By Betty Mills
Ah, yes, February, the month of those dreaded valentines. Or at least that was my view of that romantic event back in the days of my grade school childhood based on my mother’s insistence that valentines, nice valentines, must be given even to boys you hated.
“He conned me into getting on the teeter totter and then he spit right in my face,” I protested, vintage 4th grade.
“That’s because he likes you,” said my otherwise rational mother. It was a depth of ignorance hardly to be imagined, let alone spoken out loud. The underlying problem, of course, is that it was also the voice of authority in my young life. Having explained to her satisfaction, if not to mine, that the valentine rule would have no exceptions, spit or no spit, the matter was closed as far as she was concerned.
Oh, I found the perfect spit-back valentine, but I knew it would never get by the maternal censor, and that it would be the one she would insist on seeing. So I settled for the least attractive, most sentiment neutral valentine message in the available assortment.
In retrospect I am perfectly willing to concede that my mother had the right attitude. Base one in Valentineville is that they are not meant to convey hate.
I wonder what my mother would think about the current political campaign, whether she would put the oratory meant to persuade voters who would best lead this country in the same category as those long ago valentines –that it should not be peddling hate.
Even worse, perhaps, are the lies, the misinformation, the skewed, statistics, the subtle, but deliberate fanning of racial flames. Where are the campaigners’ mothers when the country needs somebody to remind them that long after the spit has been wiped off one’s face, the animosity remains?
Seasoned politicians make the claim that the debates, the forums, the rough and tumble of campaigning is a sort of political survival of the fittest, that the winner will have honed his or her message, have rubbed off the rough patches in style and personality, to better compete in the final test, the general election campaign.
Certainly it takes more than chump change to stand on a public platform witnessed by unknown millions counting the electronic audience while your opponent spews out insinuations, twisted facts, and unwarranted conclusions about your political philosophy, personal foibles, and public missteps.
And after that comes the onslaught of the pundits, pointing out every performance flaw, counting each political hazard, and estimating the winning score., all once again to an audience of potential millions. There is a multiplier in effect with their pontificating. A goof-up that could have been forgotten is repeated, diagnosed, and given temporary political immortality, meaning that it lives long enough to do permanent damage.
To put an extra row of lace on that peculiar valentine, the late night comedians add an irresistible bit of seasoning to the political stew, turning what was merely a bit unbelievable into first class irony.
Meanwhile, a new angle has been introduced to the American political scene, the Super PACs, courtesy of the United States Supreme Court, those ladies and gentlemen with lifetime appointments who do not have to enter the political arena they have just paved in gold from concealed sources.
The worst of those political valentines pitched at the voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, were financed by these Super PACs, and they need not reveal who gave them the money to win friends and influence voters. Obviously transparency has not caught on so far in this political season.
What would constitute a nice valentine by my mother’s standards that the current crop of presidential contenders could give to we, the people, this valentine season? How about straight talk on the big issues facing this country, a momentary lapse in the political spin, a rhetoric free look at the big issues like health care, education, foreign policy, military involvement and the national debt. That’s for openers.
Is there a possible valentine to send to those four still standing in the Republican presidential arena? How about some lines from Rudyard Kipling:
“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two imposters just the same…. If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken, twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools…”. You have my best wishes for a Happy Valentine’s Day.
(Betty Mills has been a newspaper columnist in Bismarck for 26 years.)