Setting Some Goals

Last night, the New Trier Dems Executive Committee held our monthly meeting. With Illinois’ March Primary Elections now completed, it was an evening of spirited discussion. We all shared thoughts about the campaigns and their results. Some of our endorsed candidates won. Others, despite commendable efforts, fell short of victory. — Summing things up we all agreed that the Democratic slate heading toward the General Election in November will be strong, and we will strongly support them all.

But the subject that dominated much of last night’s discussion had to do with a specific aspect of the past election – actually a problematic aspect of too many elections. And that is, the ethical parameters of messaging established by candidates or their supporters.

There’s no question that every election has a percentage of messaging that many of us feel strays beyond the limits of legitimate hardball politics. And I believe a lot of potential voters are becoming increasingly bothered by today’s growing proliferation of truth-deficient communication.

We have a president who lies so easily and so frequently that one spokesperson created a special term for it — “alternative facts.” We have entire TV and radio networks who blithely tell lies in prime time and later correct their “errors” when their audience is small. We have billionaire funded interest groups and secretive PACs that have no qualms about disparaging reality to create self-serving fantasies.

This level of blatant deceit is conditioning too many Americans to accept such communication standards as the norm. This is not good for any democracy. In such a messed up national scene, the last thing we need is more of that stuff at a local level.

According to the immortal Mike Royko, the old Chicago Machine pols would label these concerns as the talk of liberal “goo goos.” More modern critics would label such thoughts as the simplistic ramblings of too-sensitive liberal “snowflakes.”

I admit that really nasty political campaigns can work, but not every time (just ask Karl Rove). And they certainly don’t work everywhere. In fact, I would argue that using such campaign tactics – particularly in educated, politically literate, areas like New Trier and our neighboring communities – it is a stupid thing to do. 

This crude approach turns off more voters than it wins over. And the cumulative effect of repeating such messaging week after week during a campaign actually reduces many voters’ interest in even going to the polls. Setting aside any ethical arguments against this method, even the most embedded politician of the old guard should be able to see that losing potential voters because of repellent messaging should be a convincing incentive to stop such messaging (at least in our area).

This was pretty much the conclusion we came to at our Executive Committee meeting. So, in the coming months we hope to find acceptable ways to discourage the most egregious campaign tactics from being used in future campaigns aimed at New Trier voters. Are we kidding ourselves? Can the New Trier Dems play a role in reducing the use of machine-style messaging tactics? Is this even possible? — All we can do is try.

As our meeting neared its end, we also shared our optimism that this fall could be filled with victories for Democratic candidates. The Republican Party is clearly in confusion under their freaky leader, Donald J. Trump. Voter discontent could return both the House and the Senate to Democratic control as well as a number of governorships and state legislature seats.

And today, Wisconsin’s Paul Ryan, Republican Speaker of the House announced that he will not seek reelection. This heightens the chance of victory for the already well-established campaign of Democratic candidate Randy Bryce.

While here in Illinois, Peter Roskam, U.S. Representative for our west suburban 6th Congressional District, keeps finding new ways to offend crowds of his constituents. His most recent show of insensitivity and cowardice was his refusal to attend the student organized “Town Hall for our Lives” meeting in Glen Ellyn. His Democratic opponent, Sean Casten, agreed to attend without hesitation.

For many months, the NTDO has recognized the role we can play in helping to recapture those two Congressional seats. But we know neither seat will be surrendered without a fight. You’ll have plenty of chances to join in those battles — as well as important races here in our own districts. The New Trier Dems will be meeting and mixing with other North Shore Democrats and Independents throughout the summer and fall. Social events and canvassing efforts are being scheduled now.

And here’s one final thought. Just as this commentary began with cautioning words about the risks of deceitful political communications, we should also be cautious about overconfidence heading into November. We should never forget how President Obama’s congressional advantage was lost in 2010. — It’s good to be filled with optimism, but it’s the work that gets results.

Nels Howard
NTDO member since 1973