those politicians willing to lie, cheat, and fabricate in order to get elected. If my guy promotes my welfare, I don’t care how he gets into office. That seems to be the ultimate reaction to all the negativism.
All this moral relativism, which is ritualistically displayed in our politics, destroys our notion of America as an example to other people and nations. Ironically, this indifference to the ethical implications of our politics is routinely promoted by our special American brand of evangelical Christianity. When Christianity is reduced to a sacred conflict between good and evil, everything becomes war. Warfare by definition is portrayed as the human activity in which ruthlessness is a virtue and moral restraints no longer apply. A Christianity at war is therefore not governed by any normal morality, much less the ethics of Christ.
Religion has always sought political means to wage their concept of sacred war. If gaining the political means supports this war, then the prevailing rules of war supersede any moral or ethical rules. In the comingling of politics and religion we experience the very definition of the concept that the end justifies any and all means. Those means ultimately include all the various activities in our political campaigns which we claim to despise but yet tolerate and even seem to expect.
We, the voters, are caught up in a psychological war. Various parties are trying to sell us on the virtue of self promotion, deceit, and mean spiritedness. They redefine vices as virtues in their efforts to entice voters. No politician or political operator will ever stop this game until the voters demand major changes in how our campaigns are conducted. A good starting point would be to quit tolerating the lies and incivility routinely directed by candidates toward their opponents.
Policy positions defined in sufficient detail are what should drive voter decisions. Character assessments are relevant to voters too, but let the voters reach their own conclusions about character. The tone and substance of the campaign itself will often tell all that the people need to know about a candidate’s character. Any campaign rhetoric and political commentary are more likely to cloud the issue of character than not.
If fear mongering and character assassination were eliminated as effective campaign strategies, then maybe citizens of limited finances and true character could actually compete for election. What normal, sane citizen would choose to endure the lies and misrepresentations which the typical campaign operatives inject into every political contest.
If we voters really hate what passes for campaigning, we can change that by rejecting candidates who cannot or will not conduct themselves honorably while seeking our votes. Let’s put the pundits, preachers, and political action committees out of business by letting candidates define themselves.