Good side of bad things

Politics + Other Mistakes
By AL DIAMON  |  July 11, 2012

Now for a few words in support of partisanship, gridlock, negative campaigning, and super PACs.

I understand why some people have concerns about the prevalence of these activities in contemporary politics. For instance, the leader of the theocratic cabal that controls Iran isn't going to tolerate nasty TV spots calling him a narrow-minded bigot. The beleaguered president of Syria wouldn't take kindly to some billionaire pumping cash into a shadowy organization dedicated to forcing him from office. In North Korea, attempting to filibuster against the administration's failed economic plan will get you locked in a grid for life. And putting the interests of an opposition political party ahead of those of the state is grounds for expulsion from the People's Republic of China.

Those places know how to deal with the unpleasant repercussions of unlimited and undocumented campaign funds, attack ads, maneuvering for electoral advantage, or ignoring the demands of the powerful. Of course, it's easy for them, not being restrained by pesky constitutional quibbles. Because as every despot knows — and almost no American acknowledges — partisanship, gridlock, negative campaigning, and super PACs are all manifestations of the right to free speech.

Even so, here in Maine, we're besieged by politicians attempting to suppress these bugaboos. Supposedly in an effort to promote polite discourse — but in reality, to gain political advantage — they want to force their opponents to shut up.

Of course, their efforts to discourage unfettered discussion are usually couched in more gentile terms. For instance:

Maine Citizens for Clean Elections wants to "reduce monied influence in our elections and policymaking," according to what executive director Andrew Bossie (there's a last name that seems appropriate) told the Portland Press Herald.

That sounds nice, until it comes time to define "monied influence." If you're a liberal, it usually means corporate fat cats. If you're a conservative, it's a euphemism for labor-union thugs. The real translation, regardless of ideology: We don't want people we disagree with messing up our agenda.

Independent US Senate candidate Angus King had this to say on his website: "I firmly believe that campaign finance laws must be reformed — nameless, faceless, out-of-state money should not try to tell you how to vote."

King, who's rich and has lots of wealthy friends, will have plenty of dough for his campaign. What he's really saying here is that he doesn't want his impoverished opponents to get any help from super PACs. Which doesn't explain why he hasn't condemned the out-of-state super PAC that's already spent money supporting him.

When candidates talk about ending gridlock, what they really mean is they want the other side to give up. "There is gridlock in Washington, but the responsibility is not shared equally among Republicans and Democrats," Democratic US Senate candidate Cynthia Dill told the Bangor Daily News. "I think there's a band of very obstructionist, extremist Republicans in Washington who have made it their life's work to make sure President Obama isn't re-elected. We need more Democrats who are going to vote for laws that move the country forward."

While ripping the alleged gridlockers, Dill is also endorsing blatant partisanship, the surest method of creating more gridlock. I'm for both, so if I thought she understood what she was saying, I'd vote for her. But I don't, so I won't.

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