The Daily Journal: Educate yourself: Know the candidates, not just the campaigns

Politics, like the labels of “liberal” and “conservative,” has become a four-letter word. And much of that is not so much because how parties and people are divided on the issues but how we allow ourselves to be affected by divisive campaigning.

It’s regrettable that we have come to expect it at the national level, thinking it is just all part of the game that is a campaign. And it doesn’t impact us as much, mainly because we don’t know those people; all we know is what we read in newspapers and magazines, what we see on television when our dinner is interrupted by creepy music and a dark, scowling face or a sunny, smiling dad reading to his toddlers. What we derive from advertising in many ways is more distracting than helpful.

Maybe it is designed to be just that. Perhaps distraction from the real issues in favor of a juicy scandal or a catchy slogan is the method behind the madness after all. The positive portrait of a candidate is tolerable, even if overly saccharin. It is the maliciousness of some campaigns that has tainted politics, and voters are the poorer for it.

Oconee County’s Bill Sandifer, a Republican in the South Carolina House, is the latest local lawmaker to come under attack by voucher and tax credit proponents (read: public money for private education) disguised not too cleverly as “responsible” citizens of South Carolina.

South Carolinians for Responsible Government (SCRG) defines itself as “a grassroots organization of over 200,000 citizens who support limited government, lower taxes and increased educational options.” But many of those grassroots are not planted in South Carolina. The name on documents creating the group is an attorney in Washington, D.C. One of its main contributors is from New York. Yet no one really knows who its members and contributors are, because the organization claims nothing it does is intended to influence elections. All they want to do is “inform the public.” Thus normal ethics laws of openness don’t apply, its leaders claim.

But its advertising, which in 2004 aimed its influence at Rep. Bill Whitmire, also a Republican Oconee County state lawmaker, distorts voting records in a slick manner that has little to do with the truth and everything to do with a hidden agenda. (The campaign against Whitmire, by the way, was a failure. Whitmire easily won re-election.)

We don’t always agree with Sandifer’s positions. We were disappointed that he voted to uphold Gov. Mark Sanford’s veto of an increase in the cigarette tax. And we believe it unwise for any office holder to sign a no-tax pledge. But to claim, as SCRG does, that Sandifer, among others who have been made targets, is “a career politician” whose only concern is getting re-elected is not just unfair.

It is untrue.

Other candidates have suffered at the hands of this organization, all incumbents who have supported public education. Other campaigns, even on the local front, have utilized its methods of skewing statistics, using spin over substance and trying to confuse the public with innuendo.

It is truly a shame that candidates don’t in some ways simply leave their opponents out of the process and the publicity overall. Don’t tell us what you believe your opponent has done wrong; tell us what you believe you can do right.

You want the public’s votes? Convince us not with criticism of your opponent that concentrates on winning at any cost but with what you are willing to invest in public service. A successful campaign is like a successful relationship. It’s not about the flashy and expensive wedding designed only to impress.

It’s about the marriage.


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