Whatever else you think about Democrat Rudy Soto’s campaign for Congress in Idaho’s 1st district, whether you approve of him and his platform, this much is clear: He’s doing what a candidate should do.
Soto is traveling the first district - no small place, 500 miles or so from top to bottom - intensively, and getting some news coverage. He’s holding events, and has made himself available to voters. He’s issued a pile of press releases (not in unreasonable numbers, but plenty of them) on pertinent and sometimes thoughtful subjects. He’s held his incumbent opponent - Republican Representative Russ Fulcher - to account, dissecting his record in some detail.
There are candidates who file for the office and then maybe show up for the debate but mostly just wait for the results on election night. Soto isn’t one of those: He’s a serious candidate.
There are other serious candidates out there, too, and these days, many of them - those running where they’re in a partisan or other minority - often feel frustrated, and often for good reason.
So my question, pointed not at the candidate but at the constituency: Is anyone listening?
That’s not a call for simply accepting his campaign case. It’s a call for giving it some serious consideration, something that’s probably not much happening.
Back a generation and more ago, more of us probably did listen more. When the heated Senate race between Democrat Frank Church and Republican Steve Symms was underway, both of them campaigned everywhere in the state, and people heard them out. Minds sometimes were changed. Many people resisted the urge to simply hop on Team A or Team B, and actually struggled with what they should do.
Now many of us live in a bubble, and we tend to dismiss people and arguments from outside it. Ask a Republican running in Seattle or Portland (there are a few) what kind of a listen they get in those places. You’d probably find the same for Democrats in Idaho outside of Boise and a few other small places: A reception that's ordinarily polite, but effectively dismissive.
This is not the way we the people are supposed to do politics: Take in one simplistic label (that of a party, usually, but sometimes something else) and decide that’s enough information. It isn’t, not if we’re correctly doing our jobs as self-governing citizens .
It’s a sad turn of events. In generations past, getting information at all about candidates, about the issues before us, was far more difficult than it is now; today, our access is broad. Our wisdom in making use of that access is what seems to be falling short.
We have no lack of useful options.
During the fall seasons of odd-numbered years, our household television is tuned mostly to C-SPAN and its showing of candidate debates around the country (the only kind of reality TV I can abide). They’re plenty dramatic and educational as well. When you hear arguments from South Carolina or Iowa reprised in Idaho, you get a fresh light on them; which make sense, and which don’t. You get a larger, broader picture than you might from a single local debate in which many of the issues may be personalized.
Debates and forums are well worth watching, and we watch as many as we can. (On the presidential level, I watched my first general election debate in 1976, and haven’t missed one since. This next week’s, if it happens, may be especially noteworthy.)
That’s one option, and there are many more. On the flip side, we try to be careful in parsing what we see in social media and other places where agendas often drive facts, rather than the other way around. It’s easy to drown in misinformation.
But one way to make smarter choices is - and this is actually not too hard to do in this season - to listen to the candidates. To Rudy Soto, and Russ Fulcher. And all the others. If they’re willing to put themselves out there to do your work, you can put forth a little effort to listen to them, and think about what they have to say. And then make up your mind.