Platitudes and personality have replaced ideas in political world

A couple of conversations with two different friends recently turned to politics, as they often do in election years. Each conversation dealt in one way or another with the quality of candidates for political office in the 21 century.

In one, the question became: Whatever happened to the great statesmen? Where are the people who have the ability to not just hold competing ideas in their minds simultaneously, but to respect both of them, even when not agreeing with one of them? Where are the people like Abraham Lincoln, who filled his cabinet with his staunchest political opponents? Why does everything in public life revolve around personality? Whatever happened to the notion that people who tend to discuss issues in terms of ideas are just better people than those who discuss everything in terms of personality?

The second conversation was a micro- version of the first. Where, on the local level, are the Jim Robbs, the Dan Prinsters, the Tim Fosters, the Tillie Bishops, Gayle Berrys, Bernie Bueschers and Josh Penrys? Where are the people we can send to the Legislature knowing they will work with both sides of the aisle to make Colorado a better place for all of us? Let’s face it: The kind of cooperation and compromise necessary for public officials to really do their jobs simply doesn’t exist in 2010.

With all due respect to a few current office-holders, you are but mere shadows of your predecessors. It is an ominous gloom you’ve created in a time that demands real leadership.

That politicians have led us to where we are is no surprise. The politics of personality are hardly indigenous to western Colorado. It’s a genre that has grown exponentially with the rise of the 24-hour news cycle and the endless time that television and radio producers must fill. Glenn Greeenwald, in his book “Great American Hypocrites: Big Myths of Republican Politics,” lays the blame for much, if not all, of it on the right-wing noise machine that is AM talk radio and Fox News.

Certainly that is a big part of it. But I don’t think the problem can be laid wholly at the feet of the Republicans. The Limbaugh-Hannity-Coulter-Beck-Palin-O’Reilly gang certainly does its part to divide the country and keep it divided. But the Maddow-Olbermann-Matthews cabal works the other side just as hard.

Collectively they create the news on any given day, then spend a great deal of time reporting on themselves, all reinforcing whatever message they want to convey. It’s not just viewers and listeners who pay attention. It’s politicians, too. And they quickly learn politics today is a game played with few, if any rules, a game won by annihilation of the other side. The surest way to do that is to keep the conversation centered on personality, not ideas.

That brings me to Club 20, and its fall meeting, typically a major showcase for Colorado politics in election years. It’s a forum that in years past may have seen substantive debate about issues of great importance to Colorado. It’s where Colorado candidates might kick around ideas for creating jobs in rural areas, say, or regulating companies that want to extract resources from our part of the world. It’s where sensible candidates at one time might have discussed real ideas for handling a statewide budgetary shortfall.

That’s not what it is today. Today it’s where candidates who have no ideas of their own, or who believe the best way to win an election is to make snide remarks about the opponent, or both, gather not to enlighten but to illustrate why voters are fed up with politicians.

At Club 20 this past weekend, the audience was treated to platitudes and bickering. And that is likely all we’ll get whenever any candidates meet during the coming weeks.

De Tocqueville said we get the government we deserve. I disagree. We deserve better.

Denny Herzog is the retired executive editor of The Daily Sentinel. E-mail him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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