Our country is becoming all too familiar with some variant of the phrase, “I don’t like politics: It’s all too dirty.”
It is no secret that we have entered an era in which American politics seems to be a spectator sport, in which everyone participates. We are bombarded daily by political statements, tweets, radio broadcasts and televised commentary in which cruel words are spoken by people across the political spectrum.
It is important to note that these judgments are not intended to condemn valid criticisms of our leaders. Political opposition is a critical part of our democracy. Without it, we would only ever experience the ambitions of the majority power in government. Expressing political opposition is a necessity, and I suggest that we pivot from the hateful, misinformed and fallacious rhetoric of today to the policy-centered debate that our society deserves.
As we saw in the 2016 presidential election, even candidates, respected and otherwise, for the nation’s highest office have become infamous for crude and hateful comments made toward their opponents and, occasionally, toward those who support them. Some of the most memorable examples include, of course, former presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) “tiny hands” observation on the debate stage; President Donald Trump’s assertions that former President Barack Obama was not born in the United States; and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s costly reference to Trump supporters as a “basket of deplorables.”
I recall conversations during the 2012 presidential election cycle with family members who would not only openly question Obama’s loyalty to the country — but also his legitimacy as the president of the United States. This type of rhetoric has not only been targeted at Obama and the Democrats, however. The media, and consequently the people, often questioned former President George W. Bush’s character and ability to run the country using a caricature of his personage rather than his record; regardless of one’s opinions of Bush, evaluating him on policy rather than parodies of him is a more practical, more effective and, frankly, less offensive manner by which to judge our politicians.
To refocus our political discourse on policy itself, we must stop ourselves from asking questions like, “Do I think such-and-such political candidate is evil?” Rather, we must ask, “Which candidate’s views most align with my own?”
We must rid ourselves of the idea that we need to depend on others to tell us exactly what the candidates represent. We must replace this notion with a paradigm in which we become our own informers. If we are to make truly informed choices on the candidates who are to run our country, we must do the research ourselves, because otherwise we are often exposed only to a bite-sized depiction of the candidates.
A shift back to policy-centered debate requires effort on the part of every citizen, and I understand that this is asking for quite a bit. Nevertheless, in the end, our republic deserves the respect of all citizens accepting their civic duty to learn about our prospective leaders.
If all Americans took this advice, the results could drastically improve our political status quo: We could enter a golden age of American politics in which states-persons, instead of politicians, lead. By working to improve our own political knowledge, people will be drawn to support innovative, ambitious and respectable leaders. Furthermore, because we would make our decisions on the basis of what candidates actually accomplish, support and strive to achieve, our debate would shift away from personal attacks and toward policy.
Moreover, in this new political climate, instead of describing our leaders — and often those who support them — as “evil,” we might remark that they simply have bad policy. A shift to policy-centered debate would hopefully take the hate out of politics, allowing calm, thoughtful discussions regarding our country’s most important issues.
Marc Pitrois is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service.