“It’s all personal, every bit of business. … They call it business. OK. But it’s personal as hell. You know where I learned that from? The Don. My old man. The Godfather.”—Mario Puzo, author of The Godfather
One can replace the word “business” with “politics” in that quote. I learned that lesson from former state Sen. John Vasconcellos, who takes his politics very personal. Every vote, every issue, every candidate he endorses—it’s all a reflection of his own belief system.
As we begin what former San Jose Mayor Tom McEnery refers to as “silly season,” it is important to remind ourselves why we participate in this process. Most people who run for public office are good people. They have consciously decided they want to serve their community. There is no doubt a measure of ego is involved, as all are quick to explain why they are the “best” person for the job.
However, the campaign process imposes a challenge to all candidates. You must explain not only why you are the best candidate, but also include messaging that indicates why your opponents are not right for the job. There are no “perfect” people running for public office, and the public has an insatiable appetite for learning those imperfections.
The biggest problem, though, is there is no requirement for truth in politics, and almost anybody can be made to look bad when information is not provided in context.
For instance, a former candidate for high public office had a drunk for his main military advisor. The candidate’s wife spent public funds on frivolous shopping sprees. He claimed to be a lawyer but never attended law school. In fact, he had no high school diploma or college degree. He had previously lost most of his political races and his experience consisted of one term in Congress. Who would vote for such a candidate?
Turns out a fair number of people. And I think we can agree that Abraham Lincoln wasn’t too shabby a President.
Which brings us to the caveat emptor—or buyer beware—part of politics. Negative mailers and ads that voters receive may be hazardous to our political health. If it sounds too ugly to be true, it is probably false. But a close inspection may reveal some facts to be true. Politics is a participatory sport, and voters can’t stay on the sidelines. They must do their due diligence.
It is not whether the information is positive or negative that should make a difference; it is whether the information is true.
In the past, the media has been a good arbiter of such material. But given the number of races and limited resources of current journalists, we are often left without a third party that can effectively judge the content of political material. Voters, themselves, must take the next step.
Finally, it would not be right to finish this column without acknowledging that our firm actively participates in developing political material for our clients. We utilize the standard of truth in the material we disseminate. We are pleased to justify any assertions we make in advertisements for our clients. We actually welcome that opportunity if requested from credible individuals.
Not everyone can say this, but we advocate for the clients we believe are best for the position they seek. The people who end up making decisions in our community do matter. That’s why we have chosen this profession—because it makes a difference and politics is personal.