Commentary: Hate ugly politics and hypocritical politicians? Blame the voters
We are now in the heart of the election season.
Early voting has made the campaigning during this part of the cycle even more intense. While Election Day is still months away in November, early voting in North Dakota begins next month.
The campaigns are still trying to make their cases, and besmirch their opponents, before voters begin locking in their ballots in just a few weeks.
What I'm trying to tell you, as if you haven't already noticed, is that things are very nasty right now. They're going to get nastier the closer we get to Nov. 6.
I'm sure I'm not revealing anything to you folks. We've all complained about the mudslinging and gotcha campaigning. And for that we blame the politicians and the armies of operatives and pollsters and strategists who work for them.
I would suggest to you, however, that they are not the problem.
We voters are the problem.
Candidates savage one another on the campaign trail because it works. It can move the needle with voters. Candidates and political groups would not invest millions upon millions of dollars into negative messaging if it weren't a workable strategy.
We complain about negativity in politics, but negativity in politics is a sound strategy because we, the public, buy into it.
Even the hypocrisy of politicians — such a rote characteristic of that profession that entire genres of comedy are dedicated mocking it — is a product of a schizophrenic electorate that often wants fundamentally contradictory things.
In the aggregate, voters want expansive and fulsome government services. They also want very low taxes.
Voters consistently rail about budget deficits and the national debt, but go fainting into the bushes at the mention of raising taxes or perhaps reforming certain massive national social programs with deeply problematic financials.
Voters say they want to buy American, to support American workers and companies, but when it comes time to buy a television they sure appreciate having the option of products made overseas.
Voters complain about "the swamp" in Washington D.C. yet also want the feds on the hook to solve their local problems.
What the politicians, and the campaign industry, try to do is serve these paradoxical demands from voters.
It's fashionable to think of awful, cynical politics being a top-down affair. Something the politicians create alongside lobbyists and other nefarious characters in those proverbial smoky back rooms.
The truth is that it's really a grassroots thing. A bottom up thing.
Campaigns are exercises in character assassination because voters respond to that sort of thing. Politicians are hypocrites because they must be to meet the demands of the voters.
It's an inconvenient truth.
Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Follow him on Twitter at @RobPort