I’ve been around politics pretty much full-time for more than 40 years. I’ve been a political reporter and editor, campaign manager, deputy to a top elected official, and a political consultant.
I’ve always known, as Finley Peter Dunne wrote 123 years ago in an 1895 Chicago newspaper column, that “politics ain’t beanbag.” Politics isn’t a kid’s game. Politics isn’t painless or fair. Politics isn’t inconsequential. I’ve seen a lot of rough and tumble politics.
The question many are asking today is whether we have reached a new low in political divisiveness, viciousness, nastiness and character assassination.
Certainly, the country has endured worse times. Political history has witnessed fistfights in Congress, duels to the death, and a civil war that cost 600,000 lives.
Still, the partisan contention today is worse than anything I’ve seen for many years. Today’s reality is, for me to win, I must destroy you. For you to win, you must destroy me. The hatred is real. No compromise. Win at any cost.
We see this played out at all levels of politics, but especially at the federal level in presidential and congressional politics, and especially in swing states that feature close contests. Idaho politics, by comparison, is pretty tame, because Republicans are usually so far ahead that nasty, negative campaigning would be pointless.
I recently visited family members in Las Vegas and saw politics in a swing state. You couldn’t turn on the TV without seeing back-to-back attack ads, disparaging opponents in the nastiest ways possible.
I understand why this is happening. The stakes are incredibly high. We’re talking about the future of the country, the future of the Supreme Court, whether liberal or conservative policies win. We’re talking taxes, foreign policy, tariffs, and a multitude of social issues.
Politicians on both sides have determined that it’s worth destroying friendships and reputations to prevail. Pres. Trump isn’t playing beanbag. The protestors screaming at conservatives in restaurants, elevators and on the streets aren’t playing beanbag. The attitude is, if I don’t attack you, you win – and I can’t allow you to win because of the consequences for the country. If winning means destroying you, that’s exactly what I’ll do.
The cable network commentators and late-night hosts on the left and right aren’t playing beanbag, either. They’re a big part of the politics of destruction.
The left blames Donald Trump for the noxious state of politics. But it’s a lot more complicated than that. Certainly, Trump is a street fighter, the first president in a long time who gives as good as he gets. His tone and sometimes bullying demeanor are often cringe-worthy. But what he says and does is no worse than those on the other side who hate him with such passion, including numerous news commentators.
So, it all came to a head with the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination. The prospect of a long-term truly conservative Supreme Court is so horrendous for liberals and leftists that they are demonstrating they will do anything to prevent Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
Christine Blasey Ford was sincere and believable in her testimony. But by holding her sexual assault accusations for six long weeks when it could have been investigated confidentially, and dropping it at the literal last-minute, after hearings and investigations were completed, the Democrats’ clear strategy was to delay and hope for a mid-term miracle. Ford and Kavanaugh are collateral damage.
I understand the desperation of the left. The liberal agenda may well be derailed by a Supreme Court with a 5-4 conservative majority.
On both sides, winning a conservative or liberal policy agenda is well worth ugliness, malevolence and outright destruction. That’s the state of politics today.