Viewpoints: Honor in politics

Have politics ever been honorable?

Are there not many unsavory jokes about politicians that are shared between Americans – thanks to our freedom to joke openly?

Is there not a long and twisted history of politics that contains corruption and smoke screens and mudslinging?

Since the beginning of time whenever cavemen decided to opt for a show of hands instead of using brute force, politics probably still involved some arm-twisting. When Caesar uttered, “You too, Brutus,” the ultimate blow(s) to the man in power was being played out.

Nowadays, most politicians publicly hack to pieces their competition utilizing not only television and radio stations — which have been around for more than 60 years — but also using the Internet’s social networks.

It seems every political advertisement leaves the listener with a sour swig of the campaign season. Often, the viewer is left pondering how awful the other guy is, and not about the integrity or the promises of the person placing the ad. No wonder much of the voting public repeats the phrase, “Choose between the lesser of two evils.”

A commercial against Charlie Summers shows a parade of cookie cutter “suits” marching along. The scene is overlaid with a big photo of Summers. The image and words are so overpowering, it becomes difficult to remember who the alternative candidate is.

Last week, the televised vice presidential debate smelled like a red herring. The inappropriate smile aside, current Vice President Joe Biden enlisted the use of smoke screens — avoidance of the real issues. His rhetoric slid into an onslaught of numbers and statistics. So numerous were the numbers that it could make an accountant’s head explode.

In order to make “an informed decision,” a person would have to spend a considerable amount of time researching the issues, reviewing the statistics, and studying the statements of the contenders. It might be easier to flip a coin in the polling booth.

Another solution: Registered voters could favor the politician whose campaign tactics are the most kind to their competitor. Why shouldn’t the nicest guy win?

Obviously, the more there is to gain, the more fierce the battle. Therefore, mudslinging is more evident on the national than on the local level.

However, it is conceivable that honor and politics can co-exist. In fact, there are many politicians that take the title of public servant seriously. There are real-life people who have proven that in Maine’s history; and hopefully, those honorable politicians will appear in this state’s future as well. Former Senator Olympia Snowe shines as an example of undaunted integrity.

One of her more noble actions was her announcement to not seek re-election. She cited non-budging partisan politics as the main reason for her resignation. Snowe commented that as she reached retirement age, she did not want to waste another four years of her life in the political arena, and would prefer to spend more time with her grandchildren and family members.

Another female, Margaret Chase Smith, deserves to be ranked among those outstanding politicians. According to the November 2009 edition of the Down East magazine, during her bid for the U.S. Senate in 1960, Smith garnered a 60% majority vote — the “highest of any senator elected that year.” Prior to that election year, Smith had pushed to keep open a customs station and preserve 40 jobs in Vanceboro.

Her political career began in 1940 — following the death of her husband who had encouraged her to run for the senate seat — and continued through 1972. By that time, Smith had served in both houses of congress as well as taking a runner-up position on the GOP ticket for vice president.

According to an article about the Margaret Chase Smith Library, in 1950, the politician born in Skowhegan, spoke out against the anti-communist hearings held by Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Although it took moxie to give her, “Declaration of Conscience” speech, she was best known for battling for rural Maine.

People appreciate politicians who come across as down-to-earth and approachable. Such qualities describe both Smith and Snowe.

Born into a wealthy family with a political background, Governor Percival Baxter put his money where his mouth was. He advocated the preservation of Maine’s natural resources. Rather than turning to federal dollars, Baxter spent an undisclosed amount of his own funds to purchase the land around Mount Katahdin. When he died, he willed $7 million for the park’s preservation. He deeded his Falmouth summer home to the school for the deaf.

Also, during his political career — which spanned from 1909 to 1924 — he spoke out against the Klu Klux Klan of Maine, declaring himself a foe of such ideology.

Before the nation’s and Maine’s current politicians are different agenda items than faced Baxter and Smith, but some issues are the same such as job preservation — and now, job creation.

Is it possible that a few of the politicians of this generation have the gumption and the principle that has defined the public servants in Maine’s past?

Perhaps if voters ask the right questions, steer away from party lines as a deciding factor, and focus instead on the issues and past performances of the candidates, this state’s people can make the most honorable choice for an uncertain future. — D.D.

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