Carlson: Filling in the forms

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Indulge me in a rant about interest group questionnaires and the absurd length contained therein to ensure a candidate is a purist before he or she can receive the group’s nod, its mailing list and a donation from its PAC.

Were we not taught in civics classes that we are a republic with the people electing representatives “hired” to use their intelligence and commonsense to weigh complicated matters most of us don’t have time to study and then decide what the greatest good is for the greatest number?

Instead, many interest groups only want an automaton, a robot that will vote their way on issues of import to their agenda 100 percent of the time. Use your own judgment? Heaven forbid. Our representative is supposed to be bought and paid for, according to various interests across the spectrum, and stay bought and paid for.

A friend running for a municipal office in the state of Washington recently sent me the questionnaire from Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest, the political action committee that doles out contributions to those it views sympathetic to its women’s health and reproductive rights, including the right to an abortion.

Instructions made it clear every question had to be answered, that “yes” or “no” had to be circled on every question, and incomplete responses would be interpreted as “refused to respond.” Where do these people (I’m referring to all such groups) come off thinking that intensely personal, private issues influenced by one’s value system and beliefs can be reduced down to black and white “yes” or “no?”

The late baseball commissioner, Barlett Giamatti (a former president of Yale), said it best: “There are many who lust for the simple answers of doctrine or decree. They are on the left and right. They are not confined to a single part of society. They are terrorists of the mind.”

He points out many people have a hard time dealing with the tough ragged edges of life, the many gray areas that confront one. But that’s the real world, and he is politely saying “deal with reality.” Don’t take refuge in ideology and demagoguery.

Interest group zealots also are fond of falling into what Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard called the “fallacy of the either/or,” as in you are either “with us or against us,” most recently spouted by President George W. Bush in telling the rest of the world his view regarding the war on terrorism.

How hard is it to understand and gird ourselves against taking refuge in such simplicities? Because our mind boggles at the increasing complexity of daily living, we begin to imagine a simpler time, to yearn to make life, which increases in complexity each day at screeching hyperbolic rate, into simpler fare we think we can handle. So we categorize and pigeon-hole with generalizing labels that miss the nuances that are part of this challenging world.

Interest group questionnaires are one such manifestation of this. For example, what does one’s position on President Obama’s health care reform law have to do with running for mayor or city council? What does running for a municipal office have to do with whether one supports or opposes sex education in public schools? Isn’t that a matter for parents and/or school boards?

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney deserves an “atta boy” from all for refusing recently to sign a gay-bashing group’s pledge asking for undying support for marriage as between one man and one woman. As a devout member of the LDS Church that, of course, is his belief, but he refused to sign the Tea Party led pledge because of its intemperate language, which he correctly said was beneath the dignity of the office he seeks.

The “Tea Party” zealots of the Republican party, especially as it’s reshaping Republican politics in eastern Idaho, are spearheading a new, even kookier form of “the Pledge” which demands that any candidate for any office in Idaho promise absolute and complete fealty to every plank in the party’s platform.

Thinking for one’s self will not be permitted. Thus, if one wants their endorsement he or she has to endorse repealing the 17th amendment, which provides for direct election of senators by the voters. These kooks want to return electing senators to a state senate where their ability to target contributions will bring more influence and assure more compliant U.S. senators. That’s really in the public interest, isn’t it?

Every time I see one of these questionnaires, I wonder why a candidate would even waste his or her time to fill out the damn thing. I feel genuinely sorry for those who have such a simplistic view of life and the world.

And I keep praying to God to save us from the zealots of the world. And may those who love these litmus tests of purity shove their questionnaires where the sun doesn’t shine!

A native of Kellogg, a former teacher at Kootenai, and a former journalist, Chris served as press secretary to former Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus for ten years. He is the founding partner of the Gallatin Group, is now retired and he and his wife, Marcia, reside at Medimont.

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One Comment

  1. camas county said:

    Eastern Idaho 1950’s politics replay, John Birch society, Cleon Skogerson..new leader Glen beck, crying, screaming head on Fox..Eastern Idaho lives for this stuff!

    July 22, 2011

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