Sunday, November 18, 2007

Things Change

Having spent much of the weekend transferring numerous campaign ads and political forums from VHS tapes to DVDs, I find myself wishing for days passed. The tapes I've watched, those contained in the Richard H. Stallings Congressional Collection, soon to be open to the public at Idaho State University, contain political pleasantries I hardly recognize today.

Civility in politics is lacking now, unlike what I was reminded of having appeared in the 1980s. I say this after watching the ceremony that took place in Philadelphia in 1987. The celebration of the bicentennial of the United States Constitution and the creation of a bicameral congress. Here two partisan bodies came together to celebrate our greatest document and our greatest triumphs as a nation. Robert Byrd and Robert Dole shared a stage as members of our government and men deeply appreciative, if not indebted, to the men who met in those chambers in 1787.

In addition to that particular video, I've watched the campaign ads prepared for Stallings in 1984, 1986, 1988, 1992, and 1998. Even in the 1984 ads there are no attacks of his opponent, attacks that would have been warranted in a race against felon George Hansen. The bloodiest ads didn't come until 1992 and even then were restrained, attacking Stallings' opponent Boise Mayor Dirk Kempthorne only for accepting a pay raise and not sticking to term limits. What has happened to campaigning?

We live in a day where a town hall meeting with Republican presidential hopeful Senator John McCain becomes a humorous sound bite because an audience member asked how they would beat "the bitch." We live in a day where a stage full of presidential hopefuls sounds like teenagers vying for the position of student body president, not leader of the free world. We live in a day where some are called terrorists simply because someone doesn't agree with them. We live in a day where campaign ads bring out every skeleton in every politician's closet.

Long gone are the days attacking Dukakis for any role he may have played in the "revolving door" and release of Willy Horton. People no longer react to these campaign ads with confusion and the desire to find the true story behind such statements. We now react in fear and hate. Not curiosity or compassion.

Watching the bicentennial celebration, I was amazed at the way the speakers were able to capture the attention of those members listening in that historic chamber. As the camera panned around, there were listening ears, those of Stallings included, truly appreciative of that historic document that they met there to celebrate. Long gone are the days that those in public service truly honor and recognize the Constitution. Long gone are the days when that historic document was treated with complete respect in Washington, both in the halls of Congress and the offices of the White House.

Perhaps it was the 2000 election or maybe even 9/11. Maybe it was the Iraq War Resolution or the profanities spoken by our Vice President on the floor of the U.S. Senate. Whatever the reason, I am reminded that in life, like politics, things do in fact change.

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