Being disagreeable, showing unwillingness to work with other people, acting destructively of our system of government – have these become attractive and popular selling points for Idaho candidates?
In parts of Idaho at least, they now may be, and we may soon have a clearer picture of how favorable a selling point among voters they are statewide.
In some ways on that question, Representative Priscilla Giddings demonstrated herself last week as the tip of the spear.
Prominent sectors of politics no longer are relating to accomplishing something useful, or even advocating for one choice or another about what would be best for us. The whole question of using government to improve our society seems, for people in this branch of politics, irrelevant.
Emotion and entertainment are, in some quarters, taking precedence. Often what matters is the attack – even the substance of the attack doesn’t matter much. The fact that this person simply is acting as obnoxious as possible seems to become a primary factor for some candidates of political support and encouragement.
The traditional approach is very much the opposite: Demonstration that you can play nice with others long has been one of the primary attributes candidates liked to show off and that voters appreciate. This makes sense if you think that government is or can be – however erratically – the source of something useful.
If on the other hand, you take an absolutist cynical view that government is nothing but bad, why not reinforce that by electing people whose approach and even purpose is the lighting of dumpster fires? Why would you elect such people unless they’re a living expression of the fury in your soul – and that’s what you want reflected back to you?
Elements of this go back quite a ways. Back in the 70s, journalists sometimes referred to then-Representative and later Senator Steve Symms as “the middle finger of Idaho pointed at Washington.” There was something to this, but he was unlike today’s crowd. Symms was affable and tended to get along with people, including adversaries; he was hard to dislike on a personal level. He did also have a clear philosophical agenda which he pursued within the system. But he laid some of the groundwork, in that much of the appeal he drew on had to do with protest and anger more than solution.
This strain in Idaho politics was smaller then, but it has grown and become more intense over time.
You can see it in the actions of Lieutenant Governor Janice McGeachin, whose approach to campaigning seems to involve generating outrage and cultural fury (the evident purpose of her “indoctrination” panel), targeting fire at the state’s establishment (her surprise executive order of this spring) and her cozy relationship with radical groups.
You can see it even more clearly in another announced gubernatorial candidate Ammon Bundy, who has to be considered a politically serious candidate for governor despite a record – involving periodic run-ins with law enforcement not to mention a lack of any constructive involvement with government – that would have rendered him politically ridiculous a few years ago.
And then there’s Giddings, recently recommended for censure by the House ethics committee, which would have been a political disaster not so long ago, but these days may be a political asset. She has attacked and dissed her fellow legislators (except for one who resigned in the wake of allegations that he assaulted a staffer) as well as a young legislative intern. She treated the ethics committee which was hearing her case with arrogance and contempt and brought her campaign into the hearing room.
She may be censured by the full House, but will she pay any political price?
She might lose membership on a minor committee, but it is, as noted, a minor one; her main committee, the budget-writing committee (the legislature’s most prestigious panel), would not be touched by the ethics panel decision.
And how will all this impact her race for lieutenant governor? Two or three decades ago, she would have been toast; today, she’ll probably pick up more campaign contributions and activist support as a result. There’s plausible reason to believe that in today’s Idaho this is a winning strategy.
How do you progress in Idaho politics today? Trash everyone and everything around you, claim you’re being conspired against at every turn, act with supreme arrogance and contempt for the law and even common courtesy, and cash the checks and welcome the supporters.
Or at least that’s what will happen as long as Idaho voters put up with it.
(image/Idaho Capital Sun)