November 17, 2000


At First I Thought It Was Funny…

By Julio C. Calderón

At first I thought it was funny the way the election for president played out in Florida. The reaction and actions by campaign operatives reminded me of elections at constitutional conventions of the Mexican American Political Association (MAPA). But as the counting and recounting process devolved from funny to tedious to ridiculous, different observations emerged and anger has subdued the humor in the situation.

This whole campaign has been without rhythm. This has afflicted not just the campaigns, but the national media. A friend, who is a leader in Latino Democratic Party circles and a Gore campaign operative in a couple of western states, described these elections as "People were not voting for a Bush or Gore; they voted against Gore or Bush." From what I have seen and discussed with other political junkies I have concluded that this election year could not have ended any other way.

The tone of national politics was changed in 1992. What, at first was a tactic used to fend off "bimbo eruptions" has become part of political strategy, and we are not better off because of it. The "it," to give it definition, in this case is the vilification of one's enemies or opponents; or those associated by circumstances to them.

As the battle for counts and recounts and recount of the recounts evolved in Florida, the dialogue has deteriorated to the vilification of the officials responsible for the electoral process in the state and the counties. Even the judges who have been dragged into the melee have not been immune because none of these judges are registered decline-to-state.

The elected, or as in the case of some of the judges, are described by their party registration, or whether they were appointed by a Democrat or Republican governor or president. The public is supposed to weigh the importance of their decisions on their party registration.

This tactic is Clintonesgue in that the opponent's character must first be questioned before we can determine whether they made their decisions based on the laws governing Florida's elections. Just as President Bill Clinton's legal defense team effectively first destroyed the character of every woman that made any charges against the president. They were just as effective in making the prosecutors the villeins, and Mr. Clinton the victim.

My concern isn't so much for the players in the Clinton daytime soap opera scenarios. It is for our political process. It is for the future of political discourse and the men and women who may choose public service as an elected official or an appointed jurist. These will be men and women who have chosen to take on the responsibility of governing our nation, state, and county and municipal entities. They are all susceptible to these kinds of attacks.

If we understand human nature at all, we have to make allowances for the flaws inherent in human nature. While we, as Americans, try to elect good people to every elected office in the land, we do have a history of a crook or two getting by us. We have been blessed, however, because, for the most part, as a collective of people from every corner of the world, we have done a good job electing our leaders.

The danger in this form of political diatribe is that in the process of destroying the men and women holding these positions, we deteriorate the public confidence in these offices.

"We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union…," These words were written by men of hope and vision. They were also men who had an understanding of human nature. This is why they wrote "…a more perfect…" rather than a "perfect union." Perfection isn't ours as mere mortals.

Still, it is our responsibility as Americans, born and naturalized, to strive for that perfect union as Americans have done since the writing of the preamble of our constitution, to protect the functions of our government. We must, as American, place the interest of our nation above those of political party.

It is the responsibility of our elected officials to conduct themselves in office, and on the campaign trail, with dignity; to beat opponents with the weight of ideas, rather than the destruction of character.

The tragedy of Elections 2000 is the fact that my friend, Steve Ybarra was right in assessing the motivation behind the highest turn-out of voters in our recent history. The dialogue during the campaign was negative…it generated a negative vote for both sides of the political aisle.

Julio Calderon can be emailed at:

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