Sunday, October 08, 2006

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’tis the season

No, not "holiday" season, not yet. I'm talking about the season of political campaigns. By which I mean that it's the time when candidates tell us why their opponents suck. It's been a long time since we've really been told why to vote for someone, other than because "You don't want to vote for my opponent!"

My congressional representative is Sue Kelly (R-NY). While I often wish I were in Nita Lowey's district (D-NY), I reconsider: being here gives me an opportunity to vote against her. I've a list of reasons for that, most of which have to do with her party-line support of everything Bush. Perhaps the worst thing she's done was when she gave a speech before a sixth-grade class and told them that "Saddam Hussein is a bad man, and we have to take him out." Those were her words, as quoted in the Poughkeepsie Journal, and I was appalled that she would characterize going to war so callously before a bunch of twelve-year-old children.

But here I am, telling you why Sue Kelly sucks. That wasn't meant to be the point of this. The point is to have a look at the disingenuousness of a TV ad she has that blasts her Democratic opponent, John Hall. John Hall, says Ms Kelly, will raise your taxes!

As proof of this, she points out that Mr Hall wants to roll back the ill-advised "tax cuts" that the Bush administration had Congress pass. You can see by the adjective in the previous sentence that to me, this is a good thing to say about her opponent. But her tone is not a positive one. The inflection tells me that this is one reason that Mr Hall sucks.

She goes on to point out a couple of times when, as a county legislator, Mr Hall voted to raise property taxes and sales taxes. And here's where the disingenuousness comes in. Everyone who has served as a legislator for any length of time has had to raise taxes at one time or another. Every merchant has had to raise prices, every landlord has had to raise rents, and every legislator has had to raise taxes — or, alternatively, to cut social programs, because the money has to come from somewhere.

Candidates get away with this stuff because people let them — people believe them, without thinking about it. Sue Kelly says "John Hall will raise your taxes," it's accompanied by a graphic with a green arrow going up, and voters go to the kitchen for a snack and say, "Damn, I sure don't want my taxes raised. Better not vote for that guy." These negative ads are out there because they work, and they're safer than actually commiting to anything directly.

We have to stop them from working. We have to demand that candidates tell us what they will do not scare us with stories about what their opponents would do if they should be elected instead. Ask questions. Demand answers. Make them take stands on the issues.

4 comments:

Dan said...

Sue Kelly has a lot to answer for in the Page Scandal!

The Ridger, FCD said...

Far better to raise our taxes than to spend without revenue coming in. Though since many of the current administration's guys seem to believe the world is just about over (End Times, anyone?), I suppose they think the piper won't have time to submit his bill...

Evan said...

Ok, there are a couple things in your post that I just "don't get":

1. Why is her saying "Saddam Hussein is a bad man, and we have to take him out." a bad thing? Yes, I can understand that you don't support the war, but that doesn't seem to be the reason you think the statement is bad (perhaps I'm wrong). So what about that statement do you find appalling? How is it callous?

2. If Mr. Hall wants to revoke a tax cut, then I'm paying more taxes than I am right now, right? Seems like a raising taxes to me. Thus I assert that she was accurate in her ad. The rest of the post is spent rationalizing why we have to raise taxes (do be fair you do mention that it is really an option -- taxes for social programs or cut social programs). This is where she and Mr. Hall disagree (and probably you and I disagree), but it would seem she is telling the truth, and if I'm a voter who mostly cares about paying less taxes, then her ad brings out a legitiment reason for me to vote for her. Note: I haven't seen the ad myself and I usually don't like attack ads.

Barry Leiba said...

Hi Evan.

1. You're right: my point here is beyond support of the war. In fact, if Ms Kelly had explained, in 12-year-old terms, why we regretted the need to go to war, but felt we had to do it anyway, I'd have disagreed with her, but not thought it an inappropriate thing to say to 6-graders.

I found what she said to demonstrate a bullying, I'm right and I'm the law attitude that I'd rather not see us teach to kids. Any explanation that she might have given that taught the kids that this is a last-resort thing, which we did not just because he's a "bad man", but because he's a terrible menace to the entire world... would have been OK.

I'm afraid that we've already done too much toward an "America kicks butt, yo!" attitude, and I don't want to add to that. I don't want kids learning that it's OK to "take him out" because we don't like him. I realize she had limited time and had to put things in terms that 12-year-olds can deal with. Still, I think there were lots better ways to make her point, and I think she chose one of the worst options.

2. I'm not arguing that Mr Hall isn't proposing higher taxes. And, really, I'm not blaming Ms Kelly, in particular, though it happened to be her ad that caught my eye — everyone is doing this negative-ad thing, including Mr Hall. I just saw an ad of his that blasted Sue Kelly for votes that she's case, and his ad is equally silly.

My point is that votes cast by legislators have to be understood in the context in which they were cast. A vote for a rise in property taxes might have been necessary to, let's say, support a pay rise for teachers or police officers. Yet the attack ads (on both sides) just take it all out of context and say, "Mr Hall is for higher taxes!" or "Ms Kelly is against civil rights!" Both statements are silly, and neither is helpful in telling voters what the candidates' stands are.

So I guess the post wasn't clear; I was attacking the attack ads. I want to see Ms Kelly and Mr Hall tell me what they will do for their districts and for Congress if they're elected. All I know right now is why they don't want me to vote for their opponents.

But I already know the main reason they don't want me to do that.