Why Do We Voters Tolerate Campaign Malpractice?

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Senator McConnell -- Republicans hope to snatch control of the Senate but McConnell is in the run of his life

ABC has a brand new hit show on Thursday nights called “How to Get Away With Murder.” The protagonist of this television show – portrayed by Academy Award nominated actress Viola Davis – is a noted defense attorney and college law professor. Democratic, Republican, and Independent candidates for public office must be fans of the show. If I had to assign a course title to describe their campaign proclivities, I would call it “Campaign Malpractice 101.”

Have you stopped to consider that in big-ticket political campaigns --specifically presidential, senatorial, congressional, and gubernatorial-- political strategists are paid huge sums of money to come in and share their so-called playbook of wisdom?

These hired hands are compensated 6-figure and 7-figure salaries to oversee a 21st century run for office using 19th century and 20th century rules. As for transparency, integrity, and common standards of decency, those are usually casualties of the confidentiality clause signed between candidate and campaign experts.

There are a few basic ingredients needed for full-on political malpractice in campaigns.

Step 1: Assign a name (the candidate’s opponent) to blame for everything.

Once the campaign begins and the candidates have officially emerged, let’s get ready to rumble. All candidates immediately begin to attack, attack, and attack. Whether the attacks are wholly true, partially true, or completely false is beside the point. Just carpet bomb your opponent in TV interviews, in print, in radio ads, on the internet, in flyers, and especially during political debates. If the President’s popularity poll numbers are below a certain number, find a way to link your opponent to POTUS. If there is some issue adversely affecting your would-be constituents (i.e.: old infrastructure, higher than average unemployment, or the potential closure of a nearby military base), blame your opponent – especially if he or she is the incumbent candidate. It’s their fault it’s been raining too much lately in your area. It’s their fault if the change of season has triggered your allergies. It’s their fault if your favorite football team is on a losing streak right now. I’m joking, but they’re entirely serious. This is the mindset of most people running for office, and they do not deviate from it until [a] they win, or [b] they lose.

Step 2: Repurpose the popular wedding axiom. This tactic is something old/something new/something borrowed/something untrue. When is the only time a political candidate – incumbent or not – attends your church? When he or she needs your vote. When you see them visiting, you automatically know that election time is near.

As a pastor, I see this all too often. It would be really impressive if a political candidate came to church, worshipped with everyone, greeted everyone afterwards, and left with no camera crew and no fanfare. Incumbent officeholders, why not worship at various area churches after you’ve been re-elected? Why not take your own checkbook out and donate to one of that church’s ministries – quietly? Why not volunteer some of your time at a local soup kitchen helping to feed the hungry? Positive word-of-mouth travels at least as fast as bad news. Most folks would receive community service-minded candidates much more readily than another candidate in another commercial with his or her family smiling for the camera.

Step 3: Deny the past. Gone are the days when a candidate is viewed by the masses as a good person simply because they say so. Thanks to social media and the internet, it has never been easier to align a candidate’s campaign rhetoric to his or her voting record and to his or her stated views from the past. Naturally, many candidates willfully choose to ignore these things – or simply deny their own records.

Step 4: Overpromise and under-deliver. On the campaign trail, candidates will promise the moon, the stars, and any other heavenly body they think will secure your vote… even if that means looking you in the eyes and lying to you. They can always blame the other party, right? Or Sasquatch. Whatever’s clever.

Step 5: Create your own reality. Candidates tout their own poll numbers – even if they’re wrong and/or made up. Campaign gurus approve this tactic.

Step 6: Plead the 5th. Always tell the people what they want to hear. Never tell them what you believe.

This is wisdom?

We the people are also culpable in Campaign Malpractice 101. We tolerate this nonsense – which is why it keeps happening. Collectively, we are campaign reform.

If we demand change, the process will change --but not until then. 

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