It’s just politics

Published 12:13 pm Saturday, May 24, 2014

Whatever people in Virginia think about the state budget impasse in Richmond, one thing is sure: Most of them don’t think of it as a game.

There are real lives at stake in the budget negotiations. Democrats believe there are thousands of uninsured people whose lives could be saved by the expansion of Medicaid to cover them. Republicans have a different take on the Medicaid question — preferring not to take federal money without a more comprehensive examination of the health insurance needs of people in Virginia — but even they understand that a state budget funds many programs that help keep life-saving programs running.

It would be utterly naïve to hope partisan politics would be absent from a debate that splits along party lines. Each side is naturally going to manipulate its own message and that of its opponent to make points and tug at the emotions of voters who might not be completely engaged in the process or have limited knowledge or understanding of the facts.

Perhaps we should not even be surprised when the political spin-masters begin turning the facts to suit their agendas, when they begin massaging the truth to a degree of pliability that they feel comfortable twisting it out of recognition. We know these things happen in politics. Many of us are disgusted by them, but the problem is so widespread and permeates so much of the public discourse that we have no idea where even to begin attacking it.

Perhaps we can begin here: If you’re going essentially to bear false witness about your neighbor, at least have the sense to act contrite — or maybe even deny it — when confronted with the falsehood behind your implication.

In an email sent out by the Democratic Party of Virginia recently, Republican Delegate Chris Jones of Suffolk was accused of being in favor of “spending additional taxpayer dollars to raise co-pays on mail-order drugs,” in an alleged effort to benefit his pharmacy. But Jones had nothing to do with the prescription-drug amendment that was added in a House of Delegates subcommittee, and he abstained from voting on the amendment when it reached the House floor.

“I was writing a letter — I wasn’t interested in writing a book,” David Midkiff, treasurer of the Democratic Party of Virginia’s committee for the 4th Congressional district and author of the Jones attack, replied when asked why he airbrushed this fuller picture. “It’s just politics.”

There may be no more concise a description of what people hate about the people behind their government today than those last three words. Midkiff didn’t care whether what he wrote was true or not. He cared only about the fact that it would rile some folks against one of the main people standing between Democrats and their goals in Virginia.

Suggesting that Chris Jones was busy lining his pockets at the expense of suffering people would cost him support from folks who did not know him better and from folks who did not bother to check the facts.

A system that would encourage such a scurrilous attack is rotten, but it’s also typical in American politics lately. What’s new and even more disgusting is the cavalier attitude of people like David Midkiff, an attitude that says, “It doesn’t really matter what’s true. What counts is winning. And not only will I imply false things in order to win, I’ll be proud of the fact that I’ve done so.”

It’s just politics, indeed.