I've never met Lily Eskelsen. She's probably a fine person. I have seen her ads. If you turn on the television you see them - too many times. I don't like them.
Undoubtedly, Eskelsen's strategists are saying the best way to defeat Republican congressman Merrill Cook in Utah's 2nd District is to attack him. And they may be right. It may lead to her election. But the end-justifies-the-means philosophy is wrong and further reinforces the negative stereotype of politicians. Cook is also responding with some counterattack ads.And we wonder why in this year's midterm primaries only 9.2 percent of eligible Democrats and 8 percent of eligible Republicans voted - the lowest level in mid-term history.
I have met Cook. Robert Redford he's not (as Eskelsen's ads picturing a Cook who looks like he just had a bout with Hurricane Georges clearly point out). He's an easy target. His appearance makes him one. But he seems to have done a pretty good job in championing Utah's cause with the federal government, particularly in the area of transportation funds.
That doesn't mean that Eskelsen couldn't do just as good a job or an even better one in representing 2nd District constituents. Because of her ads, though, she wouldn't get my vote (Cook won't get it either, since I don't reside in the 2nd District).
And it also doesn't mean that the "if you throw enough mud at somebody something's bound to stick" philosophy is limited to the Eskelsen-Cook race. It clearly is not. Mud sells.
According to a front page story in Sunday's Deseret News, of 367 new ads that appeared in the past week, 40 percent were negative or attack ads.
And the primary accusation by one candidate against his or her opponent was lying. As Ann McFeatters of Scripps Howard News Service reports, "Not a day seems to go by in the race between Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, R-N.Y., and his Democratic rival, Charles Schumer, when one doesn't accuse the other of lying in a campaign that has been likened to a street brawl."
Both parties are guilty of petty politics.
Recently we ran a letter in the Deseret News from the press secretary of 3rd District Republican Rep. Chris Cannon, attacking the person Cannon defeated, Bill Orton, regarding comments Orton made to Deseret News columnist Lee Benson.
Ironically, the shrill advice, "Billy Boy, get over it!" is something the Cannon camp would be wise to take. Let the dead rest in peace. No political exhumation is necessary, thank you. And the closing sentence of the letter, "It clearly pains Orton, but like it or not, his ex-political life will run its natural course and he will fade into oblivion . . . grudgingly, to be sure" is really sophomoric. Maybe Cannon and Eskelsen should square off.
Speaking of Cannons, it's worth repeating the note in political editor Bob Bernick Jr.'s Friday column about Joe Cannon. In 1992, Joe Cannon was running a close race in the bid for a Republican Senate nomination with Bob Bennett. Campaign advisers urged him to bring up Bennett's Watergate connections - we can even now imagine the pictures of former President Richard M. Nixon superimposed next to Bennett - but Cannon to his credit and even with the election possibly on the line, refused to enter the political pigpen.
The first time Mike Leavitt ran for governor, he faced a similar situation in the primaries as Joe Cannon, yet he also went against his advisers and refused to use negative ads. Because of his values he couldn't justify a mean-spirited campaign that shifed the focus from issues to personalities.
Sadly, Leavitt and Joe Cannon seem to be in the minority.
Observed Peggy Noonan, former speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan:
"Don't fall in love with politicians, they're all a disappointment. They can't help it, they just are . . .
"There are, I think, two kinds of serious political activists: Those who are impelled by love, and those who get their energy from hate. The ones moved by love - for America, for the poor, for freedom - often contribute to the debate. Those moved by hate - for liberals, for conservatives, for the rich, for America's sins - make the process ugly. They cannot engage in honorable debate because they cannot see the honor on the other side. They are like diggers who will never reach the treasure because they're too busy throwing the contents of their shovels at each other to get to the gold."
I would like to think politics isn't as bleak as the above statements by Noonan. But she's correct in saying the process is ugly. It needs a cleansing - locally and nationally.