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During the various Democratic Party Candidate debates, the Democrats have sounded remarkably uniform in terms of the over-all issues, and, perhaps even more importantly, remarkably respectful of each other. It has not been unusual to hear one candidate say of another, “I agree with what _____ has said, but I would add…” Or, “credit needs to be given to ______ for the work he’s done on this issue.”  Or, “We all agree on the basic issues, although we may have different approaches to solving them.” Most of the candidates have been able to deal with issues, without moving into personal attacks. Now that Mike Gravel is gone, the one candidate with an attitude of condescension and arrogance has been eliminated.  It’s quite clear that most of us are tired of the sniping, the mean-spiritedness, the nastiness that has been part of politics for some years. When John Edwards began his own form of mud-slinging and attacks which, as Clinton said, seemed like it was taken from the Republican rule book, he got booed at the last debate. Although I considered voting for John Edwards through the first few debates, he (and Elizabeth) lost my support when the unnecessary attacks began, considering the good work he has done. I don’t need someone in office who doesn’t seem to understand the line between dealing with the issues and sniping. Other attacks have started, some of them by Republicans and by such conservative columnists as Robert Novak, and tensions seem to be just under the surface as the Iowa caucus gets closer. One might hope that they won’t become the norm.  But when did such nastiness enter politics? Of course, we can find many periods in history where politics took the low road. In more modern times, Republican Christine Todd Whitman, in her book It’s my Party Too, traces this form of politics to the Barry Goldwater campaign in 1964 when the level of vitriol of the Goldwater supporters against Rockefeller was shocking to her. Yet, the Republican Party allowed it. And Goldwater lost by a land-slide.  Many of us remember the nastiness of Richard Nixon, and his chosen hatchet man, Spiro Agnew, who spewed venom at the college students protesting the war, calling them “elite snobs” among other names. Agnew left office under scandal as did Nixon.    Some of us found LBJ’s manipulation and bullying a different type of nastiness, dividing the country and leading to a split that eventually kept him from serving another term.  Bob Dole brought another level of nastiness, as did Dan Quayle who tried hard to be strong and bold, but only ended up looking like a not-too-intelligent schoolboy throwing stones that weren’t quite hard enough but just irritating enough to alienate many of us.  And there are bad memories from the attacks on Muskie, Dukakis, and Kerry. Sometimes those attacked ran a poor campaign that showed their inability to know what to do in response. Kerry ran television ads of him wind-surfing – clearly the wrong message, and never found a strong enough ad campaign to work against the flip-flop ads or the Swift Boat ads. The Democratic Party stayed so positive at the 2004 convention that they never critiqued those issues that needed to be dealt with – strongly.  Why is it so important to forgo the nastiness? If a candidate is mean-spirited, this person can never govern fairly for the whole of the United States. Their mind-set has separated themselves from 50% of other Americans. No matter what the new President may say about bringing people together, if he’s spent the whole campaign pulling people apart, unity won’t happen. If a candidate believes the other party has no values, then it’s not possible for that candidate to respect anyone in government from the opposing party.   But it’s also up to the candidate to deflect the attacks with clarity, strength, but without being sucked into counter-attacks. Clinton, Dodd, and Biden have seemed to do this well in the debates. Clinton clarifies that people can attack her on the issues, but the mud-slinging is not necessary. She has defined the rules of engagement, and, in my opinion, stayed above the fray.   It is possible to be strong and bold and still stay positive and wise. So far, the Democrats, this time around, have done an admirable job at this. But they are now teetering on the edge of getting sucked into some nastiness. Let us hope they pull back, and refuse to become like the people who have, too often, torn our country apart.


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Dr. Linda Seger is an internationally known author, keynote speaker and seminar leader on spirituality. Dr. Linda Seger has a broad religious background. She grew up Lutheran and did several years of spiritual seeking in her 20s. She became a (more...)

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