Thursday, May 9, 2013

Politics is Not Here to Please You

Politics is not here to please you.
Source: Ezra Klein.
By that, Ezra Klein was referring to the dysfunction in government in Washington, with one side insisting that all would be well if the President would just lead and the other side insisting all would be well if Republicans in Congress would just compromise. Klein says the polarized state of politics in Washington is not difficult to understand; it's just difficult to fix. That may not please those who demand simple, immediate solutions, but then, politics is not here to please you.

After the jump, applying that lesson to Richardson politics.

The current mayoral election campaign started with two candidates that I was equally satisfied with. The campaign ended with two candidates that I thought had more or less disgraced themselves. Am I being too critical? Was there really a different way this could have played out?

If I could have scripted the campaign, both candidates would have run positive campaigns, hardly mentioning each other. They each would have demonstrated that they are knowledgeable, experienced and passionate about serving Richardson. They would have emphasized their own résumés, their service to Richardson residents, and their policy proposals for the future.

That wasn't gonna happen. No way. No how. It is an election after all, between two candidates, not just a referendum on one. Both candidates have a self interest in improving their own chances. Elections being a zero-sum game, that comes at the expense of the other. So, it was likely that the candidates would begin to draw distinctions with their opponents, as sharply as they can. That means going negative. As the war escalates, you go from an election campaign with both candidates saying how much they respect each other to one in which the mud flies.

So, Amir Omar accused Laura Maczka of "leading the charge" against direct election of the mayor. He equated her to the Richardson Coalition PAC. He took his fight with Charles Eisemann public by telling the audience that he was warned privately by an unnamed prominent community leader that he would have a hard time winning re-election if he supported direct election of the mayor. Call it a pre-emptive strike, as everyone knew that Eisemann's Richardson Coalition PAC was planning to fire its own shot.

Laura Maczka started off appearing to want to run a frontrunner's campaign, staying above the fray. Her supporters were willing to draw the negative distinctions for her. The audience in the first forum asked the candidates whether they had ever declared bankruptcy or had any gaps in their employment records. Later, Maczka's biggest supporter, the Richardson Coalition PAC, dropped the biggest bombshell of the campaign. Its voters guide referenced court documents allegedly containing embarrassing details about Omar's bankruptcy and divorce. Maczka got her own hands dirty by sending an email to her followers endorsing the Richardson Coalition PAC's insinuations.

If Omar was concerned in that first forum that he was an underdog, he now must have realized that the election was lost unless he could drag Maczka herself through the mud with him. So, he spent thousands of dollars mailing fliers alleging that Maczka wants to pack Richardson with cheap apartments and pack Richardson schools with economically disadvantaged families.

That's where we stand today, two days before the election. Should we be surprised? I guess not. Candidates shouldn't run if they don't mean to win. That means putting 100% into it. Like it or not, that usually means going negative. That means going all the way up to, but not crossing over, the line where truthfulness tips over into falsehood. Election campaigns, by their very nature, guarantee that candidates maneuver so close to that line that hard feelings are inevitable. There's no agreement where the line is, or who has crossed it. No one ever thinks he has crossed it himself. No one ever says, "I'm an asshole sometimes, I can admit it. But it's usually only when I'm trying to make a point. Sorry if I went too far." (Actually, one partisan in the online discussions did say just that. My hat is off to her.) So the mud flies while everyone is oblivious to the fact that maybe their own hands are full of mud.

As dissatisfying as it is for me to accept, the polarized state of politics in Richardson is not difficult to understand; it's just difficult to fix because polarization is a natural byproduct of politics. Am I pleased with that? No. But, then, politics is not here to please me.

Election day is Saturday, May 11. Regardless of how this election has affected you, vote.


Mark Steger said...

I'm getting pummeled privately. I'm getting accused of condoning bad behavior. No. I condemn the bad behavior in this election campaign. What I meant is that I'm wrong to expect things to be different. I don't want to go all religion on you, but I think Christianity teaches that humans are weak. It's too much to expect humans not to sin. What we can do is acknowledge sin, seek forgiveness, and strive to do better.

Enough preaching for a Thursday...

Mark Steger said...

Related, kinda...

US Rep. Steny Hoyer on the fictional TV series, House of Cards: "One of the phrases that I hate the most is when people say ‘well, that’s politics' and your show is a lot about, ‘well, that’s politics.’"

Read more here.

glbeach said...

I must say I've been terribly disappointed by both candidates. I suppose the 'politics' is little different than it was previously - when the mayor was elected from among the cit council members - it is only more visible now.

I suppose if you are a sign printer or a flyer printer, having direct election of the mayor may be 'good business.' But it is not good business for the City of Richardson.

Frankly, I'm disappointed that neither candidate has had the guts to take the high road and lay out a vision and a plan for Richardson rather than simply damn their competition.

As you so correctly point out both candidates went negative and negative in a significant way. From my humble perspective, the true partisans are going to support their candidate regardless. So the real vote all of this negativity is targeted around is that middle of the road voter who will vote for the candidate the feel best about or simply stay home if they don't feel good about anyone.

So has the goal of these two candidates been to be so negative people just stay home . . . except for the partisans? When it started I felt good about both. Now I feel good about neither.

dc-tm said...

Different take, both the candidates have been positive. The Richardson Coalition was negative. Their mailers are where things went wrong.And Laura not condemning the Richardson Coalition was her worst move.
david chenoweth

Mark Steger said...

Gary asked, "So has the goal of these two candidates been to be so negative people just stay home . . . except for the partisans?"

I don't think so. We'll know Saturday but it's a fair bet that turnout will break records. I'm not privy to strategy, but it looked to me like the campaigns targeted the low-information voters to turn them into partisans. Like always. It was the amount of money raised and spent that makes this campaign stand out as being worse than prior ones.

dc-tm said...

Mark, I think the record has already been broken. If I remember correctly more people have voted in early voting than any other total vote for a municipal election. What I am curious about did the attack mailer by the Richardson Coalition get people made enough to get off the coach and vote against Amir, or for Amir. Still, I disagree, the only negative out of this race came from the Richardson Coalition.
dave chenoweth

Mark Steger said...

Well, what do you know? Another "related, kinda" story:

"Yes, politicians are neither angels nor philosophers, and sometimes the political stakes are high enough to warrant voting for a man with Sanford’s baggage and beliefs. There’s no absolute rule for these things; they have to be navigated case by case. But a special election to fill out a term in a reliably-conservative seat seems like exactly the kind of high profile, low stakes contest where it makes sense to put moral and theological principle ahead of party. Unfortunately the voters of South Carolina disagreed."

Read more here.