by Kevin Kelton
I keep hearing the same forlorn complaint: “Why do we have such bad candidates this year? Why must we choose between the lesser of two evils?” But the truth is, our 2016 presidential candidates are not any worse than ever before.
Donald Trump, for all his personal peccadillos, is no worse on policy than Mitt Romney, who also promised anti-choice judges and a repeal of Obamacare, wanted to press immigrants to self-deport, and proposed tax cuts just as massive and just as onerous as Trump’s. And they are both just as recklessly hawkish and just as wealth-gap enabling as John McCain or George W. Bush. Take out Trump’s antipathy for trade deals (one of his few plusses), and you could line up all their policy positions in a spreadsheet and not be able to tell who belongs to which column.
Hillary Clinton, for all the GOP-inspired caricature myths about her trustworthiness and cozy relationship with Wall St., is very much in line politically and temperamentally with previous nominees Barack Obama, John Kerry, Al Gore, and Michael Dukakis. As for character, decorated hero Kerry was branded a cowardly war deserter, a traitor, an unremitting flip-flopper, and a vaguely “French-looking” gigolo. Gore was painted as a climate-hysteric, egghead liar who claimed he invented the internet. Dukakis was condemned as a murderer-loving, unpatriotic wimp who apparently didn’t mind if his wife got raped. And Obama is still being framed as a secret terrorist-loving Muslim sleeper agent who hates black people.
Jill Stein is a poor man’s Ralph Nader without the depth, intelligence, policy platform, or professional experience. And Gary Johnson is a pot-smoking version of Ross Perot.
No, there’s nothing unusual about this year’s general election menu, except that one major party candidate has absolutely no government or political experience of any kind. Had Bernie Sanders or Ted Cruz or any other 2016 wannabe ascended to their party’s nomination, they’d be just as badly tarred and feathered as Clinton and Trump have been.
Had it been Sanders, instead of “Hillary for Prison” signs and T-shirts, it would’ve been hammer and sickle signs and “Bernie is my Comrade” shirts, and you’d have heard a week of attacks about his ties to “communist” groups, jokes about his 1970s Conscientious Objector draft status, lurid quotes from his early writings, and calls to send him on a second honeymoon in Russia. Had it been Cruz accepting the nomination, the DNC would be filled with “Green Eggs and Ham” gags, taunts about his wife’s Wall St. ties, and jokes about his resemblance to Grandpa Munster and the Zodiac Killer.
And believe me, regardless of who prevails this year, 2020 and 2024 will not yield candidates you like any better.
Because it’s not them, folks. It’s us. We have enabled a system where character assassination is leisure time sport. Where Americans use to relax with a sitcom and a beer, they now unwind on Facebook and Reddit by calling Clinton a lying whore and sharing the latest Trump child rape meme.
We don’t just fling mud, we bathe in it. I see it every day in my Facebook political debate group, Open Fire. We go back 40 years into our candidates’ pasts and flag every human transgression as a treasonous felony punishable by jail time or a firing squad. And we’ve raised guilt by association to an art form, to the point where a wife is at fault for her husband’s philandering and a father is blamed because his son once went on an African elephant hunt.
Let me be clear, I detest Donald Trump and his policies, and I think he’d be a horrible president. But I cannot in good conscience try to paint him as a misanthropic, psychotic rapist or a neglectful father. He’s just a blowhard and ill-informed politician. That’s enough for me.
If you don’t particularly like my preferred candidate, Hillary Clinton, that’s okay. I see many of the same faults in her as you do. But to turn a fish story about landing in Bosnia and some sloppy email habits into a monstrous caricature of her 25-year career of public service is a vulgarity beyond the pale.
So here’s an idea. Let the politicians wage this campaign as they will. But that doesn’t mean we have to get in the mud with them. Keep your opinions and arguments about Clinton and Trump to the proven facts and their demonstrable personality flaws, not by spreading urban legends and silly hyperbole. Pretend you’re discussing it on a CNN panel instead of a Facebook thread. Try to elevate the debate, not lower it.
In other words, try acting like the politician you’d like them to be: truthful, classy, factual, intelligent.
Be the person you’d like to vote for.
That’s our best chance to ever get to vote for a person like that in the future.