Monday, November 3, 2014

Why Negative Politics? Because They Work.

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, November 3, 2014.
By Bill Gouveia


            Tomorrow is Election Day.  I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for it to be over.


            While I thank all the candidates and campaign workers for their hard and earnest efforts to better serve our government and help people – I’ve had enough.  I would just like most of them to go away for a little while, and let me get back to family, football, fatty foods and the other really important stuff in life.


            I love politics.  Even the inside, backroom, nitty-gritty stuff that either bores or ticks off most people.  I’m fascinated by the strategies, the philosophies, and the incredible drive it takes to get things done on the state and federal levels of our government.  I haven’t quite become a C-Span devotee yet, but I do pay attention.


            However, the negative politics that have peaked in this off-year election are wearing me down.  I simply can’t stand the whiny, accusatory and destructive attitudes and campaigns that have become the norm. 


Listening to the current crop of candidates bash each other has become worse than hearing nails dragged down a chalkboard (those are the things we had before whiteboards, for those of you who have never clapped an eraser).


            Don’t get me wrong, there are still some folks running for public office who inspire me and earn my admiration.  But for the most part I am dismayed that we – the voting public – continue to make negative campaigning the most effective way to get elected.


            Take the race for Governor in Massachusetts.  On one side we have Martha Coakley, a mediocre attorney general best known as the democrat who lost Ted Kennedy’s senate seat.  Her opponent is Republican Charlie Baker, who turned around Harvard Pilgrim but can’t remember if a conversation with a possibly fictitious New Bedford fisherman occurred last Saturday or in 2009.  They apparently are the best their parties can offer.


            But Massachusetts doesn’t have the market cornered on races between candidates focused on destroying the other side.  You need look no further than immediately south and north of the Bay State to confirm that.


            In Rhode Island, State Treasurer Gina Raimondo and Cranston Mayor Allan Fung are rolling in the mud like a couple of happy hogs.  Their television ads are enough to make Richard Nixon blush.  If half the charges they make against each other are true, each should be in jail.


            Up in the Granite State, former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown is trying to unseat Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen.  They are locked in a tight race, with each trying hard to make voters hate and distrust the other.  Both have been quite good at it.


            Each candidate has totally distorted nearly every vote the other has ever cast.  Even when they are right in their criticisms, people have trouble believing them because they chalk it all up to politics. 


Brown pretends not to be a carpetbagger who moved there because his prospects for a political career were better than if he stayed.  Shaheen pretends she can get reelected on her own record, without resorting to pointing out Brown’s political faults and opportunism.


            And thanks to our unique geographic location, we get a front row seat to all of it.


            Being located in Southeastern Massachusetts means we are part of both the Boston and Providence television markets.  So not only are we treated to the crass commercials and campaigns from the elections we can vote in, we get to wallow in the slime of those we cannot directly affect as well. 


            And don’t even get me started on some of the congressional races throughout New England and the country. 


            It doesn’t have to be this way.  We could be listening to a lot of good debate about the serious issues before us.  But negative politicking is widespread for one simple reason:  It works.  We accept accusations of wrongdoing at face value, but demand undeniable proof of anything good. 


            There is no way to get rid of all the negativity.  That has always been and will always be an integral part of politics.  But we can do better.


            It is often said our electorate is merely a reflection of the people serving in government.  In my opinion, exactly the opposite is true.


Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

No comments: