I sometimes wonder what has been the most important invention of all time. The wheel? The printing press or internal combustion engine? Vaccines? The personal computer or the Green Bay Packers?
All fine inventions, but all less important than the TV remote control – more precisely, the mute button on the TV remote control.
I cannot imagine life without the mute button, especially with negative political ads relentlessly assaulting my ears.
The mute button saves me from this torture. Doesn’t the Declaration of Independence call for “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” even while watching TV after a long day at work?
I realize negative campaigns in the U.S. date back to the election of 1800 during which Thomas Jefferson was called a weakling, an atheist, and a coward, while John Adams was labeled a fool, a criminal, and a tyrant. I realize casting aspersions is part of our base human nature.
Even so, don’t we strive for the best in ourselves, and shouldn’t we expect candidates seeking our votes to do the same?
Imagine interviewing finalists for a job. Would we hire a person who made disparaging comments about the other finalists? Of course not.
If a finalist were to make even one such comment, we would immediately eliminate him or her from consideration; we would be tempted to stop the interview immediately and toss the person from the room.
Why don’t we do the same with political candidates?
Imagine deciding to marry someone. Would we propose to a person who made caustic comments about other people we used to date? Of ... Wait ... Bad example ... My mistake.
Imagine, instead, talking with a group of children. Would we tolerate a child making hurtful comments about other children? Of course not. If a child were to make even one such comment, we would immediately take the child to the side and educate him or her about the rules of proper social discourse. Why don’t we do the same with political candidates?
Don’t the politicians, the political parties, and the “friends” of politicians (aka political action committees) get it? We don’t want to know how bad the rival is – we want to know how good the candidate is. We don’t want to have cause to vote against the rival – we want to have cause to vote for the candidate.
I love the Sauk Valley because good folks are trying to live good lives in the best communities they can create. I love the Midwest generally for the same reason.
We live here because of what is good and what is getting better, not because of what is less bad than somewhere else. We value our friends and colleagues because of what we admire in them, not because they are less scummy than other would-be friends and colleagues.
Imagine, just imagine, political campaigns where candidates reject negativity and present themselves in the most straightforward and comprehensive way possible, with full-disclosure on the issues and an honest vision of how they will work for us. Imagine elections where we are for (not against) candidates.
In such a world, I could forget about the mute button on my TV remote and maybe even pause to reflect on the marvel of the invention of the wheel.
Note to readers: David Hellmich is president of Sauk Valley Community College, rural Dixon.