The mud-slinging, bullying, negative and inaccurate advertising that has marred Missouri politics and civic service hit a new low with the death of auditor Tom Schweich. The sad thing is, he is just one of many bullied political candidates in recent decades. Voters hold the solution to better days.
Schweich committed suicide on Feb. 26. He was a declared candidate for Missouri governor in 2016. The graduate of Yale and Harvard law school had a distinguished record of public service before he entered politics. He was re-elected state auditor last fall. His platform was reform in Missouri government, including reducing big-money influence peddling.
Opponents had already fired a salvo at Schweich, including a demeaning radio ad. Friends say he was upset because he believed a top leader of the state Republican party was starting a whispering campaign that he was Jewish.
Schweich was not.
That someone would worry that faith beliefs would hinder a political candidate is a sad statement about today’s political climate.
The Kansas City Star has reported that the negative radio ad may have ties to Jeff Roe and his Axiom Strategies political consulting company. Roe is known as a bare-knuckle political strategist. He has friends and ties to Platte County politics, as well as state and national ties. That Roe and others have made fortunes with negativity in politics is sad, too.
But ultimately, the fate of politics is decided in a voting booth. Voters go into voting booths. Advertising, mailers and speeches are aimed at voters. But the voters are not defenseless against misleading information, if not outright lies.
Negative attack ads and distorted messages fly at us during election years because they’ve worked. They work because voters allow them to work.
These are not easy times to be a voter. The information age has ratcheted up the pace of our lives.
Better highways mean faster driving. News on a cell phone means headlines go past our brains in an eye blink.
Slowing down for many means binge watching movies and television on Netflix, escape to Oz. Escape has its merits.
We can’t be all serious about the world all the time. The trouble is, many people don’t want to be serious about the world enough to study it for just a little bit of time.
Therefore a quick-hit, cheap-shot political ad finds a place to lodge in their minds. If it’s not the one ad that turns the tide of personal opinion about a candidate’s merits, it’s the steady background noise of ads flowing on radio, television, the web, the telephone.
This is not about Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal. Many people who hold beliefs that skew them to a party or political leaning make their choices after studying the issues and evaluating where their beliefs stand.
But they don’t let meanness and selfishness make excuses that any means justifies the end. They debate and differ within the bounds of thoughtful American democracy. But there’s another type of person in today’s politics — one who doesn’t care about basic human decency, let alone intellectual merit.
The result is that many people highly qualified to serve in public office choose not to risk pulling themselves and family through the mudslinging that might occur, and voters turn away from even reasonable debate because they’re exhausted by the shrill negative tones.
Voters will have to be the ones to provide the fix, though.
When they see an ad with a bad, unflattering photo of a candidate, they can reject the candidate backing the negative message. When the criticisms are flying in campaigns, they can take time to seek out several sources of information and study varied facts and opinions. When a candidate is obviously sleazily mudslinging, they can reject that candidate.
We’re never going to agree on all candidates and issues. This is America, and democracy is about diversity creating strength.
Inaccurate negativity, however, makes our country, state and county weak. We can do better, but until voters reject sleazy politics, we’re going to continue to be bombarded with the mud.
Bill Graham, who lives in the Platte City area with his family, may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.