Politics are filthy

By By Andy Thompson

By Andy Thompson

If you don’t want to get dirty, don’t play the game. That’s what I have to say to all those crying about the mudslinging in politics.

As evidenced by the last two presidential elections, nice guys do not finish first (or, if they do win the election, the U.S. Supreme Court will ensure that nice guys don’t make it all the way to the White House).

At last week’s Hinckley Institute of Politics forum, former U.S. legislators Jake Garn, R-Utah; Bill Orton, D-Utah and Enid Greene, R-Utah, discussed how mean everyone on Capitol Hill has become. Garn described today’s Congress as “overly partisan and personally nasty.”

This lack of civility seemed to begin in earnest–in the national limelight–when the Republicans took over as the congressional majority in 1994 and subsequently began–with ruthless disdain–their witch hunt on President Bill Clinton.

“The power was won in 1994 by personal attacks,” Orton said. “Newt Gingrich and the backbenchers decided that you don’t win by being nice.”

The nation’s leaders haven’t always had such a contentious relationship.

“Barry Goldwater and Hubert Humphrey were as far apart politically as you could be, but they were also friends,” Garn said. “Not once did they ever attack each other personally. They’d have a debate and then go down and have a drink in the Senate Dining Room together, arguing about who won the debate.”

It’s tough to picture Sam Brownback and Ted Kennedy mucking it up over whiskey sours.

Greene suffered through the nastiness of personal-attack politics during her lone term in the House of Representatives. In the midst of a divorce–during which her husband embezzled $1.8 million from her father to fund her campaign–Greene spoke in front of the House and was jeered by Democratic congresswomen.

It’s hard to blame someone for feeling bitter about such behavior. At politics’ highest level, the current leader–our Dubya in chief–is guilty of using such juvenile tactics repeatedly to get elected.

In the Republican presidential primary of 2000, Bush and strategist Karl Rove–lovingly referred to as Turd Blossom in White House circles–fueled a grassroots movement in South Carolina accusing John McCain of fathering an illegitimate black child and being gay.

In Dubya’s first political victory–the 1994 Texas gubernatorial race–Rove also accused the opponent, incumbent Ann Richards, of being gay. And we all know of the last Bush campaign smear, the Swift Boat operation, in which he tried to discredit Vietnam veteran John Kerry’s military heroics.

The Dems took the high road, refusing to delve further into Bush’s alleged cocaine use, failure to perform any significant military duty and ineptitude in the private sector before being tapped by big businesses to become governor and president. This approach, obviously, failed. The neo-conservatives’ philosophy of appealing to the least common denominator has worked.

Democrats usually are not afraid to shed light on a candidate’s character flaws, either. The difference is that the Republicans’ snarl actually has some bite.

Neither party is innocent (that’s why all politicians dread the progress of digital technology). The difference is that the Republicans’ snarl actually has some bite.

While Greene’s feelings may have been hurt when those catty Dem women hissed at her “out of (C-SPAN) camera range, ” Bush’s attacks are much more dangerous. Not only are they often slanderous, but they are also designed to expose an individual–accurately or not–to the public eye.

Such negative advertising is the result of a candidate in the last throws of defeat, Greene said. Yet the Republican National Committee did not resort to mudslinging in its waning hours of power, but instead wielded the sharp weapons of innuendo and accusation–not to mention lies and deception–in its quest for congressional and executive control.

The political maneuvers of the Republican neo-conservatives have been a cancer to the party’s integrity and morality. The conservative old guard has recognized the dangers of neo-con tactics and policy, and many among the party’s faithful openly campaigned against Bush in 2004.

The pendulum must swing from cutthroat, polarizing politics between red and blue to an environment in which civility and respect reign in the everyday business of Capitol Hill. As all three of the Hinckley Institute’s guests echoed, we cannot expect Congress to be productive when the two parties won’t talk to each other.

Attack-happy Republicans have been humbled by the recent election. Hopefully, they will focus on issues and legislative records during the next campaign season. Even if they look as though they might, the Democrats shouldn’t let their guard down. There’s no such thing as good winners in politics, because they don’t get elected again.