August 22, 2012
As originally published in the New Hampshire Union Leader
You’re an idiot. You’re so self-serving and adolescent that you can’t possibly have an adult conversation. That’s the barrage from political professionals. Politicians and their like should carefully avoid talking to us like we’re adults because clearly we aren’t. Anyone attempting to have an adult conversation or be clear about their positions on the issues of the day is supposedly a problem.
Voters, we are led to believe, prefer bland banalities. Rather than a plan or an idea, politicians should say “when I get there, I’m going to roll up my sleeves and get this thing going.” God forbid – or at least political hack forbid – they should let us know they’ve reached a conclusion about what needs to be done or not.
The best example of the cynicism of the political class is the reaction to Paul Ryan. I’ve written before about the angst Ryan causes in the group of adolescents known as political professionals. Ryan’s last foray into actually explaining what he and many of us believe was greeted with the rolling eyes of belief-free operatives fretting that “Republicans are under the mistaken impression they have to lead.”
You see, in Washington, ideas are the enemy. This explains the debt and budget situation in DC which would be considered insane anywhere outside of DC and Europe.
A recent story in Politico highlighted the hand-wringing trepidation felt “among Republican operatives in Washington.” Many timid people of flexible values move to Washington where they get to try and convince our elected officials to avoid talking if at all possible.
You and I are under the mistaken impression that elections are about ideas. We choose, on the basis of what they believe and what they say they will do, who we want to go temporarily into the cesspool and represent us. What they believe matters. A lot. If they have no idea what they want to do, or no fixed opinion, why would we hire them?
Not every politico is a hand-wringer. Notably, Mary Matalin summed up the point of elections when she disagreed with the jellyfish: “what everyone wanted was a campaign and presidency of purpose with a mandate for reform.” Well said, Mary Matalin.
Elections are not popularity contests. The people running ought to be well versed on the issues of the day, willing to talk about the most important issues they are going to deal with, and effective enough leaders and communicators to explain to us what they’re planning on pursuing.
By the way, the election is not a referendum per se. None of us expects that we will agree with a candidate on every issue or every detail. But we are all capable of behaving like adults. We understand difficult decisions and can have them explained to us even if we don’t agree with every particular.
Our own Sen. Kelly Ayotte has been an example of this recently. In her first two years in Washington, she’s emerged as a crusader on balancing the federal budget. Typically politicians like that end up compromised because budget bills are placed forward with a program here or there for her home state. The Washingtonian thinking is that she can’t possibly explain voting against it to the people at home (remember Washingtonians think we’re idiots) so they’ve boxed her in.
Sen. Ayotte voted against a budget bill that included some prison money for New Hampshire along with billions of other spending proposals. She voted no. people didn’t rise up in arms because any money that might go to NH justifies every other stupid idea. Instead they listened to her and most ended up agreeing.
At the end of the day, voters aren’t stupid. They don’t respond to the most brainless of the attack ads run here and there. After decades of over the top negative ads and negative mail pieces, voters instinctively understand that there is probably more to the story than my political opponent is telling them.
The better political professionals will tell you that negative pieces are most effective when there is more information and some sort of third party validation. Why? Because we’re not stupid and we understand that an opponent may not be telling the whole story.
More than that, after watching Greece and half of Europe on the verge of bankruptcy, we know that the United States isn’t far behind and may have to make some adult decisions to avoid being a basket case. When asked what your plan is, it is never the right answer to say “I don’t know but he’s a jerk.”
The adolescents in Washington don’t understand but the rest of us get it.