Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Our politicians need to clean up their claims

Politics have always been contentious, but the 2012 campaign season has at times been especially abrasive.

While campaigning in Virginia, Biden told a crowd of supporters that Republicans would put voters “back in chains.”

In an interview on the FOX2 TV station, Missouri Republican senatorial candidate Todd Akin said that women would not get pregnant during a “legitimate rape.”

In an interview with CBS last week, the chairman of the California Democratic Party John Burton compared the Republican campaign strategies to those used by Nazi Germany.

Racially inflammatory remarks, claims proven to be inaccurate, and vicious and defamatory attacks against opponents have become rampant throughout this campaign season. The previous quotations are just the tip of the iceberg.

It is hard to tell what is more troubling about this: that politicians feel it is okay to make these statements, or that they do not face much permanent backlash over them.

The statements by Biden and Burton did not attract much media attention, but as reported by the New York Times, Akin’s comments drew calls from Republican leaders for him to resign from his senate race.

However, according to Public Policy Polling, over 50 percent of Missouri voters have accepted Akin’s apology for his statement about “legitimate rape.” Another poll from the organization shows that the race is still fairly close, with 44 percent of voters favoring Akin while 45 percent favor his opponent, Sen. Claire McCaskill.

Since most politicians speak upwards of five hours per day over the course of a year-long campaign, it is unrealistic to think that they will never have an awkward slip of the tongue.

However, there is a major difference between a foolish misstep and the increasingly divisive and misleading language used by politicians.

Despite being outraged at politicians when they misspeak, the public gives them a seemingly endless supply of get-out-of-jail-free cards. In any other profession, people are held accountable for what they say. Inaccurate or defamatory remarks can cost people their jobs.

Anthony Federico, an editor for ESPN, was fired for writing a racially insensitive headline about Asian-American basketball player Jeremy Lin last February. The USA Today reported that Notre Dame Radio announcer Allen Pinkett was suspended from his position for stating that Notre Dame’s football team needed to have some “criminals” on its roster.

Incivility is not without its consequences. Once we get into the mindset that the other side is the enemy, it makes any understanding difficult to accomplish, even if that compromise would be good for our country. How can someone spend a whole year vilifying the other party and then turn around and work with them?

In the American Journal of Political Science, Yanna Krupnikov writes that negative campaigning has an adverse effect on voter turnout for elections.

“Exposure to negativity after selection can derail action by convincing individuals that their selection is no better than the alternative they already know they do not like,” Krupnikov said.

How can we let politicians make statements without proven facts or the slightest bit of decency? This type of disregard is harming our political system as a whole. If we continue to support and elect people like this, they have no motivation to change. As citizens, we need to hold our politicians accountable for the statements they make.

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