It is not uncommon for pundits, politicians, and citizens alike to complain about the vitriol in political campaigns. Money is spent hand over fist on television ads, fliers in the mail, billboards, and various other means to attack the opposing candidate. Statements are taken out of context, complex policies and positions are reduced to 30 second “take that!” tv spots all at the expense of true dialogue and engaged decision-making.
This has been just as evident in the presidential and vice-presidential “debates” this election season. Although the candidates have offerred some specific details regarding the economy, social policy, and foreign policy, it seems more time is spent, by both sides, trying to convince the public that “the other guy” hates everything the the viewer holds dear and wishes to destroy peace and prosperity for their own self aggrandization and satisfaction. Although, it is possible that there is the occasional candidate who is truly sociopathic (lacking care for others) I refuse to accept the premise that this is the norm for politicians. It is unbecoming of anyone seeking higher office to lower themselves to these tactics; however, we share responsibility in the negativity and lack of charity in campaigns because we are unwilling to truly educate ourselves on the issues and the positions of candidates. We are moved to vote and act by our emotional reactions to campaign ads and catch-phrases. We continue to vote for “the lesser of two evils” which allows candidates not to rise to the occasion and expectation of the American people, but rather, to make their opponent less appetizing than themselves. If you are starving in the wilderness and you have to choose between eating a rat or the stomach contents of a deer carcass left by a coyote, you will eat but it wont be pleasant and it wont necessarily be good for you. What you need is nutrition, substance; what you settle for is trash. We should refuse to settle. We should begin holding our politicians accountable. We should begin to hold ourselves accountable. Do we engage in painting others with a broad political brush? “Democrats are baby-killers!” “Republicans hate the poor!” These narrow-minded approaches to politics and government are not what God had planned for us when He gave us authority over this temporal world. We are guided by Holy Mother Church to follow a different path in political campaigns. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published a document called “Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation” Contained within this remarkable Magisterial document the Church places campaigns like the one we are witnessing from both sides in the realm of unjust armed struggle when She says: “Equally unacceptable are detestable smear campaigns capable of destroying a person psychologically or morally.”
I have too often heard people say that politics is the cause of many problems. I do not believe this. I do believe partisanship, “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” mentality and tactics are the cause for many problems. But politics, when used and not abused, just as any other “good” gifted to humanity is used appropriately, can be the cause for bringing about a more just and peaceful world.