Would you agree that television's highest rated reality show since the dawn of that egregious genre's debut has been this year's Republican presidential primary campaign? Who in their right minds consented to all those debates where facts were given hiatus, mud was the medium of discourse and lies and distortions cascaded in a verbal and suffocating avalanche? One came away not only questioning one's sanity for watching, but also that of the candidates whose performances were subjected to the microscopic review of the 24/7 press corps, as is required. The unrelenting review of every parsed sentence was unforgiving. The only winners have been the network hosts, certainly not the debate participants who emerged black, blue and bloodied, only to continue the next day, followed by a horde of reporters whose job, appropriately, is to fact-check and question. It is a withering spectacle, but one whose purpose is well intended but ugly in its execution.
Because of their exposure, we may know this batch of candidates better than others in recent memory. That's a good thing for the voting public, but not necessarily for the candidates. We'll know every single wart and weakness, any tendency to misspeak, to "misremember," as George W. Bush put it; and a candidate's reliance on distorting another's position to further his own standing. Does that really work? Should it? Regrettably, it does work, as has been proven by research into the effectiveness of negative advertising and the reliance of campaigns on such means of waging war.
What does that say about our own psyche? Do we respond more passionately to the worst that can be said about other people than about all that might be positive and hopeful about our chosen candidates or fellow man? It is so, and I am ashamed.
But there's another factor. Candidates indeed dig their own holes, by misstatements, lies and distortions that can easily be challenged by 24/7 coverage, but the very fact that they are covered 24/7 means that they are inevitably going to make mistakes and gaffes that might go unremarked otherwise. How would you like to have every one of your words and statements scrutinized to same the extent? Yes, we are all human, but how many gaffes and misstatements of our own go unnoted because we don't have a press pool following us. Lord knows, I could be found guilty and would not want to go before the 24/7 police, despite my good intentions. Words can be our making or our downfall even in daily life not on the campaign trail.
Take Newt Gingrich who famously described Republican Congressman Paul Ryan's budget plan presented to Congress as "right wing social engineering," no more desirable than "left wing social engineering." When that incited the right wing base, Gingrich recanted, in a way, saying, "Any ad which quotes what I said on Sunday is a falsehood." A curious a way to backpedal if ever there were one.
Every candidate has been forced to disavow or to rue one statement or many. Consider Romney's frequent words suggesting he doesn't "care about the poor," one statement among many indicating he doesn't connect with the working class. That's a difficult transition - hard to be an everyman - for one born with a silver spoon in his mouth but who made his own way to the top of business fortunes.
Rick Santorum, now at the forefront, has been called into account for, among many others, statements saying high gas prices caused the recession that began in 2008. He was forced to retreat, saying only that gas prices might have contributed to the inability of people to pay their mortgages. He has said that "men and women" signed the Declaration of Independence, but no such thing is true. No women were at that table. And surely he regrets saying that a speech by JFK meant to allay concerns his Catholic religion might drive his decisions in office "made him want to throw up." In fact, JFK's Catholic religion obliterated concerns that might have kept other Catholics - like Santorum - from being considered viable. For the purposes of this column, I'll forget that he says states ought to be able to ban birth control means, citing "the dangers of contraception." Puhleeeze.
There are far more glaring examples of misspoken or intentionally misleading statements by the candidates, but with such a rich loam in which to delve, I hope you'll excuse me from citing the most pointed examples. (Ron Paul's wacky statements deserve their own column.) My point is that campaigning is ugly, candidates don't help themselves and neither does the process. If you happen to be "on the other side," you might exult in the constant warring and wearing down in the process, but if you want to be objective, you can't be proud of how we go about an election.
Barbara Morgan is a Covington resident with a background in newspaper journalism, state government and politics.