I would like to think that the nastiness of the American presidential campaign is a new low. As bad as it is, I only have to think back to other recent campaigns to see races that set a pretty low bar. And, taking the longer view, we can find lots of tawdry examples.
Of course, political “analysts” tell us that attack ads are used because they work. And now, with the unleashing of Super PACs, there is less accountability and more money than ever. We should prepare ourselves for bitter attacks, superficiality and distortion.
I suppose that what concerns me the most is what all of this says not about American politics, but about the American spirit. Personal attacks only affect me if I am predisposed to demonize. Fear mongering only works if I am already afraid. Thinly veiled racism and homophobia only work if I am already afraid of people who are different from me.
Tactics that refuse to discuss honestly the options before us will only work in a national culture that is in deep denial. We see symptoms of this denial all around us. I think of those who still deny global warming.
My own politics are, and always have been, pretty progressive (though among UU’s I am probably middle of the road!). What troubles me is that we are not having anything like an informed debate about the real options.
We need a real debate about the role of government and about the need for policies that will deal with the real issues of an aging population, about environmental degradation and the need for sustainability, about levels of taxation that fund the government we want. Reasonable people of goodwill are going to disagree about policy. But we are witnessing the worst sort of pandering.
The deeper problem is not our political process, though heaven knows it has been severely distorted and corrupted by money and power. The deeper problem is a nation that is anxious, afraid, insecure, and often in denial. These are emotional and deeply spiritual issues.
The shameful display of this campaign bothers me because of what it says about us. This campaign holds up a mirror.