News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Public service is no longer an honorable pursuit

Although I am married to a member of Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin's staff, I am not privy to decisions and the decision-making process regarding her office. In fact, because I am a blogger, great effort is made to keep information from me. Scooping the rest of the media and being the first to publish information has never been an interest of mine. Nor has speculation and gossip. Getting the facts straight is and putting them in perspective is my interest. And occasionally, even after the most strenuous efforts to check facts, I have passed along information about which sources have been confused.

But the wariness of officials about releasing information is part of living in the age of cable news, tabloid journalism, and the obsessive fixation of the blogosphere with making up dirt when it can't find any. I have been involved in recruiting candidates to run for office, and I am fully aware that many fine people would never run for public office because the
y and their families will be exposed to the kind of defamation that is rife in the new media. It is not a matter of facing opposing opinions or taking responsibility for things one has actually said or done. It is a matter of a corrosive and destructive environment that makes families, not abilities or interests, the main factor in considering public service.

Some time back, I consented to have a petition circulated for nomination to the state legislature. At the time, one of my children was experiencing great difficulty. After a few weeks of reading some reactions on discussion boards and blogs, I withdrew from the nomination. Exposing children to the malevolent defamations that occur in the "new media" is the most sinister kind of child abuse. There is no honor in running for public office anymore. Pubic spirit has been poisoned. And one can explain one's stances and actions, but there is no defense against false accusations and malicious lies meant only to hurt and destroy.

Unfortunately, many good people assess the current political climate and decline to be a part of it

The clamor for Stephanie Herseth Sandlin to make a decision about which office to run for is a symptom of politics as a "blood sport," as Sarah Palin termed it. It has nothing to do with finding talented and capable people to represent us and run public business. Honest and productive debate of actual issues is dull and boring. Rather, political discourse has become manure wrestling, and the deeper the combatants get mired in muck, the better the press and many good people like it. Our democracy, consequently, is not in very good shape. It is not the policies that are deteriorating the country. It is the blood sport that politics have become.

So, as Rep. Herseth Sandlin was making her decision, I was aware that her considerations were going far past the notion that she was pondering which office she has the most chance of winning. She had to face what kind of campaign would be best for her young family and where she could most effectively serve. And you will hear a chorus of churlish guffaws at the suggestion that some people actually think at that level.

I disagree with the Blue Dog stance on many issues. But being a Democratic representative in a Republican state means having to make some very tough decisions in behalf of the constituency. And I know Rep. Stephanie makes her decisions honestly.

It is the legislaor who spends his time and energy proposing laws against sham issues, like cow farts and government ownership of General Motors that is of far more sinister concern. But given the kind of campaign he runs, I wouldn't let my Greyhound run against him.

1 comment:

caheidelberger said...

I hadn't quite looked at it from that angle, but it makes sense. Where I (and much of the rest of the chattering classes) might like to accuse SHS of taking the easy route because she doesn't want to risk losing, there is some sense in your suggestion that there's nothing wrong with that: by taking the easiest route, she avoids putting her family through the kind of meat-grinder insults and attacks that a tough race would bring. I can also see the motive behind the folks who called for this early announcement: lots of people just want to be able to start up the chainsaw (though the RNC didn't wait). Public service should be noble; we've made it something else. Any chance we can restore some honor to the system?

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States