Elevating the Political Conversation: Focus on Ideas, Not Insults

Though the New Year has only just begun, and many of us struggle to write “2015” when noting the date, 2016 is already upon us. That’s right, it’s barely a week into January and while the Ghost of Christmas Past has moved on, already we have been greeted by the Ghost of Elections Future. Many have noted that stores push Christmas merchandise earlier and earlier each year; the same can be said of election cycles. They are becoming more premature and more protracted as time goes on.

As an Iowan, I am a mere 52 weeks away from the Caucuses, which means I am living in that sweet spot when Iowa is relevant to the rest of the world. It only happens once every four years, and while some loathe this time, as someone who follows politics rather closely, I enjoy it. When I woke up on January 1, my inbox already contained half a dozen outreach–let’s call them what they are, fundraising–emails, most focused on the lead-up to 2016. Many of these messages focused on slamming the competition instead of praising the home team.

Of course, email isn’t the only source of negativity going in to 2016. News outlets and social media types have thrown in their lot as well, spouting clichés and offering snark in lieu of actual information. My wish for 2015 is that we as a nation can move beyond petty insults and catch phrases and elevate the conversation by focusing on ideas and issues. A lofty goal to be sure, but one that matters if we want to actually accomplish anything beyond backbiting and infighting.

As we move into 2015, we have already seen news outlets, radio shows, and even universities generating lists of words to “ban” in the coming year. While the libertarian in me bristles at the thought of any word being verboten (though I have to agree that bae is just plain annoying), I do think there are words that should be avoided if one wants to be taken seriously. In the world of politics, there are words that should simply not be uttered if one wants to engage in serious dialogue instead of taking cheap shots at those with whom they disagree. A few that should be avoided: Demorat, Teabagger, Repubican, and Libtard.

  We get it, she wears pants. Who cares?

While we’re at it, can we call elected officials and candidates (along with basically everyone else) by their given names instead of by cheap, disparaging nicknames? Calling Obama “O’Bummer” or “NoBama”, Boehner “Boner” or Hillary “Killary” does nothing to advance the conversation but it does make you look petty. Furthermore, calling President Obama “Barack Hussein Obama” when you don’t call any other officials by their first, middle and last names just shows that you are trying to make a point about his middle name. I’m not sure the point you’re trying to make, but it makes you look rather juvenile. With so many legitimate concerns and questions that could be raised about various people in politics, why resort to silliness?

In the same vein, it would really be nice if we could keep the focus on the issues and not on people’s appearance. I get it: Hillary Clinton likes pantsuits; Chris Christie is overweight; and, while he has a sense of humor about it (see the following links), Rand Paul is known for his wild hair and penchant for mock necks. It is refreshing to see people like Rand laughing at themselves, but I still think it would be great if we could assess candidates and political figures on the content of their ideas instead of making shallow judgment based on wardrobe, appearance or body type.

Clever, guys. We see what you did there.

It’s important that we take part in the discussions leading up to the 2016 Election. Ignorance and apathy are beneficial to none. Still, as we do research the parties and the candidates and share our thoughts and feelings with others, it would be a welcome change to engage in this exchange of ideas respectfully, with a focus on the candidate’s ideas and positions instead of on cheap put-downs.   If you have legitimate concerns or criticisms to make, by all means, make your voice heard. Just leave out the name calling if you want your message to be respectfully received.