Fear and loathing in politics

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What has happened to civil discourse in America? A few weeks ago, a longtime friend told me about his daughter along with five other members of the Edward Little High School speech and debate team, will be participating in a national debate competition in Washington.

I was eager to help financially and even more excited that several young adults from Auburn have done so well in a skill that will be critical to their future, and in a bigger sense, the future of our state and country. It made me think about what the definition of “debate” truly is, so I opened up the handy Internet (not on an Auburn-school supplied iPad) and checked with Dictionary.com and this is what I found:

“noun/verb- a discussion, as of a public question in an assembly, involving opposing viewpoints”

This made sense to me and during my Congressional campaign I had the privilege of debating Rep. Mike Michaud on substantive issues several times. It was a cordial back-and-forth, and while I probably did not convince him to change his position — and I know he did not convince me to change mine — we gave the people of Maine’s Second District something to think about. Unfortunately, that experience is now the exception not the rule in today’s political reality.

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With the election over, I am again just a spectator to all things political. I am amazed at what today’s political reality is … and not in a good way. Debate now is not about openly discussing legislation, or policy — hence the future of our state and country. It has degenerated into two categories: fear or loathing.

First, fear is being used as a scare tactic by the opposition on certain pieces of policy or legislation. Think of the attack ad released by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee this spring that shows a grandfather mowing a lawn with his walker and stripping at a young woman’s bachelorette party in order to — according to the ad — pay for health care since Republicans want to take away Medicare.

Really? I don’t remember hearing anything about wanting to tell our seniors to fend for themselves. The closest I’ve seen to that is the $500 billion removed from the Medicare program in the now law of the land—Obamacare. And, I would argue, showing an elderly man taking his clothes off at a party to pay for health care is incendiary at best—funny, but incendiary. Herein lies the problem with this issue. Any attempt to change, alter and indeed fix a program that is going bankrupt is open season for Democrats or anyone else to openly attack and provide false information just to gain votes in the next election. Where is the healthy fact-based debate designed to solve a problem? Whether it’s fact or fiction is actually irrelevant to opponents. Instilling fear is the goal.

Second is loathing. This is my favorite! Just like on the school playground, we have reverted to name-calling and labeling. For example: Liberal, Tea Partier, Socialist, Conservative, RINO, Birther etc… Some of these terms used to have fact-based definitions. Now they are simply dirty words when spoken by someone with different beliefs. Putting people in a box-spoken-with-a-sneer is indeed name-calling. It is critical name-calling for them to demonize the enemy. The “enemy” is someone who doesn’t think the same as they do. It is important to “demonize” the enemy in order to neutralize the effectiveness of his or her position.

Let’s look at the current Senate primary campaign that is starting to take shape fully a year before the primary election between Scott D’Amboise and Sen. Olympia Snowe. I have been trying to see what Mr. D’Amboise’s platform, but all I find is references to him calling the senator a “The country’s most liberal Republican,”  a RINO (republican in name only) and worse yet using irrelevant information to attempt to make people “fear and loath” arguably one of the most popular senators in the country.

First of all, who made Scott D’Amboise the standard-bearer for the Republican Party? Second, where are the facts? Where is the debate? Where is the civility? Why would someone who wants to represent the entire state of Maine pull stunts that most of us stopped doing once we left the third-grade playground.

And worst of all, where are the role models for the Edward Little Speech and Debate team? My message for them is simple: “Do not accept the current political dialogue as healthy debate. Set your own standards and stick with them. Fight hard but fairly, and regardless of the outcome, you will sleep well at night knowing you tried and that in itself is a victory worth remembering”.

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