Guest column: Candidates, follow the Golden Rule

By: By Tim Irwin

The current election season has brought out the worst in some of the candidates for public office. The problem seems especially acute among those seeking state-wide offices.

In a nod to bipartisanism, both the Democrats and the Republicans have joined to ignore the Golden Rule. More often than not, political commercials focus on attacking an opponent. The goal is to make the opponent appear to be at best a spineless self-seeker and at worst a crook.

That’s pretty easy to do to anyone. Could not anyone of us be made to look like a namby-pamby in a thirty-second commercial especially when a clear rendering of the truth is not part of the criteria?

It’s even easier when the target is a politician. Politicians make compromises because that’s how a democracy works. When candidates are attacked for compromising, their opponents are attacking them of doing their jobs. If the opponents are elected, they’ll also have to compromise or the government won’t work.

Whatever happened to candidates offering their proposed solutions for those things that ail the state, and adversely affect us, its residents? Thoughtful politicians persuading the voters with their insight into what isn’t working and what needs to be done to fix it sounds more like what the Founding Fathers had in mind for American government. Too bad, it seldom seems to happen these days.

I would like to respectfully ask politicians running for office in Illinois to stop attacking their opponents. You may think you’re helping your candidacy, but you’re not and here’s why.

First, the friction from your attack ads generates all heat and no light. Voters don’t have any better of an idea about the nature and scope of the problems facing the state and your proposed solution at the end of campaign than we did at its beginning.

Second, these attack ads pander to the worst in all of us. They generally paint a picture suggesting that we who are viewing the attack ads are victims. In other words, it’s implied that we’re not responsible and the candidate being attacked in the ad will unjustly make us responsible. Hogwash! This is our state and we all need to take some responsibility for it. To that end, candidates need to give us the plain truth in a straight-forward way.

Third, the attack ads not only destroy the credibility of their target, but of the political system as a whole. Taken in sum one might conclude that the entire General Assembly consists of frauds, freeloaders, and soon to be convicted felons.

Nine different men have been elected governor of Illinois since 1960. Four of them have been convicted of a crime. Candidates need to help restore credibility in our political system, not try to exploit the voters’ distrust of government for personal gain. How will any democracy survive in the long haul without credibility?

Candidates, be honorable people. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Do your homework. Figure out what we need to do as residents of Illinois to fix our state’s problem. Tell us the plain truth in a simple straight-forward way. That would be so refreshing, that I’d vote for you and I bet lots of other people would, too.

But even if you lost the election, you’d still be the victor because if Illinoisans aren’t smart enough to elect honorable people, then we deserve what befalls us and we don’t deserve you.

We the voters of Illinois must ultimately take responsibility for tenor of the political campaigns in our state because we’re the only ones who can fix it. Let’s support the politicians who behave honorably and withhold our support to those who don’t.

Perhaps you’re thinking campaigns have always been this way, and in some measure they have. In the 1968 presidential elections, Democrats in Florida hired some pregnant women to carry signs with the Republican candidate’s slogan on it –Nixon’s the One. In the 42 years since, people’s confidence in their government has taken a beating. Candidates need to set aside the urge to win the election at all cost because the cost is too high.

We need elected officials we can trust and that begins with everybody following the Golden Rule.


TIM IRWIN lives in Morton and teaches theology at Peoria Notre Dame High School. He has more than three decades of service to Catholic education and is a member of St. Mark’s Parish, Peoria.

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