Words from a fool: Why attack ads are destroying any hope for bipartisanship

Shaefer Bagwell explains why attack ads break down the political process.

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John Buchanan/THE CHIMES

Shaefer Bagwell, Writer

During the election night festivities, I was sitting on the phone. I had spent 60 of the preceding 72 hours doing my darnedest to get a congressional candidate elected. I was in the zone, exhausted, focused, frantic, working harder than I ever had before.

I emerged from this stupor to find that the President had won, and that the Democrats had held the Senate. I stayed conscious long enough to let out a cheer, then dove back into my work.

I was working this hard because I believed in the candidate. I like his policies. I like his attitude. He’s a genuinely good man who did not seek office for power, but to make the country a better place. I was affirmed in this when I heard his victory speech.

He spoke, passionately and honestly, about his opponent. Though it had been a bitter campaign marked by negative advertising and personal attacks, he praised his opponent’s years of public service and his vision. He told this cheering and exhilarated crowd how he looked forward to working with his opposition in Congress.

This is an attitude that must be reflected across all levels of political involvement. Time and time again, the American people have chosen to send one party to the White House and the other to the Capitol. They did it again last night. The people, in their infinite wisdom, have apparently deemed divided government acceptable.

There’s one problem. Divided government has become a liability and an obstacle to progress. Bipartisanship has gone by the wayside. Aisle-crossing has become archaic and rare. Thus, with two parties in power who refuse to compromise on their platform planks, nothing gets done.

When campaigns are so acrimonious that one party calls their opposition Taliban and in return are called Soviets, why are we surprised that nothing gets done? How are we supposed to work with our counterparts when we’ve spent billions of dollars casting them as evil, ignorant, baby-killing, gun-toting, tree-hugging Communo-Nazis? Whatever happened to the other party being just plain wrong?

Someone asked me if I thought Mitt Romney was stupid. I answered them somewhat incredulously. Of course I don’t think he’s stupid. He’s an Ivy League educated man who has demonstrated his skill at both business and politics for decades. He’s not stupid, he’s just wrong.

When we realize this about the party that we disagree with, it makes bipartisanship that much easier. When we spend our campaigns attacking policy instead of people, the victor can work with the defeated for the betterment of the country.

Here’s my thought: Loving and respecting candidates while fighting their policies will make the aftermath of elections more beneficial for the country. What’s more, it follows in the line of the biblical ideal of loving the sinner and hating the sin. Let’s focus our attacks on ideas, not people. Let’s begin to heal the political landscape after decades of war. 

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