If you’ve seen the political advertising that has now mercifully ended with the culmination of this year’s election cycle, you could easily be left with the belief that anyone who runs for political office in Colorado is an immoral opportunist seeking to destroy life as we know it.
It’s unfortunate that the state of our political life is that campaigns and the people who seek to influence them have concluded that attacks against opponents, including things that are not constrained by truth or reality, are the best way to win elections. My colleague Rob Witwer has commented regularly in this space about the problem of outside groups, with little public disclosure of who they are or where they received funding, conducting attacks without the public knowing how they might benefit from election results. However, this year’s campaigns also featured attack ads from candidates’ campaigns as well. Federal campaign law requires candidates for federal office to state that they approved the content of each ad. The legislation intended that such acknowledgements would temper outrageous ads. With due respect to Sens. McCain and Feingold, who sponsored the bill, it hasn’t worked.
Now that the vitriol of the campaign is behind us, let’s take a minute and remember that it’s called public service. The beauty of our system of government is that we elect people from all walks of life to serve in our elected bodies. As is the case of the people they represent, they run the gamut. Some are brilliant, some are dense and most fall somewhere in between. Some believe government should stay out of every aspect of our lives, some believe government has the answers to all of our problems, and most fall somewhere in between. Some are ethically challenged, but the vast majority are ethical people who serve to implement their vision of what is best.
My biggest frustration about the scorched-earth policies of attacking candidates during campaigns is that it reinforces the worst impressions of the public about government and politics. In some cases, it is an end to a means to try to get people to vote a certain way. In others, it is a cynical strategy to alienate voters to make them question whether they should participate at all. In all cases, it is a disservice to the people who dedicate themselves to try to make things better by service in elective office.
We have both the right and responsibility to speak out about things that our governments and elected officials do that we believe are wrong and should be done differently. As we look back on another overly negative campaign season, we need to find a way to do it more constructively.
Greg Romberg is president of Romberg and Associates, a government relations and public affairs firm. He lives in Evergreen with his wife, Laurie, and three daughters.