Volume 14, Issue 44 ~ November 2 - November 8, 2006

Burton on the Bay

By Bill Burton

In the Unstirred Pot, Truth Sinks

What candidate is going to voluntarily confess to shortcomings?

Dig out the dirt.

—Bill Burton, a voter

Tell you what. As the election approaches, I’m probably in the minority, but I have few complaints concerning what is called negative campaigning.

I say dig out the dirt.

I ask you: In the game of politics, can a candidate be expected to voluntarily confess his/her shortcomings? In this election, most candidates aren’t even willing to tell us which ticket they’re running on.

Bottom line: Campaigning is a game of hide ’n’ seek.

Candidate A hides what could hurt at the polls: voting record, ineffectiveness in office, an unsavory private life, anything that might cost a vote. It’s up to Candidate B to dig out the dirt, or it might never see the light of day.

Then roles are reversed. Candidate B does the seeking, and Candidate A does the hiding.

On the sidelines, the electorate gripes This is a sin. Negative campaigning.

Good Old Dirt

Voters, I ask you: What would a campaign be like if someone didn’t stir up the pot? I can hear it now:

“I’m for the Chesapeake Bay. Elect me and you can swim in it again. I’m for law and order; a vote for me will ensure safety at home and on the streets. I’m for fiscal integrity. If elected I’ll lower taxes. I’m committed to education; I promise your kids will come home with straight A’s.”

Utopia! Regardless of who wins, we can all sleep at night. Happy days are here again.

But not this voter. I prefer hardball, getting down to the nitty-gritty, the dirty dirt. The truth, the whole truth. Of course political background, voting records and astuteness are prime considerations, but integrity also plays a role in the final decision.

When Candidate A questionably/falsely brags about cleaning up the Bay, I consider the process is working as it should when Candidate B counters: If that is so, why was it that 15 years ago you cleared trees on environmentally sensitive land to build an addition to your home? Or Why did you vote against House Bill 7734, which would have barred development on the Clarke Woodlands on the Patapsco?

Call it negative campaigning if you will, but I suggest it is positive enlightenment when one candidate accepts the challenge to put the record straight with facts that would otherwise remain hidden.

Politicians Live in Glass Houses

This also applies to non-campaign issues, even to life outside politics. At the risk of being old fashioned, this writer considers character, integrity and trust within a candidate’s personal life worthy of scrutiny and evaluation.

To put it bluntly, if a candidate is on the stump preaching family values and among his entourage is a perky young lady, and between the two more than votes and issues are involved, I want to know. The same if in his past he was hauled into court to face delinquent child-support payments, assault, drunken driving and such.

I’m not looking for the seedy side of life; instead for values or lack thereof that can help in deciding whether the candidate is worthy of my vote.

I’m not without sin. If I were a candidate for dogcatcher, someone somewhere could dig up a few things in the past I’d rather the electorate wasn’t aware of. But I’m not a candidate for public office.

In running for public office, do they not realize they have moved into a glass house?

Leveling the Field

This applies over the whole spectrum, dog catcher to president. We have the press as well as the other political parties to dig out the dirt in the upper echelons of the political picture, say from governors and congress to the presidency.

But get down in the trenches of lower offices, so much pertinent falls though the floorboards. Also, many voters have short memories or never knew of historic shortcomings. They need reminding.

Some candidates have much more in campaign bucks than others, and not infrequently much of the slush fund comes from special interest groups whose interests aren’t in conformity with those of the electorate. Those candidates can put up more and bigger signs; buy more airtime and bigger newspaper ads; send more fancy multi-colored mailings to our homes.

If their opponents are running their campaigns on a shoestring, they’re overwhelmed. They can’t get their message across. If they note outright lies or grossly misleading assertions in the campaigns of their better funded opponents, they risk complaints of negative campaigning.

Methinks negative campaigning isn’t as bad as false or misleading positive campaigning. Voters deserve the whole truth.

Late Dirt

Many races are tight in this election, and as days become fewer before the vote, it appears more than a few candidates are becoming desperate.

As Election Day looms, more dirt is being dug.

But we’re led to believe the digging isn’t done by rival candidates, who claim they wouldn’t stoop so low, but by groups who pass themselves off as Friends of … or Citizens to Elect … you fill in the name of the candidate. Such practices reveal how dumb we appear to the candidate being boosted by the negative campaigning. Do they think we don’t know those oft-misleading mailings are sent with, at least, the blessing of the candidate?

In today’s mail came three fancy, 81⁄2x11-inch glossy flyers in full color on very thick papers (almost cardboard) accusing different candidates for the House of Delegates of anything from missing votes in Annapolis to allowing the county (and country) to be overrun by aliens.

They were mailed in the late days of the campaign deliberately; now, their targets have little time to get equally fancy flyers designed, printed and mailed in time for the big day. I call that negative campaigning at its worst.

Seems to this writer that if dirt is to fly, it should fly early to allow time for rebuttal and for voters to figure things out, to determine what’s dirt and what’s crap.

Enough said.

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