Rod Miller: Scorched Earth Politics and You

Columnist Rod Miller writes: "For all of our chest-thumping about We the People, we have failed to stop callous, spiteful candidates from hijacking our political process as they seek the lowest common denominator in politics."

Rod Miller

June 02, 20213 min read

Rod Miller
Rod Miller (Cowboy State Daily Staff)

A friend was bemoaning the current state of politics the other day, and asked “Why can’t politicians raise the bar?”. Given the sorry state of our political discourse today, that is a very valid question.

Candidates for public office, both at the state and national level, are increasingly resorting to “negative politics”, and lowering the standard of campaigns by using ad hominem attacks on opponents, name-calling, falsification and baldfaced lies. Nothing, it seems, generates headlines like a good smear, and headlines are the mother’s milk of politics.

I use the term “increasingly”, because mudslinging is not new to our political landscape. Read up on the presidential election of 1800, and see for yourself. That election led directly to a sitting Vice tPresident killing his political rival in a duel. Banner headlines, of course, ensued.

American voters have always loved a good political bloodbath. While we may express public shock at scorched earth politics, we can’t turn our eyes away from it. When we see the knives come out in a political campaign, its like we are driving slowly past a horrific wreck on the highway, craning our necks to see the mangled wreckage, hoping to get a glimpse of blood and tut-tutting about how sad it all is.

Politicians know this about us, and have raised to an art form their ability to grasp our collective attention with mudslinging, personal attacks and political carnage. They behave this way for a very simple reason. Voters reward these blitzkrieg candidates with what they covet most – election victories.

By tacitly allowing politicians to move the needle away from civil political discourse toward the worst of talk radio sophistry, we voters are complicit in damaging our representative democracy. We have abdicated our responsibilities as citizens because, it appears, it is easier to let some jerkwater politician do our thinking for us.

For all of our chest-thumping about “We the People”, we have failed to stop callous, spiteful candidates from hijacking our political process as they seek the lowest common denominator in politics. My friend was right – the bar has never been lower.

But she was wrong in thinking that its up to political candidates to raise the bar. They will never do that as long as they keep winning.

But if we as citizens demand better from those who seek to represent us, things will change. If we deny them our attention, and withhold our support when they descend into the political slimepit, then and only then will things change. When we use our votes as responsible citizens, the bar will raise itself. That is OUR job!

Our votes are the holy grail of any politician. Lets make sure we don’t give those votes to those who don’t deserve them.

My granddad, Kirk Miller, used to say, “The average person would be shocked to learn how little water it takes to make a good pot of coffee.” I’ll paraphrase him here: The average voter would be shocked to learn what a politician will do to get his or her vote. Lets make them work for it…our way.

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Rod Miller

Political Columnist