It’s commonplace in Washington to complain about political apathy. Experts like to note that fewer than half of eligible voters go to the polls in an average year. But it’s little wonder that average Americans don’t care much for politics. After all, it’s the so-called experts themselves who are killing politics.
For proof, look no further than the Pennsylvania Senate race.
In the Keystone state, polls show incumbent Republican Rick Santorum is trailing Democrat Bob Casey, Jr. Casey’s the state treasurer, but he’s probably better known for sharing a name with his father, the former governor and a man who was denied an opportunity to speak to the 1992 Democratic convention because he was pro-life.
In the last six weeks, Casey and Santorum have squared off in four debates, starting on NBC’s Meet the Press (Sept. 3) and finishing on a Philadelphia TV station (Oct. 16). Casey’s certainly been well prepared by his political handlers. In each exchange he’s pulled out a series of field-tested attack lines, probably written for him by political professionals.
For example, Casey has claimed repeatedly that 98 percent of the time, Santorum has voted with George W. Bush. He only shelved that line of attack when Santorum mocked him. “I think in 98 percent of his answers, he says I voted with Bush 98 percent of the time,” the Senator joked during one debate. But even with that soundbite taken out of his quiver, Casey had plenty of other lines to fall back on.
Santorum, Casey says, is a “rubber stamp” for the administration. We need to “replace Rumsfeld.” Oh, and when dealing with Iran and North Korea, we need to “exercise every option on the table.” And, invoking a popular liberal bogyman, Casey insists Santorum should “plug the Halliburton loophole to prevent companies from doing business with Iran.” That loophole, Casey announced on Oct. 16, is a “big problem.”
That’s great poll-tested rhetoric, no doubt. But Casey’s simply wrong.
Halliburton isn’t a big problem in our dealings with Iran. The big problem is whether Iran can be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon. Santorum’s refreshingly direct on that. “If we are to believe that they are close to developing a nuclear weapon,” he announced, “I would strike, without question ... Iran cannot have a nuclear weapon.” The best Casey could come up with is that, “I think this administration should make sure it listens to the military experts.”
It’s time for Americans to push back against the political consultants. As Bono said about the song Helter Skelter, “This is a song Charles Manson stole from The Beatles. We’re stealing it back.” We should do the same and steal back our political process. We can start by reclaiming a critical word: “privatization.”