Thank heaven the primaries are over. Here in Kansas things ended up pretty much as most folks expected, although I was a bit surprised that Kris Kobach managed to win. But looking back on the primary campaigns, I feel compelled to say that I found them to be really very depressing, not what I would have hoped for in Kansas. The low level achieved by some of the campaigns was actually shocking. I was particularly bothered by several aspects that I want to discuss.
It seemed to me that several of the Republican campaigns, especially the senatorial primary, basically got down to each of the candidates trying to accuse the other of not being “conservative” enough. To me this is a great way to avoid talking about substantive issues.
Let’s face it, everybody in Kansas knows that both Todd Tiahrt, the loser, and Jerry Moran, the winner, are good conservatives. Both are pro-life and anti-tax. Both have been in the U.S. House of Representatives for a number of years and their voting records are known. Was mudslinging really necessary? Was it really necessary for Congressman Tiahrt to run misleading advertisements about Congressman Moran’s record?
I can’t believe that very many voters were taken in by this tactic. I also doubt that these advertisements did much good for either Congressman Tiahrt or for the Republican Party. Kevin Yoder (in the interests of full disclosure, I must note that both he and his wife Brook were students of mine and I’m quite fond of both of them) also felt obliged to get into the “I’m a better conservative than you are” mode. And, once, again, I think that it really didn’t make that much of a difference to the end result. (Yoder won his primary.)
Negative campaigning is wasteful of time and energy. More to the point, it leaves scars and ill feelings between candidates and voters in the same party. I would hope that the fall campaigns will not degenerate into the same name-calling advertising with little substance.
The other aspect of the campaign which I simply found irritating were the robocalls in the last week. It seemed as if my telephone didn’t stop ringing when I was at home. Even worse, my voicemail box was absolutely crammed with robotic, taped “messages” to me and to my wife. I got a bit of a chuckle out of the message from Sarah Palin; I was quite surprised when my caller ID said that the call had originated in Kansas. I suppose that is to make more likely that folks will pick up the phone.
By the last few days of the campaigns I simply deleted all messages from 800 numbers. But the fact is, being bombarded by these computerized messages at home, especially at dinnertime is, in my opinion, a violation of my privacy and I don‚t like it. I hope that this doesn’t get worse in the months to come.
I realize that some folks will say that I’m just naïve and old-fashioned to resent these campaign tactics. Perhaps, I am. But I do wish that candidates would stop calling each other names, trying to tell us that one is “more” conservative than the other — whatever that means — and just tell us how they will make our lives as Kansans better if they win.
— Mike Hoeflich, a distinguished professor in the Kansas University School of Law, writes a regular column for the Journal-World.