(HOST) Election day is fast approaching, and commentator Bill Seamans is wondering just how deep the mud will get.
(SEAMANS) With just three weeks to go before the critical midterm elections we wonder just how negative this campaign will get. That word “negative” is the polite and comfortable way to describe dirty, sleazy politics. It’s a story that precedes every election with the prediction each year that “this one will be the most negative campaign in history.” The word “civility” has been made a joke by campaign surrogates who sling the mud for which the candidates disclaim accountability – but do not disavow. Smear is the political word du jour. And this year’s negative campaign was blasted off by the reaction to the Mark Foley Congressional page sex scandal.
President Bush’s early promises to change the tone of the national political dialogue has been overwhelmed by what could be called a neocivility that renders most rules of civility obsolete – now it seems that anything goes – well-financed by what has become a personal smear industry dedicated to destroying the political opponent.
But I wonder if you, as I do, sense that we the people, as we hear the tragic daily toll of GI’s and Marines killed or maimed in Iraq and Afghanistan, are getting fed up with the overdose and insensitivity of partisan spin, disinformation, hypocrisy, character assassination and just plain lying. Over the next few weeks we will witness the extreme demolition derby of the smear machines trying to influence our vote. Our boots-on-the-ground in Iraq and Afghanistan also will see this deplorable scene on television – we ask how will it effect their morale, which is being severely tested as the insurgency worsens and their service terms are being extended. Will the political celebrities please stand up and answer that one?
But I ask a truly bipartisan question tempered by some worn down idealism – do we, the people, really deserve to be treated this way? Is this what little our politicians really think about us after all those grip-and-grin campaign promises in the town diner and their escape back to Washington where they mail us those insulting form letters that don’t answer our questions. Amid the clash and clatter, we the people are hardly hearing anything more than generalities about our critical national problems.
As we said, this story comes up before every election and it seems that the names and dates are changed but the basic story remains familiar. Political civility is a significant measure of our culture and society. The secret ballot that we will cast three weeks from now is the most sacred privilege of our form of democracy. Neocivility is a class war zone that could destroy it all.
Bill Seamans is a former correspondent and bureau chief for ABC News in the Middle East.