Gumball grading highlights pettiness of political discourse

Let’s face it: Voters of all political ideologies and party affiliations get weary of the pettiness of politics — the childish attacks and snide comments that have nothing to do with issues and everything to do with personalities. Some seem designed only to obscure the facts and mislead voters. Others are aimed at nothing more than belittling an opponent. Such tactics foster a political environment that has even nastier political dialogue, generally, and has made it ever more difficult to achieve solutions on complicated issues.

We at The Daily Sentinel also grow tired of such attacks, and we wanted to prominently highlight politicians who employ such tactics. To highlight the juvenile nature of such tactics, we came up with the image of a gumball machine — a symbol of childish desire and frequently frustration, as when a child doesn’t get everything he or she wants.

So, we herewith introduce our gumball grading system for political use of childish attacks or rhetoric. Every politician (or representative of a group fighting for or against ballot measures) begins this campaign season with a full gumball dispenser. But he or she will lose some candy every time that person says or does something we deem unacceptable for thoughtful adult discourse.

The four politicians below have lost their first group of gumballs. There are five levels ending with an empty dispenser. Our approach is lighthearted, but our intent is serious.

We limited our grading to those politicians and ballot issues that voters in western Colorado will see on their November ballots. While there will be plenty of immature rhetoric spouted by politicians across the country, we’re not concerned with what Nancy Pelosi or Mitch McConnell have to say because we’re not voting on their futures.

And, while a considerable amount of questionable rhetoric has already escaped the lips of Colorado politicians this year, we have decided to begin our grading with last weekend’s Club 20’s political debates, essentially the beginning of the fall campaign season here on the Western Slope.

Readers will note that one of the four examples listed below is not from the Club 20 debate, but from a political advertisement. They’re fair game, too, and should be held to standards of adult behavior. Even advertisements by independent groups not controlled directly by a candidate can cost a candidate gumballs. Candidates have an obligation to make it clear to all their supporters they won’t tolerate such childish behavior.

These kinds of attacks are nothing new in our body politic, of course. They’ve been around since the days when Thomas Jefferson’s opponents published rumors about his affair with his slave Sally Hemmings. They were there when Republicans attacked Democratic presidential candidate Grover Cleveland with chants of “Ma, ma, where’s my pa? Gone to the White House, ha, ha, ha,” — a reference to Cleveland’s illegitimate son.

Few attacks can top that which allegedly occurred in the 1950 Florida Democratic primary for a Senate seat. Candidate George Smathers reportedly told a group of poorly educated rural voters that the brother of his opponent, Congressman Claude Pepper, was “a known homo sapien” and Pepper’s sister was “a practicing thespian.” (Smathers later disputed the story, but it was widely reported in the press at the time.)

We certainly hope we don’t see anything so blatantly designed to mislead voters and tarnish the reputations of opposing candidates in races on the Western Slope. But if we do, it will be graded. Politicians, hang on to your gumballs. We’re watching you.


Republican congressional candidate Scott Tipton “wants to raise your taxes 23 percent” because he has supported the Fair Tax — 3rd District Rep. John Salazar, Democrat, during his Club 20 debate with Tipton Sept. 11.

What’s wrong with it?

The Fair Tax would be a national consumption tax, similar to a sales tax. It’s supporters want it to replace the federal income tax, not add to the burden of U.S. taxpayers. Salazar knows that, and he knows that Tipton and others who have advocated for the Fair Tax never sought any tax increase, much less a 23 percent tax hike. That would only occur if the Fair Tax was enacted without a corresponding drop or elimination of the income tax, something Fair Tax supporters adamantly oppose. Salazar’s claim is a blatant falsehood intended to mislead voters.


“It’s 9/11. Let’s roll!” — Scott Tipton, completing his opening comments in his Sept. 11 Club 20 debate with Rep. John Salazar.

What’s wrong with it?

Tipton maintains that a burst of enthusiasm as the debate began caused him to proclaim the words used by Todd Beamer on doomed United Flight 93 as Beamer and other passengers attacked the terrorist hijackers nine years ago. Let’s hope it wasn’t a calculated campaign strategy. First, it is entirely inappropriate to co-op the words of patriotic Americans who were engaged in a life-or-death struggle with terrorists and use them for a political campaign. Second, the use of those words suggests that Salazar is the enemy, on a par with terrorists. Tipton’s comment was way out of bounds.


“Dan Maes not only conned me out of my money, he lied to me about his background and he deceived my friends and myself about his conservative principles. I’ve had so many people call me and ask, ‘What kind of man would do that to an 83-year-old lady?’ ” — Freda Poundstone, in a television advertisement for Tom Tancredo, the American Constitution Party candidate for governor.

What’s wrong with it?

Freda Poundstone and Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes clearly have different views about the reasons for the $300 she loaned him early in the campaign. But her story of those differences seems to grow with each telling, so that it now included him deceiving her about his conservative values. More importantly, the ad leaves the impression that Maes “conned” a naive, grandmotherly, octogenarian. But, as Tancredo well knows, Poundstone is a tough-as-nails political operative who has been involved in numerous Colorado campaigns for decades. The attempts to paint political newcomer Maes as an evil pol conning little old ladies is not believable and not appropriate.


“My girlfriends used to call men like him peacocks. They looked good until they opened their mouths.” — Democrat Claudette Konola, referring to Steve King, her Republican opponent in the race for state Senate District 7, during their Club 20 debate Sept. 11.

What’s wrong with it?

Konola can certainly raise questions about whether King’s statements on policy issues lack substance, as she did during the Club 20 debate. But the peacock comment added nothing to the debate. It was meant to demEan King personally, not his policy ideas. It was unfair and unacceptable.


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