Saturday, November 04, 2006

THE CITY DESK - Rory Riddler, Councilman Ward 1

As Election Day Nears
How Low Will They Go?

Give me a second to adjust my soapbox. That’s better. Tap, tap, tap…is this thing on? Hope you can all hear me in the back.

I’m on my political soapbox today to morn the passing of the last shred of civility and decency in American politics. The 2006 mid-term elections have been a bruising slugfest of degeneracy, perhaps equaled only by the blood sport of cage fighting. Negative campaign commercials, automated phone calls and direct mail pieces on behalf of various candidates have employed fear mongering, race baiting and bold faced lies as part of a “win at any cost” campaign strategy that threatens to further alienate voters.

We get it already. Zealots of the Republican Party and their counter-parts of the Democratic Party hate each other. They are unwilling to work together and spend almost all their time in Jefferson City and Washington D. C. trying to put knives in each other’s backs. They are so consumed in playing a giant game of “gotcha” that little things like the War in Iraq, our civil liberties, global warming, education, health care and retirement security take a back seat.

It makes me long for the days when all they did was exaggerate or distort the record of a candidate. Now they just make it up as they go along. Two years ago State Representative Tom Green was the victim of the new lower standards for political attacks. The Missouri Republican Party sent out a negative mailer the week before the election saying that Green had squandered taxpayer money by taking a publicly funded vacation to Alaska.

There was just one little itty-bitty problem with the piece. Green had never gone to Alaska. To his credit, Green is suing them. A judge refused motions to throw the case out, so it looks like Green will get his day in court. Right now, he is even more concerned with the court of public opinion as he ties to regain the seat he narrowly lost two years ago.

As the national battle for control of the United State Senate comes down to which way Missouri falls, tens of millions of dollars are pouring into the campaigns of Democratic challenger Claire McCaskill and Republican incumbent Jim Talent. If you can believe the televisions ads (and you can’t), both of them are the worst kind of people. You wouldn’t trust them to walk your dog, let alone help run the Country.

The mind boggles at how much money is being spent trying to convince us that we wouldn’t want to leave Claire McCaskill alone with anyone’s grandparents as she would surely slit their throats at the first opportunity. Or that Jim Talent spends his spare time killing off our veterans.

Things were getting so bad last week that I thought Walgreens would start selling McCaskill and Talent masks for Halloween. On Tuesday I was getting scared to go to my mailbox alone. Whenever the phone rang with another recorded political message, it was like listening to the wailing of a thousand tormented souls.

In a week, I’ve received at least six pieces of mail and a dozen phone calls about how Claire McCaskill turned her back on the rape, murder and torture of Seniors in nursing homes. Apparently most Missouri nursing homes are run like Iraqi prisons. You would think the President of the United States, the United States Senate, the Congress, Missouri’s Governor, Attorney general or General Assembly could save these poor people from this hell on earth…but no. For some inexplicable reason, unknown to Constitutional experts or high school civics classes, the Republican Party is convinced the State Auditor bears responsibility for whatever goes on in Missouri’s nursing homes.

Particularly annoying this election cycle have been the automated phone calls, sometimes called “robo” calls. Senator Kit Bond has taken the time from his busy schedule to call me twice this week. Confidentially, I think his mind might be slipping a bit. The second time he phoned he called me Elizabeth. I also think it’s funny that he pauses just before saying St. Charles. It is almost as if he just read a long list of communities and they were automatically dropped into the pre-recorded message to make me think he actually cared enough to record the message a few hundred times for every city in the State.

I had a retired Brigadier General call me and leave a recorded message about how important stem cell research was for veterans. A host of movie and television stars also would like me to think they personally called me. I can’t believe they think my vote is that important. Please, no autographs.

I also got an attack flyer yesterday from the House Republican Campaign Committee about my fellow Councilman Joe Koester. Joe is running for State Representative against Tom Dempsey. Dempsey is Majority Floor Leader and seems to have more money to spend in this election than the Danforth Foundation. But I guess it is a sign of just how afraid Republican candidates are from the top of the ticket on down, that the House Republicans felt they had to go negative on Joe Koester.

Last week a photographer made a big production out of standing up in the middle of the Council meeting and flashing pictures of Joe Koester. He took about thirty or so flash photos with an expensive looking camera. But, of course, the one they printed in the attack flyer is grainy and out of focus. They have this standard play book and never show enough creativity to deviate from it. Some “expert” decided that the way voters can tell a good politician from a bad one is the quality of the photo you run of them. The bad politicians are always the ones grainy and out of focus. Personally I think it reflects poorly on a multi-million dollars operation that can’t take a decent photo.

Anyway, the mailer said how Joe had tried to take away utility tax rebates from Seniors. In fact he hadn’t. He proposed a means test based on income where most Seniors on Social Security would have gotten the rebates and those more well off would not have. The bill was never passed, but that never stopped a good attack ad.

Emblazoned in red across the top of the mailer it said, “Why Are You Hurting Our Seniors, Joe?” Apparently Joe holds them down while Claire McCaskill beats them with a baseball bat.

In a few days we will see if the political experts that sold people on going so negative this year were right or wrong. But winning isn’t everything. In the long run, they have traded rational discourse and an informed electorate for mudslinging and brainwashed ideologues.

During the final game of the World Series, the camera zoomed in on a large banner two Cardinal fans were holding. In giant letters it stated, “The Experts Are Idiots!” The announcers in the booth got a chuckle out of it and one in a somewhat muffled voice added, “Well, they’re right.” The sports pundits didn’t give the Cardinals a chance of winning the NLC, let alone the World Series.

The fact is that too many politicians have been listening to the so-called national political experts, and frankly, the experts are idiots.