November 4, 2010 in Washington Voices

Front Porch: We get campaigns we deserve

By The Spokesman-Review

Oh, thank the deity of your choice, the election is over. And now I must rant about it.

While you are reading these words post-election, I’m writing them a few days before Nov. 2 – on Halloween, actually, which seems somehow fitting – so I don’t know at this point who won, which initiatives passed and what it all will mean for the state’s or country’s direction the next few years. But what I am eagerly anticipating is the coming of Tuesday’s Election Day – not when freedom is served and America executes its right to have its say in its own governance – but when those god-awful campaign commercials will cease being a blight before my eyes and an insult to my ears and brain.

Could campaigning have possibly been any more awful than it was this year? Well, I suppose some of the nastiness that befell John Kerry in 2004 and John McCain in 2008 was worse, but this year’s political season seems to have been too hard edged, distorted and just darn mean.

Yes, yes, I know, freedom of speech and all that. I cherish it as much as the next guy and am even willing to accept some excess, some innuendo and some braggadocio in campaigning. We are America, after all, and we tend to do everything in a big and conspicuous way. But, lordy, we went waaaaay over the nastiness threshold this time, didn’t we? Are you feeling as mind numb as I am?

I’ve heard opinion that it’s been no worse this year than in previous ones, so maybe it’s just me. Still, I feel such a level of disgust, more so than I’ve ever felt before. Democrats, Republicans and tea partiers, have you no shame? Why not tell me what you would do and, more importantly, how you would do it rather than digging for all the minutia you can find or improvise about the other party’s candidate or policies and twisting them into something unrecognizable? Same for all you initiative supporters and opponents. I have never seen such scare tactics and distortions – coming from all sides.

Except for the belief I have that voting is still important, I would have wished for a none-of-the-above option on the ballot or skipped the process entirely. But I simply can’t bring myself to walk away from what I believe to be my responsibility as a citizen to vote. That would be too easy, but it sure was tempting as a means of protest.

I’ve heard talk of all kinds of research into the effectiveness of political advertising. The more you spend, the more you win. I was blown away to hear that more than $3 billion (yes, with a “b”) will be spent on this year’s election. Other research shows that the money is pretty much irrelevant. And, of course, there’s the prevailing wisdom that the nastier you get, the more effective you are – except for the final days of a campaign in which you show yourself as the true statesman you are. I’m not smart enough or even much inclined to weigh in on that, but I do recognize that the stuff the politicians and, even more so, their supporters have thrown against the wall this year has made me feel embarrassed and angry that this is how we conduct ourselves. I’m weary of it all.

And I don’t think we can point just to the politicians, advocacy groups or just politics-as-usual tradition. It’s us, isn’t it? We accept it, either passively or enthusiastically. We contribute our own dollars to it. More importantly, we don’t reject it. I guess we have no shame either.

Surely, we’re better than this. Or we should be.

By next week, the conversation will move into other arenas. There will be discussion about the make up of Congress, how the passage or failures of our initiatives will affect us, what it all means for the 2012 election. The lawn signs will come down. The ads will disappear from TV (by the way, how come there are never any post-election ads from the winners thanking voters for their support?). We’ll be busy with other things, but I sure hope we have a bad taste in our collective mouths for how we spoke of one another as we prepared to vote.

I didn’t think I had any naiveté left, but apparently I do. I still think the high road is a good road, that it can get you to where you want to go, that people will respond to dignity and ideas and civil discourse. Well, silly old me. But a little voice still nags – what’s wrong with that high road?

Wait, wait, I know this one. What’s wrong with the high road is that it’s just too darn lonely up there.

Voices correspondent Stefanie Pettit can be reached by e-mail at Previous columns are available at

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