Too often in politics you see stuff that makes you think, yes, right there, that’s exactly the kind of thing turning people off.
You think it’s cheap and easy. You get dispirited or angry. You wonder what happened to decency and truth.
Politics, in the age of Trump and social media, no matter your view of either, seeks your ire over flags and statues; it wants you to embrace simplistic, often misleading mush.
Take two items in recent days: one R, one D.
A mailer from the state Republican Party to voters in the Nov. 7 judicial elections features a saluting soldier silhouetted against the flag. It says, “Vote For Judges Who Share Our Values And Stand For The Flag …Vote Republican.”
What? There are judges or candidates for judge who don’t stand for the flag? I don’t remember seeing anyone in robes or seeking a judgeship taking a knee.
State GOP chairman Val DiGiorgio tells me the mailer “was a message to our voters. … It was a positive mailer and we stand behind it.”
He invoked controversy over NFL athletes and the anthem, and took a swipe at Democratic Supreme Court candidate Dwayne Woodruff of Allegheny County.
In a statement, he said Woodruff “lacks the courage to buck the far left wing of his party when it comes to the misguided and disrespectful act of highly paid athletes. We call on all Pennsylvanians to reject liberal judge candidates who will not defend our flag.”
Democratic Party Chairman Marcel Groen calls the mailer “disturbing” and “unfortunate” and says, “I condemn going negative” in judicial contests.
And Woodruff, a former Pittsburgh Steeler, told the Harrisburg Patriot-News, before it reported on the mailer, “My dad served in the Army in Korea and Vietnam. My son is serving in the Marines. I feel it [kneeling] is disrespectful in regard to those who serve. At the same time, I understand what the law is,” citing First Amendment rights to peaceful protest.
This made me reread a Patriot-News guest editorial by Vietnam vet and former GOP Gov. Tom Ridge, for whom DiGiorgio once worked. Ridge wrote, “This country’s moral and intellectual foundation is based on the notion that all men are created equal, that nonviolent dissent is a protected freedom, and our national interest is advanced by addressing problems rather than pointing accusatory fingers.”
The GOP mailer is an appeal to a Trump base in a state Trump carried. I get that. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t. But it’s divisive, accusatory, and part of a pattern of politics failing to address problems.
Speaking of which, Sen. Bob Casey fell into that pattern on tax reform. He’s among Democrats busted by the Washington Post for using party talking points on Twitter that are wrong.
Casey tweeted that the pending GOP tax-reform plan would mean “families nationwide” making less than $86,100 would get a tax hike of $794.
Turns out this came from a Democratic analysis that somehow (or intentionally) got reshaped en route to social media.
The analysis, by Democrats on Congress’ Joint Economic Committee, found a small percentage (6.5 percent, or 7.9 million) of 122 million households making less than $86,100 would get a tax increase – not good, but much different than Casey’s implication that all families in that bracket would be hit.
After the Post reported 80 percent of such households would get a tax cut, and awarded Casey and other Dems four pinocchios (the most given; reserved for “whoppers”), I contacted Casey’s office. I was told, “We tweeted a correction.”
The “correction” said his original tweet “could have been more clear, nearly 8M families nationwide earning up to $86,100 would receive an average tax increase of $794.”
No mention of the majority getting a tax cut. No mention of using wrong, clearly unconfirmed talking points.
Are these things a big deal? Not in isolation. But a mailer here, a fake fact there, add up. Bit by bit they further devalue public discourse. They encourage more division. They uncover a political class uninterested in or unwilling to join in making our politics better.