The quality of campaigns for our public offices tells us a lot about the state of our government, and as midterm election season heats up, pundits and partisans have no shortage of advice for candidates. Here are three nonpartisan guidelines I offer to candidates, at a time when our nation is desperate to renew its respect and esteem for government.
- Tell us what you support; don't just rail against the opposition.
It's no wonder so many Americans detest politics – even to the point of abdicating their civic duty of voting. The political climate has become so overwhelmingly negative, so downright nasty, that a large percentage of ordinary people simply prefer to tune it all out.
The temptation to go negative will be strong this year for Democratic candidates, in particular. Many may be tempted to simply borrow a page from the playbook of certain liberal media outlets, and focus their campaigns solely on bashing President Trump. Republicans, of course, are just as guilty of this technique (which GOP candidate hasn't capitalized on outrage against former President Obama, Hillary Clinton, or Nancy Pelosi?); it just isn't their year to use it.
But any candidate who truly wants what all politicians claim to want – a great turnout of voters on Election Day – should inspire and motivate us with noble ideas for making our communities, states and nation better, and tell us how your ideas can actually work. Offer your own positive vision and policy ideas. Focus more on policy and less on political personalities.
- Campaign like a statesman focused upon the good of the nation; not like Santa Claus promising goodies to the largest constituencies.
As the federal government's reach has expanded, so has the breadth of its spending. This is an unfortunate and harmful development, because for the most part, the federal government has expanded its reach by creatively maneuvering way past its constitutional limits. This, of course, undermines the all-important rule of law.
But another consequence of government creep is that it tempts and enables candidates to adopt what are essentially bribery campaigns. Candidates nowadays can promise constituencies that they will use public funding to provide everything from universal health care, to higher minimum wages, to paid family leave.
The question is: Are those policies really good for the nation? Can our budget even support such policies beyond this candidate's term in office? In most cases, even when motives are genuine, these promises are short-sighted, unsustainable and ultimately harmful to our nation's future.
Many notable statesmen have predicted that the ability of citizens to essentially vote themselves money from the public treasury would be the downfall of our republic. Candidates who have America's best interests at heart will heed their warnings and resist the temptation to make campaign promises at the expense of future generations.
- Honor the rule of law.
We have a written Constitution for a reason, and its words carry definite meaning. They were not penned in magic ink that changes with the winds of time or mirrors new attitudes toward government.
Candidates for federal office should be able to link federal policy proposals to some specifically listed power delegated to the federal government in the Constitution. They should be able to explain, in plain English, how and why the enumerated power, as written, allows for the proposal–without relying upon some judicial precedent that simply twisted the constitutional language beyond recognition and reason.
If a candidate cannot do this, then before advocating for the policy, he or she must advocate for an amendment to the Constitution that would provide the federal government with the power to implement it. Otherwise, what the candidate is really seeking is to undermine the rule of law.
Candidates who disagree with the Constitution's limitations of federal power should be transparent about their disagreement. What they should never do is to profess their love for our founding charter – and the willingness to take an oath to support and defend it – if they actually intend to defy its boundaries.
Most Americans have had their fill of nasty, negative politics and politicians who place their career ambitions above the public good. An altogether different political landscape is possible, but it requires us to insist that candidates tell us what they support rather than merely what they oppose, that they resist the urge to bribe voters with promises of public largesse and that their proposals comport with the rule of law.