Innuendo: Bad politics

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A few months ago congressional candidate Tommy Sowers stopped by the Southeast Missourian offices to introduce himself. Over the past few months, I've met with him a couple of times. He has a distinguished background, asks important questions -- and is sharp. He is also highly aggressive in attacking his opponent. This style has shown itself in his media tactics as well.

During one of his visits, I cautioned that attacking his likely opponent, U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, for items beyond her control could be a double-edged sword, especially if he were elected. And attacking her with distortions was unhelpful to a working democracy. Unfortunately, since that time the attacks have continued unabated.

Sowers' strategy is not unique. It is commonplace within American politics, and that is a shame. It's also a reason that our American democracy isn't working as well as it could be. Irresponsible negative attacks may help win elections, but they destroy the environment for governing.

This week, people close to the Emerson campaign crossed the line in mudslinging too. In a paid election letter to this newspaper, a writer who once worked for Emerson's husband called into question Sowers' sexuality. The innuendo used was repugnant.

The writer actually seemed to be pressing two points: 1) Look at where Sowers is raising his money and from whom and 2) the innuendo. The first point is legitimate, and Sowers has asked the same about Emerson and where her money comes from (disclosure: some came from me in 2009).

The second point -- the innuendo -- is unfair and inappropriate. I will admit: I don't see that sexual orientation has anything to do with whether a person is qualified for Congress. The same is true about race, sex, religion or national background. Each of these items is part of an individual's identity, but in themselves they are basically meaningless. Whether a person is Sikh, Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, Mormon or atheist, the more important characteristics are their governing philosophy, wisdom, integrity and work ethic.

My guess is that I may be a minority in this position, however, especially in the 8th District, which is what makes the paid election letter repugnant. The innuendo is artfully done and clearly intentional. And it is the type of political tactic that is disgraceful, because it's not about what is true or not, it's about scoring a campaign point regardless of the truth.

All the parties -- Republican, Democrat and Independent -- should be better than such tactics. I'm afraid, though, we're in for a long, hot summer of mudslinging. Maybe the candidates will prove me wrong.

Jon K. Rust is publisher of the Southeast Missourian.

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