A Balcony View: Turned off by negative campaigning

I had a bizarre thought the other day. Actually, I have unusual thoughts every day, but this one particular notion was fueled by my contribution to last weekend's In Theory section of the paper.

The topic for debate was cyber bullying. I chose to focus less on the cyber medium itself, and more on the act of bullying, and how good self-esteem can be used as an effective tool in the battle against those who intimidate, whether it's on the playground or in an e-mail.

My rationale got me to thinking about the climate of negativity in our political arena. Is it possible to stop the verbal assault and battery that candidates wage upon one another during election seasons?

It seems there's no other profession where this kind of taunting behavior is even practiced, much less acceptable. I take that back. Negative, irrational comments are also acceptable coming from many organized religions. Vengeful gods seem to have a lot in common with gubernatorial candidates these days.

We've become numb to the fact that someone running for governor can call their opponent a "whore," while the other launches an entire website dedicated to multi-directional mudslinging.

"You failed to claim lemonade stand profits as income when you were 12!"

"You allowed your Poodle to sniff other dogs without permission!"

"You're a potty face!"

"You're a double potty face!"

And on and on it goes, with both sides focusing more attention on their opponents than on the issues. To be honest, with all the inane negative advertising flying around, about the only thing I do know about either candidate running for governor of our state is that I wish both of them would stop talking about each other and start talking more about the many unresolved issues.

Simply put, I lack the ability to make an informed decision based on schoolyard taunting.

Imagine the following scenario: You need open heart surgery. You go to see a surgeon. He examines you. To get a measure of confidence, you ask him about his experience, and he says this:

"Well, I'd say you want to use me because the surgeon on the third floor drives a Prius. Do you really want a self-righteous Prius driver cracking open your chest?"

I do admit, I'd love to go on my next writing interview and state my qualifications based solely on negative comments about my fellow writers.

"You should hire me, not Steve Lopez — not because I'm better, but because he shamelessly dangles his participles. And I have it on good authority that he does so in front of children. And don't get me started on Caneday. If you hire me as your next writer, I won't use contractions unless it's absolutely in my own best interest!"

The temptation to fling slop around the political arena must be overwhelming, because I can't recall any race in recent memory (or recorded history, for that matter) where candidates have refrained from such tactics.

So, given that our political leaders have such little regard for respecting each other, is it any wonder that each generation becomes increasingly more vicious in their character assaults on one another?

The old saying, "monkey see, monkey do," comes to mind. If we expect a younger generation to grow up with a better value system, perhaps those who seek office ought to be held to a similarly higher standard.

That is not to say that we the people are without fault. The political marketing machines put out the messages that will gain the most favorable response. Unfortunately, calling someone a witch gets a lot of mileage on the campaign trail.

It's up to voters like you and I to be more vociferous, to demand candidates bring a more intelligent, informed agenda to the table — one that is decidedly more focused on what they believe, rather than what their opponent smoked in college.

Yes, the argument can always be raised that personal choices — like hiring illegal immigrants as house workers, and college experimentation with beer bongs — are testaments of character and ability to lead. But should they be the most publicized issues when political lines are so divided that little gets accomplished? I don't think so.

Maybe the character assassinations ought to be left for the likes of Bill Maher, "The Daily Show," Fox News and other entertainment entities that are experts at reporting and satirizing this kind of rhetoric. After all, people already know where to go for whatever flavor of rancor they desire. Leaving the insults, jabs and mockery to the professionals might actually free up the candidates to develop more meaningful platforms on which to run.

It might also serve to raise the perceived value of our elected officials. I don't know about you, but I don't associate with people who constantly bash others solely to make themselves look more appealing. It's not a quality I seek in others.

And that brings me to one final thought. If I don't respect that kind of behavior, is it any wonder that I find myself repulsed by the notion of electing it into office, no matter what choice I make?

I'm Gary Huerta and I endorse this opinion.

GARY HUERTA is a Glendale resident and author. He is senior manager of communications for DIRECTV and a copywriting professor at Pasadena Art Center College of Design. Gary may be reached at garyrhuerta@gmail.com.

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