Personal attacks and political smears are nothing new to the arena of modern politics. It’s a scene that’s been going on for quite a long time, so much so that people often lament the onset of a new election cycle because they have to listen to all the TV and radio ads that go “this person is the most horrible person you could possibly support…why vote for them when you can vote for this person?”
Like I said, it’s nothing new. But it appears that this type of rhetoric has reached a sort of fever pitch in this current cycle, and it once again reared its ugly head after the Democratic debate in Michigan.
It all starts with Bernie Sanders making this comment:
“Excuse me, I’m talking.”
This was, of course, directed at his opponent Hillary Clinton. And mere hours after the debate, the political spin machine went to work. A number of Clinton supporters interpreted the remark as rude, with some even going so far as to call it “sexist” because he was an old man saying it to a woman. Indeed, the picture they’ve painted of that scene is not a pretty one.
But it’s once you start peeling back the canvas that you realize something’s not right.
First off, let’s look at what led up to this comment. Clinton had just finished making a remark about how Sanders didn’t support the auto industry bailout (a statement that is false in more than one way but I won’t go into it here…check out this post from Benjamin Studebaker for a detailed “un-spinning” of the debate which explains that particular scene in good detail). And so, Sanders made a remark back about Clinton’s connections to Wall Street. Even though it wasn’t her time to talk, Clinton tried to butt in with a comment, upon which Sanders dropped the “excuse me, I’m talking” line.
So in context, the scene is suddenly different. Instead of being about a sexist old man telling a woman to shut up, it becomes about a woman using underhanded tactics to try and steal attention.
The tactic is a familiar one, especially when it comes to debates (Clinton herself did the same type of thing back when she ran against Barack Obama back in 2008). You try to always get the last word in so that your opponent’s points don’t stick as well in the mind of the audience. That way, you come off as looking like a better debater, when all you’re really doing is cutting off your opponent. It might seem like a far-fetched strategy, but it’s true. Just look at the Republican debates. Everyone’s constantly trying to talk over each other because they want the last word. I think pretty much every Republican candidate this election season has been guilty of it at some point.
At this point it’s probably obvious that I’m a Sanders supporter (which some may have guessed by the issues I’ve talked about in previous posts and my stances on them), but my point in making this post isn’t to convince you to support a particular candidate, but to show how dangerous the kind of spin rhetoric can be. Instead of being about the issues, suddenly the election becomes a smearing contest. Who can make the other person look the worst?! Find out tonight on Fox!
And it’s not like Sanders is the only victim in this. Clinton has been the target of spin or outright falsehood as well. Check out this Snopes page about a comment Hillary supposedly made which implied that she believed the state has the primary role of raising children, and that parents were merely secondary. It’s utterly false, but that didn’t stop it from making the rounds.
Come on people, Abraham Lincoln warned us about trusting everything we read on the internet (insert winky face here).
And really, spinning things out of context or outright lying doesn’t help anyone. If anything, it just devolves the level of political discourse to that of a schoolyard with two kids shouting back and forth.
“No you’re ugly!”
“Well you’re uglier, ugly-face!”
There are valid reasons to support Sanders just like I’m sure there are valid reasons to support Clinton. But instead of making everything about rhetoric, why don’t we stop and examine where each one stands on the issues? Why don’t we take the time to examine what they are saying about health care, education, gun control, and so on? Instead of trying to make them say something they’re not, why don’t we look at what they actually said?
It would be foolish to say that personality plays no role at all in an election cycle (just look at the rise of Donald Trump), but it should not be the sole deciding factor. The content of their speech should matter as well. We should pay attention to what they say and how they say it. Do they talk about substantive problems and pledge to help fix them? Or do they just pander and talk about how great they’ll be as an elected official? Do they provide meaningful ideas for legislation? Or do they bank on nostalgia and patriotism as a way to get them into office?
The clock is ticking. The battle is on, and soon the dust will settle to reveal the two contenders for the presidential position. Be informed. Know why you’re voting as well as for whom you are voting. The right to vote is a powerful one. Do not squander it based on misinformation.
Be bold. Be decisive. But also, be intelligent. Don’t let political discourse degenerate any more than it already has.
I mean, do we really want to hear more about Republican penis sizes? Didn’t think so.
Well that’s all I have for this time. I don’t normally post too much about politics on this blog because I understand that people are swamped with it in their daily lives and are most likely sick of it. So I’d like to thank you for hanging in there and indulging me on this one.
Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week!