Election campaigns really should be more than a game of verbal “gotcha.”
It seems that far too often these days, candidates — and often the news media — focus too much attention on a single statement by an opponent that may or may not be taken out of context or properly reflect the candidate’s true opinion or record on a given issue.
President Obama’s campaign latches onto Mitt Romney’s statement that he likes to fire people. The Romney campaign pulls out Obama’s statement about “you didn’t build that.” There was a similar example closer to home last week when Tobias Schlingensiepen, a Democrat running in the state’s 2nd Congressional District, focused on a statement Rep. Lynn Jenkins, a Republican, made at a public meeting in southeast Kansas about “people who are happy to collect unemployment and not work.”
Granted, in this day and age, candidates have to know that any statement they make can be online and public in seconds. They have to be careful about what they say. In Jenkins’ case, she probably wishes she could rephrase the way she responded to a comment at a public meeting in Columbus. In the situations cited with Romney and Obama, they probably simply wish their statements could be considered in the broader context in which they were made.
Creating jobs, supporting business and addressing problems with “people working the system” on unemployment are all legitimate campaign issues that deserve the attention of both candidates and voters. Rather than pouncing on an opponent’s partial sound bite or misstatement, however, why not look at his or her record or a broader spectrum of comments on a given topic?
Playing “gotcha” with candidate statements can be part of a broader tactic of candidates twisting information or promoting outright falsehoods about their opponents. This tactic may work, but it is a disservice to voters.
The current polarization of the American electorate makes voters an easy target for those who want to stir up emotions rather than deal with hard facts and issues. Both voters and candidates need to fight this trend as they head toward the important November elections.