Dear Politicians: An open letter to all those who would lead

Dear politicians,

First off, I want to thank you for your willingness to serve. Yours is a job of profound import and influence which we citizens too often take for granted when the latest media pundits appear on our screens to tell us (and you) all about how you should do your job. Moreover, thank you for your leadership. I understand that it is not easy to lead according to the best interests of our people, remaining true to your own convictions, while the whole world (e.g., media polls, special interests, etc.) is screaming for your attention and favor. And I want to thank you, finally, for doing all of this “at the pleasure of the people.” Having to lead while worrying about whether or not we the people will re-elect you in the next cycle cannot be easy.

The Bible tells us that “if anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task” (1 Timothy 3:1 NIV). Sometimes, it’s easy for us to forget that in a culture saturated by newspapers, radio, twenty-four-hour news networks, and internet media. Especially when so much of that incessant coverage is clearly slanted in one direction or another.

That sad, as we all loathe the hangover left by the unprecedented negativity of the 2010 campaign season and look warily forward to the 2012 campaign which is already generating headlines, I would offer one piece of insight. We’re all covered in mud. And we’re sick of it.

I say this because, in the aftermath of an election in which the vast majority of political ads told nothing but what was wrong with the candidate’s opponent, I must tell you that the problems associated with the attack ads which have proliferated our American political process are fundamental and profound.

Attack ads undermine the integrity and respectability of everyone involved. Obviously, they are intended to undermine the person they are targeting. But in the process, they also tell us that you, the sponsor, are willing to resort to the same tactics we were taught from childhood to abhor: “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” This is a critical matter of personal character such that, in the end, the attack ads you sponsor serve only as ammunition for those who would see our nation and our culture fall.

Attack ads undermine our ability to work together to get things done. Simply put, contrary to the old adage, words can hurt. A lot. When we elect someone who has been torn apart by words, it will inevitably become increasingly difficult for that person to trust someone else enough to work together for the common good. And since, after the election, we will all be charged with that pursuit, together, this is a critical flaw.

Attack ads undermine the office to which you aspire. While I have heard on more than one occasion people talking about how they respect the office but not the man (or woman, for that matter), the truth is that you cannot call the person who holds an office an “idiot,” “liar,” or anything else without, in some way, compromising the integrity of the office which they hold. The sad reality is that Americans today know that “congressman” equates to “senator” equates to “president” equates to “politician” equates to scumbag. Your incessant negative campaigns have played a central role in reducing your once-noble profession and the high offices to which you aspire to a mere byword.

And finally, attack ads are counterproductive in the political process. We all understand that the point of the negative campaign is to illuminate and exploit blemishes in your opponent’s character and record. But what I think many of us have realized during the 2010 campaign is that these negative campaigns simultaneously tell us absolutely nothing about your position on or plans to address the essential issues of the day. Perhaps this is because you don’t really have a position. Or maybe you just don’t really have a plan. If you are going to run for public office – or, for that matter, any position of leadership, anywhere – such excuses are in fact inexcusable. We the people must know what you see as the biggest issues facing us. We must know how you stand on these matters. And we must know what you’re going to do about them. Because all of these things are essential to our ability to choose the right people to lead our nation into the future. The reality, however, is that attack ads reveal nothing about any of these things.

While I certainly do not intend to bash people over the head with the Bible, the truth is that it holds some incredible words of wisdom for us all. In Deuteronomy 16:18-20, Moses exhorted the nation of Israel, “Appoint judges and officials for each of your tribes in every town the LORD your God is giving you, and they shall judge the people fairly. Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the innocent. Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the LORD your God is giving you” (NIV). Your job as a leader is not to bury the other guy in the mud, but to do what’s right and just. And our job as the people is to discern which of you is going to do just exactly that.

So please, next time around, skip the negative campaigns and attack ads. Tell us about the issues, where you stand on them, and what you’re going to do about them. Tell us – and show us – that you are the right candidate for the job, rather than that the other guy (or gal) is the wrong one. And when the other guy (or gal) resorts to slinging mud, correct any untruths, by all means, but don’t ever do so by picking up mud and slinging it back. Because I, for one, am sick of standing knee-deep in the stuff. And you should be, too.

Sincerely,

Jeremy R. Geerdes

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