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Stay the course’ cuts and runs

Will McAuliffe | Monday, October 30, 2006

This past week White House Press Secretary Tony Snow announced that the Bush administration will no longer be using the phrase “stay the course” in regards to our Iraqi War strategy. This is clearly an interesting turn of events as “stay the course” has been hammered into our psyche for months and months, often in response to a recently released casualty or intelligence report which would seem to indicate that our current strategy is not working. This is particularly interesting as “stay the course” was the Bush Administration’s and also Bush supporters’ means of contrasting their strategy to that of the Democrats: the cowardly “cut and run” tactic. However, this reevaluation of strategy and semantics speaks to a larger phenomenon of tying complicated nuanced issues to as few words as possible and then repeating that phrase over and over until America believes that the issue is that simple.

However, no issue facing America is simple enough to be reduced to a three or four word credo. The utter failure of the government to control the situation in Iraq and to come up with a feasible strategy for both Iraqi and American success deserves more than three words and obstinate, stubborn rhetoric which insists that if we simply keep doing what we’re doing, we will win. This simplistic façade that has repeatedly been presented to the American public is additionally reflected in a grossly insulting way through the midterm election campaign commercials that have begun to dominate television screens across the country.

The ad campaigns have taken simplifying a message to a new low, simplifying the opponent’s platform to a few misleading words and atrocious analyses of positions. For example, any stance which attempts to determine if there is a way to integrate already present illegal immigrants into our society is automatically considered “amnesty.” Any politician who agrees with President Bush the majority of the time is made out to be a puppet of the current administration. Anyone who has ever shaken the hand, as would be the responsible thing to do when meeting someone of any kind of objectionable figure, will undoubtedly have that picture included in their opponent’s campaign ad as if all opinions, issue stances and agendas are magically transported from the questionable party to a candidate through a simple handshake.

Personally I’m sick of it. And even worse than my personal disdain for the lack of ethics in political semantics these days is that those who are perpetrating these damaging, misleading, and ultimately useless messages are those who we are forced to choose between. Each day we hear the dirtiest and grossest misrepresentations of candidates’ character and policies and ultimately one of them will win. What is being perpetuated is a cycle of distrust and loss of faith in politicians and while there certainly is no lack of scandals, cheating, lying and incompetent representation in Congress, neither party should have to spend tens of millions of dollars to point out their potential for failure as opposed to their own candidates’ reasons for inevitable success.

What I propose is a contract which obligates the majority of a candidate’s approved ads to be positive. Call it the “Integrity in Campaigning Agreement.” Essentially it would curtail negative campaigning officially sponsored by candidates, by forcing them to spend more money and minutes of airtime on positive campaign ads than on negative campaigning. Such an agreement could be signed by the major candidates in any election and quite frankly would put the spotlight back on the candidate, their achievements and why they would be a good public official.

In addition, I hope that one day both the Republican and Democratic National Committees will collaborate and form a campaign oversight committee whose sole purpose is to analyze the claims of candidates and to diligently fact-check and explain the sources and details of each claim. Perhaps if there were a central non-partisan authority whose sole purpose is to bring truth back into politics, more Americans would have a better understanding of the political process, those who take part in it and what they achieve. Maybe then more Americans would turn out to vote.

Such a committee will never be formed. But, hey, I can dream.

What it comes down to is this: Americans deserve better than to have their vote courted by sound bites and catch phrases. Americans deserve better than gross misinterpretation of crucial stances on serious issues. Americans deserve better than the barrage of negative campaign commercials that flood their living rooms with doubt and anxiety over whether any candidate is acceptable. It’s time to bring truth and ethics back to the forefront of political campaigns. It’s time for Americans to demand something better. This midterm election season, vote based on the facts – not based upon the distortions and oversimplifications of issues inherently found in negative campaigning.

Will McAuliffe is a senior Political Science major with a serious love for The Colbert Report and Fox News, Chris Wallace in particular. All letters of support, disdain or otherwise relevant commentary should be forwarded to him at mcauliffe.4@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.