I’m beginning to wonder whether it is worse to reveal the fact that a political candidate is a “scumbag,” or to be a “scumbag.” Harry Truman once replied when someone urged him to “Give‘em hell, Harry” that he simply “told the truth and the people being told on thought it was hell.” I have a feeling a lot of the so-called mudslinging that people decry and attribute to their opponent is, often times, actually the truth. And the general voting public ought to hea
A prime example of a candidate being too nice was the occasion when a fellow named Don Yarbrough ran against a fine appellate court judge for the Texas Supreme Court. There was little doubt Don Yarbrough had a shady past and had a history of association with people suspected of high crimes. Yarbrough’s opponent, Judge Charles Barrow of the Thirteenth Court of Appeals serving Corpus Christi, Texas, took the fine gentlemanly view that he would not speak ill of his opponent even if it were true. He left that to the Texas press corps. The Texas media, both electronic and paper, dropped the ball. Don Yarbrough, taking the advantage of the name idea of a former candidate for governor of the same name, swept to victory and became one of Texas’ Supreme Court justices. Only a short time later, it was revealed Justice Yarbrough was in fact a crook and was convicted of felonious conduct. Many Texans went around wringing their hands wondering how this could have happened that a felon could get himself selected by the voters of Texas to be on our highest court. I suspect these are many of the same people who would be quick to condemn a candidate of speaking ill of his opponent, even if it were true.
It seems we may have lost something in Texas. Lusty, rough-and-tumble, passionate politics is not new in Texas. Reading a history of the elections in which Sam Houston participated, there were instances where candidates would literally pull guns during the course of debates. Sam Houston once accused one of his opponents of being a bank robber, having stolen a safe from a bank and thrown it in the river.
While ordinarily it is a good thing that political opponents be civil to one another, doing so to the point of not letting the public know things they should know about one’s opponent does the public a disservice and in a way defeats the whole purpose of the elective process. We have become too sensitive about confronting one another publicly as candidates for office. In the good old days a debate was a real debate. You put two candidates up and let them think of the questions to ask their opponent, or accusations to make for the opponent to refute. Political debates today have been reduced to nothing more than a scripted news event in which we find out very little about how the candidates feel or what they know about each other.
The tepidness of debates today is quite evident by the current debate going on between Bill White and Rick Perry about whether to have a debate. Rick Perry has chosen not even to submit to interviews by the various editorial boards of Texas’ newspapers, and claims he would not debate with candidate White because White has not revealed enough information about prior income tax returns. Isn’t this a subject that ought to be debated? If White had done wrong, or something illegal, wouldn’t it be far more dramatic for Mr. Perry to reveal this charge in the course of debate and demand White to explain it right there on television before God and all the voters? Alas, I am afraid we have become too civilized to engage in such conduct! Most debates are relegated to the various candidates taking turns answering questions with an occasional “ad lib” off the topic of what the moderator posed as a question.
Ideally, the open democratic process should be one which gives full disclosure of the good, the bad and the ugly about the candidates. The candidate with an interest in winning should be the most motivated person or team around to discover all of the defects of his or her opponent and, alternatively, should be most knowledgeable about all of their own good qualities which recommend them as the best candidate for office.
As for White and Perry, putting aside the gamesmanship and agreeing to a good old fashioned televised debate or a series of debates would be a good start for this election year.