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Are too Many Political Candidates Campaigning in "The Cave"?
Is negative political advertising harmful or helpful in getting political candidates elected today? This article examines some of the moral highground politicans give up if they sink too low in attacking their opponents. It uses Plato's Analogy of the Cave and suggests how voters can take an active roll in demanding more intelligent and civil messages from those seeking public office.
Socrates to Glaucon:
Let me show you in an analogy how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened. Behold politicians living in a cave, which has a mouth open toward the light. They have lived here from birth with their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see the cave wall before them, being prevented by the chains from turning their heads. Most politicians are decent people who care about their country. But they are prisoners of that wall. To win elections they see shadows of their opponents on that wall and think they are seeing reality. The only opinions they hear are echoes of their own voices bouncing around the cave.
Truly that explains why they say such ugly, distorted things about each other. I see by today's news scroll that the two Virginia Senatorial candidates are saying some good things but then, suddenly, they begin to mud wrestle with words. How can you throw mud without getting your own hands dirty?
And how else to explain how two honorable men with thoughtful ideas can waste time accusing each other of everything with meaningless "he said/he said" arguments - HE is delaying armaments for soldiers and not paying taxes on stock options, or counter charges - HE is demeaning women and a reflection of the lusty words he wrote in his novels. But Virginia candidates are not alone in spreading thinly-researched insults. Too many political candidates all over America mix campaigns with calumny - rumor and innuendoes. Let me speak plainly. Many people country are facing real problems - an unending war, lack of access to affordable health care, and dangers to their Social Security and pension plans. Political candidates have an obligation to address these problems with their own solutions. Of course, they have a right to speak forcefully to defend themselves when they are attacked with false words. But there is a narrow ethical line they must not cross. Instead of offering thoughtful ideas, too many debase their responses with their own overblown accusations - everything from charges that opponents choked their mistresses to making pornographic phone calls and accepting bribes and all other manner of civil and legal crimes.
That is true. And so shameful for democracy. But many say these cruel words win elections. Socrates: My good citizen, remember last week I told you the cautionary "Tale of ENRON"? Sadly we have seen that lies and exaggerations can sometimes build great fortunes. But should we elect the most successful liars and exaggerators as our leaders?
No! No! Certainly not! But how can concerned voters choose the right candidates?
Voters must break their own chains, turn their heads and look for the light at the opening of the cave. Who among these candidates for public trust are honestly trying to see both sides of complex issues? Who actually listens to what his or her opponent is saying and responds in a thoughtful honest debate.
But whenever citizens see or hear remarks from candidates that distort truth or spread hatred, they should send them a clear message: (Sir) or
(Madam) I am a voter who loves this state and my country. I find your campaign full of "sound and fury, signifying nothing!"
Good! And average people like me could post that message to candidates in our own emails and blogs. It could spread like a truth serum!
Glaucon, I am known as a Great Teacher, but sometimes I feel you are years ahead of me!
Hal Gieseking is a?former consumer editor of Travel Holiday magazine and past president of the Society of American Travel Writers. Find more information about this editorial and a voter poll about the civility and intelligence of political advertising today at http://www.virginiahospitalitysuite.com .
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