Half of life is showing up

It’s often been said that most of life is showing up (Woody Allen quantified it as “80 percent,” so who am I to argue?).  So what does it say about our political candidates who won’t show up?

In Utah, the presumed front-runners are not showing up. Complains Douglas Mortensen with Salt Lake’s Rotary Club:

For the first time in its nearly 100-year history, the club received “no thank you” responses from each of the leading candidates in the races for governor, U.S. senator and U.S. House of Representatives. The tacit but unmistakable message from Gov. Gary Herbert, Rep. Jim Matheson and candidate Mike Lee: “I don’t want to risk my huge lead in the polls by appearing in a public forum where I might be subjected to fair questions concerning my ability to lead and my true position on substantive political issues.”

One of these gentlemen agreed to come only if his opponent were not invited and only if he didn’t have to answer questions from the floor. I have a hard time imagining Abraham Lincoln placing such conditions on his public appearances.

I can’t judge whether it is out of cowardice or arrogance that none of the candidates would show, or if it was something else. I can say that it doesn’t seem very good for a healthy republic when representatives won’t talk to voters, regardless of their political stripes. Mortensen compared it to athletics, unfavorably.

Politics as the marketplace of ideas, and an open exchange of views, it seems, has been replaced by TV and radio spots. The candidates with the biggest pot of campaign contributions pay for and get the glossiest ads. Those ads, as heart-warming, emotional and professionally-crafted as they may be, do not allow follow-up questions. They address issues superficially, if at all. When they do, they present but one side and too often the less-funded side goes unheard.

As spectators at sporting events, we tolerate this “chickening out” by the front-runner. Though we sometimes boo when a pitcher intentionally walks the opponent’s best hitter with the game on the line, we accept it as part of the game. When a boxing champ ducks his highest-ranking contender to fight a lesser-skilled opponent we may even empathize with him for wanting to extend the length of his purse-winning career.

But politics is not a sporting event. Politics is where we decide who is going to spend our tax money and how they are going to spend it. It’s where we decide how open our institutions of government are going to be, what kind of people are going to be appointed judges, whether prisons or schools get built, and who decides which bidding contractors get to repair our public roads.

When governance is concerned, we deserve and need to hear from the candidates in open, face-to-face events. No hiding. No stalling. No running out the clock. If you’re ahead, prove you deserve to be ahead by subjecting yourself and your views to questions, if not from your opponent, at least from open-minded inquiring citizens.

Don’t tolerate “chickening out” by the front runner. Force him to show up.  Because if he’s not, he’s skipping out on 80% of life, not to mention 80% of his responsibility to voters.

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