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King: Truth is a victim in campaigns

POSTED: September 18, 2012 1:00 a.m.

Both the Republican and Democratic conventions are behind us now. The two parties have chosen their gladiators, and for the next seven weeks they will battle it out. They’ll do whatever they can to win the Presidency. I'm afriaid things are going to get ugly

I use the term “gladiator” with deliberation. It comes from the Latin word for “sword” and originally described individuals who entertained the masses in ancient Rome with exhibitions of bloody combat, completely unrestrained by anything other than the need to win. Politics today is not much different.

Some people find it exciting. It’s pretty much a no-holds-bared fight. Emotions run high. The nation’s blood is up, and while both candidates strive to be likable, decency and truthfulness are not exactly on the agenda. The only hard rule seems to be, you must pay to play.

How many times has the media described the contest in terms of who has the biggest war chest? Elections tend to be bought, not won.

Some people, however, find it depressing. Political campaigns do not bring out the best in us. Truth is the first casualty. Political campaigns move so fast that a deliberate lie at the right moment can sway an election. By the time facts are checked and the truth is obvious, people have moved on, and nobody cares.

A lie is a form of cheating. Everybody lies at times -- small lies, mere conveniences easily forgiven. Cheating is the same, but researchers have discovered some interesting things about cheating. When someone notices and says something, the cheating is likely to stop. On the other hand, when a number of people in one’s immediate environment are cheating, the cheating grows. “Everyone’s doing it.”

This is why intense political campaigns like the battle for the White House and for control of Congress are depressing. Blatant lies, character assignation, pandering to people’s prejudice, they all cheapen our democracy. No matter who wins, the nation is weakened, but this is no excuse for boycotting the election.

That said, how do you weight the issues and decide which side to support? What is best for the nation as a whole?

I grew up in a very Republican part of New Jersey. My brother and his wife still live there. They have a home in Republican Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen’s 11th District and have many mutual friends. One of the Frelinghuysen daughters was in my brother’s first wedding. When we talk on the phone, politics is bound to come up. I finally asked him outright if he was going to vote for Mitt Romney.

No, he said, and this is why: When Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008, the Republican Party vowed to do everything they could to defeat him in 2012, a vow they have kept. They have consistently blocked almost every move Obama made, even going so far as to disrupt Congress by forcing a vote on health care 33 separate times when they knew there was absolutely no way for it to pass. This is a waste of valuable public time and money. It was certainly not in the best interest of the country.

“Republican policy has been nothing but obstructionism,” my brother said, “and it should not be rewarded.”

He went on. “If the Republicans win this election, it will set a pattern for the future. No politician will be able to compromise on anything, and the U.S. will lose its ability to function as a democratic nation.”

These are strong words, especially for a man like my brother, a lifelong Republican who has been the head of a national business association and now manages his own consulting firm, but he has always been a “straight arrow,” an ethical man who puts the good of the whole ahead of personal priories.

If you are looking for basic values, you might think about his comments. I do.

Joan King lives in Sautee. Her column appears biweekly on Tuesdays and at gainesvilletimes.com/viewpoint.


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