Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Do real political issues count for much anymore?

Opposition research has been a vital part of many political campaigns since the crust of the earth hardened. It involves an investigation of the opponent’s record – public and political as well as personal and private – and the careful distribution of the results during the campaign to discredit an opponent. Sometimes it’s ugly work, because it means digging up unsavory stuff to make the other person look bad – and by contrast, make your own candidate look better. It’s not about to go away.
And it is, of course, the sort of thing that news reporters thrive on: finding out stuff, sorting through it and putting it in the paper, on the air and in the Ethernet. That’s what we’re about. Sometimes it's little stuff. Sometimes it's big.
That’s one reason we’re hearing a lot about the public records of Democratic gubernatorial candidates Beverly Perdue, the state’s lieutenant governor, and her main opponent, Richard Moore, the state treasurer. They’re both forward-looking Democrats with an interest in education, health care and economic development, among other things. They probably agree on quite a lot.
But their staffs are not fond of one another – or at least the way they’re going about digging up whatever dirt they can find on one another. The Moore campaign has been merrily pointing out some imprecisions in Perdue’s resume in the past, though the Moore campaign attaches more importance to it than I expect most voters would. And the Perdue campaign has fired back a few shots at Moore for, among other things, an arcane vote on the highway trust fund.
In Sunday’s column I wrote, “This kind of push and shove makes their campaigns seem preoccupied with pointing out each other’s flaws, as if the public were mostly interested in unwavering devotion to rigid consistency rather than figuring out what’s best for the public interest and pushing new ideas.”
I think it also makes folks tired of politics sooner than they ought to be. But by some perverse law of political thermodynamics, resume errors and old voting records often get more heat-and-light coverage than serious issues. Ask Bob Orr, the former Supreme Court associate justice who’s running for the Republican nomination for governor. He unveiled a substantive proposal for stopping the increasingly costly arms race on economic incentives for landing new plants the other day, and after a brief round of news reports, the issue faded a bit.
Is the message the media send that real issues don’t count for much?

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