Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Attack Politics Gone too Far

Whatever one thinks of Joe the Plumber's question to Senator Obama, the way he was treated afterward has got to send a small shiver up your spine.  The guy asked a question about his family's financial future of a man running for president.  It is a question many Americans would like to ask.  And because he did this, he has been investigated in great detail.  People have pulled his tax records, his property records, his voting and contributions records.  Reporters have called his company, friends, even some customers for whom he has done work. 

Think about it for a minute.  Because a citizen asked a question of a candidate, he was fair game for reporters to investigate and background.  It was suddenly 'news' to know whether he is a licensed  plumber or simply works under the supervision of one (like many employees of plumbing companies do).  I can only imagine that if he'd been divorced three times, or had a DUI or any other prurient life event had been part of his jacket we'd hear about them as well.  Why?

A private citizen asked a question of a candidate.  The question got videotaped, and then broadcast.  The candidate used a phrase that stuck in the craws of many people, and the question became well-known.  But by the third day after the question was asked, the question was no longer the news.  The answer was no longer the news.  By then, what was really important about the matter was Joe.  Is he qualified to ask a question?  Did he trick the candidate?  Is he someone with nefarious intent?  Does he wear boxers or briefs?  Yes, the focus was very quickly removed from a substantive question and a meaningful answer to an inquest into the character of the citizen who had the temerity to ask it. 

For the record, I don't see anything wrong with the question OR the answer.  Government already 'spreads the wealth around' to a degree, and one key question before the voters is 'should government redistribute money from the wealthy to the poor' to a greater degree than at present.  You see, the Obama campaign feared that phrase not because it misrepresented what Obama wants to do, but because it was artlessly phrased and might hurt him in the polls.  McCain's campaign gleefully glommed onto it and announced that it makes Obama socialist.  We ALREADY do this, folks.  The question is not whether our society redistributes wealth.  The question is how much, and how?  And the fact that some guy that asked a perfectly meaningful and reasonable question came under attack from one side and was used as a prop by the other says as much as any other example about what is wrong with us in general and what is wrong with campaigns in particular.

I am saddened that we live now in a place where if I disagree with you on some matter, before long that disagreement is seen as justification to put my life and character on trial in the court of public opinion.  What is disturbing isn't just this, though, it is that the character bashing is used to deflect and halt examination and discussion of the real issue raised, which in this case was should we take earnings from people making over a certain amount to give to people of low income in various ways?  Rational human beings can make arguments and hold genuine beliefs from either side of that question.  Instead, we attack the guy that asked it and go back to labeling and name-calling.  The questioner becomes the story and the two sides of his question are lost in the new cliches shouted from the wings onto the electoral stage: "Socialist!" yells the right, while from the left come cries "tax breaks for the rich while the poor starve!".  And news vans park in front of Joe's house and sift through his garbage. 

Is there really anyone reading this that doesn't get why I am so sick of our politics and the direction public discourse is heading in America?

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Sunshine on Discovery Bay

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