Politics is becoming less about the issues at every level of government. This past presidential election and recent administrations has United States voters up in arms over who implemented what policy and which party is better at leading. Listening to the arguments, it sounds like voters today care more about the person in charge and the party they align with more than the actual issues at hand. It is one of the many issues discussed when analyzing democratic erosion in the United States.
In recent weeks, President Biden has faced backlash from both sides of the aisle for the way his administration is handling immigration issues. The right side of the aisle is bothered that Biden isn’t doing enough and that his policies aren’t working. The left side of the aisle is bothered that Biden is taking steps backwards by reinforcing Trump era immigration policies rather than implementing new, progressive ones. Overall, it seems like everyone disagrees with the current immigration policies but instead of asking why, they are trying to decide who to point fingers at.
This is a common occurrence that was seen during the 2020 Presidential debates. The issues at hand were secondary to the name dropping, complaints, press, and self advocacy. A platform that was meant to discuss issues and inform voters had become an over-glorified press conference and entertainment at dinner time. Even when candidates would agree with one another, personal attacks were highlighted more than the actual policies being discussed. Federal politics, hyperpartisanship, and biased media have become the simple explanation for this phenomenon, but then why is this also happening at the local level?
The Boston Mayoral election has boiled down to two candidates, Michelle Wu and Annissa Essaibi-George. The two are both well known, and accomplished City Councillors for the City of Boston. Wu and Essaibi-George have spent their time on the City Council in an At-Large seat, representing the entire city. They are both Democrats and also Boston community members, mothers to children in the Boston Public Schools system, daughters of immigrants, small business owners, and candidates to be the first elected woman to be Mayor of Boston.
The community ties and life experiences of these two candidates show that the issues at hand in this election are more than just policies on paper. They are life changing living conditions. In an election where major policy changes are on the table for such a small community, the issues should be the priority. However, that is not what I experienced after attending the Boston Mayoral Debate on October 13th. In an one hour televised debate, there was a clear reflection of the concerns I have with the Federal government. Instead of raising awareness for their concerns for Boston and discussing plans and solutions, candidates spent time making attacks to bring down the other candidate.
In an effort to increase transparency, the debate moderator asked Essaibi-George about a potential conflict of interest she was involved with. Essiabi-George’s office had been involved in blocking a development that would interfere with her husband’s million dollar properties. She failed to include the lawsuit that transpired from this occurrence and brushed it off to be “clarified” with the state ethics committee. Instead, Essaibi-George chose to bring up the fact that Wu’s campaign has accepted $2,500 from Terry Considine, a Republican who made racist remarks during an unsuccessful Senate bid in 1986. Considine is the father of Wu’s college roommate and longtime friend.
Mental health 911 calls has been a key issue among voters. When the topic came up during the debate, there was not much discussion around the issue itself. Wu claimed she has “led the way on the council” on this issue while Essaibi-George claims Wu has “taken credit for something [she has] done”. After this quarrel, there was minimal discussion about why this is a key issue or how candidates want to address this issue.
Why are local campaigns and local races following the same path that Federal ones are? It is disengaging voters and ignoring the reason why community members are giving candidates a platform in the first place. Right now, it seems impossible to keep politics strictly about the issues at hand. It seems that the the polarization created at the Federal level has influenced our local elections as well. Fortunately, local politics doesn’t have the same amount of financial and media influence as Federal elections, but how far will this go?
Steve Kornacki writes about this in his book, The Red and the Blue. He says that it is a political strategy to portray the opponent as in the pocket of the national party, and to have even local officials answer for the actions of national officials. Before the 90’s there were Southern Democrats and Southern Republicans, Northern Republicans and Northern Democrats. Where a politician was from informed their politics, there would be competitive races between Republicans and Democrats in the south and in California. Nowadays, political beliefs are nationalized between either Republicans and Democrats, and we pencil in the south to the Republicans and California to the Democrats.
Hello Cecilia Gonzalez. The lack of debates about real social issues and policies is a serious concern. Particularly because politicians are more inclined to sensationalism. And this keeps us from having their real approaches to the concerns of the population. Plus the constant use of personal attacks in their discourse often distract the public from the lack of consistency in their approach to specific issues. As you presented, this tendency is observable at the different scales of the political sphere.
Hi Cecilia, I really enjoyed your blog post. I couldn’t agree more with you about the trickle-down effects of polarization. The contentious politics that occurs at the federal level has begun to affect state and local politics. I think a perfect example of this is the recent vote to censure Representative Paul Gosar for his posting of a violent animation depicting the death of Representative Ocasio-Cortez and President Biden. Only two Republicans, Rep. Kinsinger and Rep. Cheney voted to censure Gosar. Not so ironically, Kinsinger and Cheney are also the only two Republicans on the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th attack. However, what I found most interesting was a response from Republican Lauren Boebart who attacked her Democrat colleagues Rep. Ilhan Omar and Rep. Eric Swalwell and called for their reprehensions as well. In fact, many of her Republican colleagues agreed and felt Gosar should see no punishment. I can’t help but wonder if a Democrat was to do something similar to what Gosar had done if their party would be quick to reprimand them? I wonder what others may think.
In both weeks ten and eleven of our course we learned about the effects of polarization, scapegoating, etc. Gosar’s video is absolutely disturbing, the January 6 attacks were disturbing, and should be immediately condemned. Instead, both of these examples have shown complete polarization and scapegoating on behalf of both parties when the behavior should be acknowledged, condemned, and moved on.
Although I have not seen an exact replica of this situation in my city, I see similar issues happening with my local school board too. Our city council members are elected officials that are non-partisan and the issues they handle are not intended to be so politically divisive. Yet you can clearly tell where they are on the political spectrum. For example, discussing whether or not my city should move emergency dispatchers from a fire station to a police station has become an outright war on both sides claiming there are too many benefits for police or that some members hate the police. The hateful language councilors use when discussing one and the other is also being used at the federal. I can’t help but wonder if our elected officials and their constituents are beginning to model partisan behavior at the federal level? Everyone claims they want “unity” but it seems much easier to disagree and not listen these days.
Hey Cecilia! Before I even get into the meat of your comment I just wanted to say that I absolutely love this topic. I totally agree with you that politicians have become way too focused on actively opposing the counter party instead of focusing on how to best work with the opposition party to come up with meaningful legislation that is going to serve the people. So right off the bat I think this topic is very engaging and something that we, as politics students, commonly believe.
One thing that I really liked was that you highlighted the fact that during the 2020 presidential debates, moments where personal attacks were being made were broadcasted more frequently on media outlets than what either candidate said about their actual stances on issues. This is a really big deal! I would have loved to see you expand upon this point even further! What do you think the real reason for this is? Do you think it is because hate is what gets a lot of hits on social media platforms? Do you think viewers watching these media outlets care about the actual issues or do you think they are only interested in which candidate can toss the lower blow? The fact that this happened blows my mind! It is so sad that people are so amused by hate. Going off of this, something that I think you could also do is tie this hate to fake news. I know we are in class together and during week 7 we talked a lot about fake news and how harmful it is. I personally believe that fake news plays a huge role in fueling hatred. I’m not sure if you got to listen to the podcast “Dr. Fauci Claps Back” published by Sway but in it Dr. Fauci highlights the amount of fake news people spread about him and the vaccine and how harmful that is. I definitely think you could do a similar thing here maybe connecting how fake news spread about candidates furthers the divide between them and ignites even more hatred.
I also really enjoyed reading your takes on the mayoral race of Boston and how you saw it to be a spitting image of politicians circling around key questions and taking shots at each other. From my experience working with a few local elections in my area, I think that sometimes, even oftentimes, local elections can be more dirty, gruesome, and partisan then federal elections can be, as unfortunate as that is. When it comes to two local politicians running against each other, they often know each other’s strengths and weaknesses way better than federal candidates do of each other since they are working in a small tight knit government and community. Therefore, their stabs at each other can go way beyond “too far.” I could go on and on but I definitely think that local politics can be just as if not more dirty than federal politics. What do you think? Overall awesome job! I look forward to hearing about your future work!
Hi Cecelia! I loved your whole post, but the part that stood out to me the most was the way you used Boston’s Mayoral election as an example. I feel like we are seeing so much content about polarization in politics, (almost as much as we see actual polarization) that it starts to sound like a broken record. By using a “smaller” election that’s local rather than national it felt more real in the sense that seeing Presidential candidates call each other names and argue doesn’t necessarily strike people as much as seeing it at a local level does.
It’s one thing if Biden and Trump go back and forth in debate without every answering any real questions; at this point it’s what we’re used to. Seeing it in a local election with politicians that we generally see as being “less corrupt” certainly makes the issue seem more serious as we can see how polarization has spread from the elites to local, seemingly more relatable politicians.
In regards to polarization, I think it has taken on a life of its own in that there really isn’t one person to blame or even politicians as a whole. Polarization in itself is its own problem and has become the norm in politics. If we look at this way rather than falling victim to our own polarized views, I feel that’s the only way it will ever stop.