First, MoveOn.org, a liberal political action group, uses a full-page New York Times ad to attack the character of an American commander, calling him “Gen. Betray Us” and accusing him of “cooking the books for the White House” on the war in Iraq.
Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton assails the general’s report to Congress, saying it requires “a willing suspension of disbelief,â€ essentially calling him a liar. Presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani runs a full-page ad in The Times highlighting candidate Clinton’s quote and reproducing the MoveOn.org ad. Candidate Giuliani’s ad claims Democrats orchestrated the attack on Gen. David Petraeus. His ad closes this way:
These times call for statesmanship, not politicians spewing political venom.
All of which makes me wonder: Did the current crop of presidential candidates â€” and modern politicians in general â€” fail kindergarten?
You remember kindergarten, don’t you, candidate Giuliani? Where we learned how to play with the other children? And you remember what was taught in kindergarten, don’t you, candidate Clinton? And candidates Thompson, McCain, Romney, Obama, Richardson … and the list does on.
And you all remember, of course, the lessons found in Robert Fulghum’s book, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten“?
In case you’ve forgotten, here they are:
Don’t hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life â€” learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
Take a nap every afternoon.
When you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.
Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: the roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup â€” they all die. So do we.
And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned â€” the biggest word of all â€” LOOK.
Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and equality and sane living.
Take any one of those items and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your family life or your work or government or your world and it holds true and clear and firm. Think what a better world it would be if we all â€” the whole world â€” had cookies and milk at about 3 o’clock in the afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. Or if all governments had as a basic policy to always put things back where they found them and to clean up their own mess.
And it is still true, no matter how old you are, when you go out in the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.
Yes, I know, it’s silly and saccharine. But given the venom associated with political campaigning in the post-Ailes, post-Atwater, post-Deaver, post-Rove era, perhaps an appraisal of character of people who wish to be president or representatives or senators ought to begin with much more fundamental yardsticks than we’ve been using.
At its core, governing is about behavior. Why do we tolerate the loutish behavior we witness in our candidates during our too-long campaign seasons? If our kids acted this way, we’d smack ‘em upside the head or make ‘em wash their mouths out with soap.
We see candidates who have participated in what candidate Giuliani calls “venomous” attacks on each other make up after the conventions and make nice-nice. And we’re supposed to believe that? That the churlishness that marked the candidates’ behavior â€” and that of their advisers â€” was only a brief aberration?
Imagine other governments witnessing this particular election season from afar. Oh, they’re getting a good look into the character of the candidates. Now imagine Venomous Candidate Take-No-Prisoners Jones metamorphosing into President Nice-Nice Jones sitting next to Foreign Potentate Dubious Smith at a state dinner. Potentate Smith ought to take the presidential smiles with a large grain of White House table salt.
Well, maybe the candidates didn’t fail kindergarten. Maybe their closest political advisers and consultants did. For the past few months, The Washington Post has run stories on the advisers to many of the presidential campaigns. It’s the called The Gurus Series. It’s insightful reading.
How about the candidates’ fundraisers? Fugitive financier Norman Hsu has caused candidate Clinton’s campaign to return $850,000. Now all the candidates are resorting to criminal background checks on their major fundraisers and bundlers.
Political campaigns have degenerated into ugly, messy, vindictive, increasingly criminal attempts to fool all of the people all of the time. Let’s send everyone associated with politics back to kindergarten. Maybe the warm milk and cookies will at least put them to sleep and we can have some respite from their shenanigans (and their ads).
We need to judge our leaders-to-be much more critically on the present behaviors they display as they court our votes, not the behaviors they claim they’ll have once elected. Past behavior is a strong predictor of future behavior. On that basis alone, most, if not, all failed kindergarten. And that includes their entourages, official and unofficial, as well. MoveOn.org didn’t do well before first grade, either.