It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I hold a particularly low opinion of political campaigns. I must confess, though, that the current campaign for Anchorage mayor has captured my heart because it is currently producing the only hot air to be found here this month.
I know political campaigns are critical to our democracy. And god knows there is no alternative out there for a “political campaign free” form of government that is in any way attractive to me. But that doesn’t mean I have to love the oft times messy process that we call government of the people.
Having said that, let me pass out some kudos to our current mayoral campaign candidates. Up until very recently, the campaign had stayed so far below my annoyance meter that I almost didn’t mind it. Now, of course, the ads are in full swing and I once again cast my eyes towards heaven and thank god for the mute button on my TV’s remote control. It’s not quite as easy with the radio ads because I am usually driving when I hear them. But my reflexes are getting better with each passing day and I can now hit the channel change button within three seconds of the first sound bite without taking my eyes off the road. Not bad for an old person.
What is particularly nice about this campaign is that the people running for office had the decency to not start really campaigning till about six weeks before the election. Oh sure, there were some preliminary volleys, some early sound bites. But they were mercifully brief and pretty much drowned out by the holiday season and Fur Rondy.
The other thing I really appreciate about this campaign is its relative civility. Of course, that can all change overnight and that statement could be, as the Nixon White House so charmingly put it once, no longer operative by the time this column appears. But I don’t think that will happen.
It seems as though we actually have two mature adults as the front-runners and, while they are respectfully disagreeing about many, many things, the key word is respectfully. No one has felt the need to cast aspersions on someone’s character or family or birth circumstances. No one has fired below the belt and let loose with a volley of personal attacks. No one has, as far as I can tell, implied that his opponent is the devil incarnate.
Now this may seem like some really basic civic standards that should automatically be observed in any election. Alas, a brief reading of American history shows that to be so not true. In fact, as bad as things can get with modern campaigns of smears, innuendoes and lies, we are not near to the same league as campaigns of previous eras where it was not unusual for one candidate to suggest another candidate reached across species for sexual partners.
For sheer creativity and inventiveness, those old time campaigns are hard to beat. An opponent’s parentage and sexual proclivities were but a few of the topics considered fair game. In our lawsuit hungry society, the courts would be filled to overflowing with libel cases if modern campaigns resorted to half the vitriol of the golden age of politics.
In fact, I think those old campaigns were actually more fun because the candidates themselves made the scurrilous accusations against their opponents and then willingly stood toe to toe with those opponents shouting those accusations to their faces. This was not politics for the weak kneed.
Today’s politicians are pretty whitewashed, lily-livered types by comparison who have PACs and PR flacks do that stuff for them. It somehow seemed less dastardly and dirty when the candidates themselves were at least willing to stand up and spew their own vitriol and didn’t need mouthpieces to help them avoid the heat of response.
But enough nostalgia for the past. For now, let us give some modicum of thanks to both Jack Frost and Mark Begich. It’s not that their campaign ads are any less annoying than ads of the past. It’s just that they started those ads at a decent time so that they will be over before I feel obligated to take a shotgun to my TV. And, on top of that, they are actually discussing the issues. What a concept.
For both those bits of civility, I applaud them.