RP Roundtable: Civility & Politics
John Seigenthaler moderates a lively discussion on the state of political discourse among a panel of elected officials and thought leaders.
Brought to you by Liberty Mutual’s The Responsibility Project
This is a transcript of the film, included for screen readers and the visually impaired.
Welcome to all of you, thanks for being here today. Major, let me just start with you. You've covered politics for a long time, what's the state of political discourse in America today?
Deteriorating, I would say. Not in the sense that the content is deteriorating, but the assumptions about each other are deteriorating
I think that one of the things that happens to me when you're running for office, you kind of have your team. And your team does make the assumptions that the other team is bad.
I'm a partisan democrat and I think that partisanship is a healthy thing. It's the hyper-partisanship that is killing us.
As much as you say that the polarizing debate on either side, both parties have this, there is a vast middle in congress that has civil debates and committee all the time, has it on the floor, but it doesn't get featured unless you're watching, you know, CNN and really a junky on the thing, you know, watching it.
We don't show traffic running smoothly, we film 18 car pile ups, ok. Traffic running smoothly and doing what's suppose to happen isn't news.
Let's talk a little about the campaigns and campaign ads. Maybe Major, since you've been a journalist for some time and you'll be our first victim for our hypothetical and become a campaign strategist for just a moment. You're working for a house incumbent, who's down by 5 points and three weeks to go before election day. Your opponent is young, first time candidate and you know of about unflattering pictures that were taken of him in college while he was inebriated. Under the circumstances, it's your last shot, what do you do? Do you try to get those pictures out?
As a campaign strategist, certainly.
So how do you get it out?
Well this is one of the things that is different about the world of campaigns than when I first came to Washington and started interacting with national campaigns in 1990. Back then, you know there were one or two or three places you could drop something and they would be on a very high bar to whether or not it would be dropped.
You mean give it to a reporter?
Give to a reporter and they would say, "Wait a minute, you know I've got to verify, I've got to run this down. Blah, blah, blah."
But these are pictures. We're talking about pictures of a political candidate, young in college.
Right, now you can drop this in one, two or even six blogs, some friendly and some semi-friendly. And they'll get out there, and with very few or almost no finger prints.
But, if your goal is to win the election, then you're going to do whatever it takes and I tell you.
As a campaign consultant, that would be my job.
One more, there will be zero people in the campaign who would not tell the candidate absolutely, release those pictures. Zero people.
The issue would be is there relevance to the conversation, ok. If you're the incumbent and you're five points down and we're three weeks out, and there's not really a lot on the table that's going to get you back in the game.
I'm going to look at you and say, "here's the deal, this election isn't about this issue, this has no relevance to what this guy said. It's not going to have a lot of impact, it's probably going to kick back on you."
But statistically, ask any consultant. Actually, I've never used a consultant. But if you ask them "Why do people use negative campaigning?" And they say "because it works." And it's not necessarily character assassination or bad stuff, it's just real hard hitting stuff works because, you know, saying Shelly is great, but I'm a little bit better, I'm a little bit stronger in education, Shelly is going to get re-elected. But if I can say, you know she hates kids. Let me tell you, she doesn't want them to have chocolate milk at lunch.
At the end of the day, I think most people have to wake up the next morning and decide, I use these methods to campaign to get what I wanted and you have to be able to live with yourself.
There are people who look up and say, you know what, I want to be able to come back. I don't want to go out this way. And that is a legitimate and appropriate conversation that ought to be had.
It's been an enlightening and entertaining and candid discussion and I want to thank all of you for participating in it tonight. Also want to thank our guest and Liberty Mutual for hosting tonight's event. And I hope, our hope really, is that this discussion won't be the last on this subject and maybe it would be the start or starting point for all of us to figure out how to return a level of civility to our political world. Thanks very much for watching
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