Opinion: Lives at stake as politicians play games

​Is politics a game? Many seem to think so. Meanwhile, the real work remains undone, while many lives are at stake.

​First there is Aaron Coleman. Only twenty years old, he defeated longtime Kansas City state representative Stan Frownfelter in this summer’s Democratic primary. Coleman went door to door, proposing to make Democrats more progressive while arguing that his opponent was part of an aging, out of touch, Wyandotte County political establishment. That last part is true.

​Unfortunately, Coleman’s behavior is abusive. As a teenager, he circulated revenge porn and threatened to kill his ex-girlfriend. Frownfelter’s former campaign manager recently filed a restraining order, accusing Coleman of stalking. Earlier, Coleman tweeted that he hoped Republicans would die of COVID. One of his comments criticizing Governor Kelly appears violent, though Coleman denies this. A growing, bipartisan coalition called for Coleman’s resignation. He has declined, arguing that it would undermine the will of the voters. Coleman has apologized for his behavior as a teenager but not the current offenses.

Coleman’s behavior distracts voters and the media, weakening the ability of Kansas Democrats to plan for the coming legislative session, develop an agenda, and support Governor Kelly. Even so, he seems to be enjoying himself, as if he thinks he is beating own party’s political establishment in some sort of game.

​Political game-playing also occurred recently in Wichita. Former city council member James Clendenin, outgoing state representative Michael Capps and former Sedgwick County Committeeman Michael O’Donnell are all Republicans who sought to undermine Brandon Whipple’s successful campaign for mayor a year ago. These three were caught on audio planning to lie about a campaign commercial making false allegations of sexual harassment against Whipple. They propose to lie, then lie again to cover it up, arguing that this is just how politics works. Former Mayor Jeff Longwell refers to Clendenin, Capps and O’Donnell as “these three stooges” and blames them for his loss to Whipple.

O’Donnell has since quit, Capps was defeated for re-election and Clendenin resigned. Coleman should follow their lead, resigning to pursue therapy for what appears to be a serious personality disorder. If the younger Coleman is bound and determined to seek office, he may do so later in life, after a good deal of character development. Meanwhile, in Wichita, an interesting twist occurred when GOP official Dalton Glasscock was chosen to fill the balance of O’Donnell’s term. The three stooges had attempted to frame Glasscock for their ad.

Game-playing happens at the national level, too. For example, President Trump’s baseless challenges to his defeat in this year’s election are heavily influenced by QAnon, a bizarre conspiracy theory that spread after “gamejacking” an online role-playing game. With Trump’s support, QAnon is responsible for spreading the false claim that Dominion voting machines were “rigged” to change election results. Meanwhile, longtime anti-tax activist Grover Norquist has remained influential for several Presidential administrations, including Trump’s. Earlier, Norquist publicly stated that his agenda is for people who “don’t need government for anything” and “I am cheerful because my team is winning.”

​While the gamesters win, our health care workers, parents, and teachers are exhausted, and the bodies keep piling up. Most COVID deaths could have been prevented with real leadership and widespread buy-in by the public, particularly regarding masks and public gatherings. Not only that, but Kansas’ infrastructure is aging, schools struggling, working-class jobs disappearing, and aquifers being drained. Both parties need to put responsible adults in charge so government can do its job.

Game over.

— Michael A. Smith is a professor of political science at Emporia State University.


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