Combatting the nastiness of politics
By Donald H. Harrison
SAN DIEGO — Philanthropist, business leader and Democratic activist Murray Galinson on Wednesday evening, Oct. 17, decried the lack of civility among political candidates in contests for offices up and down the ballot. He told a meeting of the Beth Israel Men’s Club that it wasn’t always like that, citing his experiences as a deputy campaign manager in former Vice President Walter Mondale’s unsuccessful 1984 presidential campaign against President Ronald Reagan.
During that campaign, he said, Mondale campaign officials were advised by doctors that President Reagan showed the signs of having early onset Alzheimer’s Disease. In a strategy session, the upper echelons of the Mondale staff debated what to do with this information. It wasn’t 100 percent certain and even to raise such an issue presented a deep moral issue. Suppose the information was wrong? Not only could it affect the campaign, it also could affect the remaining months of Reagan’s presidency, possibly with worldwide consequences. Galinson said the Mondale campaign decided not to use the information in the campaign. “It wasn’t a fair and nice thing to do.”
He said that when Mondale was in the U.S. Senate, there were people of different parties who didn’t like each other, but that they nevertheless had respect for each other and tried to work out compromises. Sometimes, he said, they would debate on the floor or in committee–taking opposite sides of the issue — and then go to dinner together afterwards to see if they could work out a compromise. Today, such willingness to work together across party lines is mostly absent in Washington, he said.
Although Galinson has been supporting a fellow Democrat, Congressman Bob Filner, in the race for San Diego mayor, he was critical of both Filner and his opponent, Councilman Carl DeMaio, for the tones of their campaigns and what he described as their unnecessary stridency. He was particularly critical of the way Filner expressed his opposition at a San Diego City Council meeting to philanthropist Irwin Jacob’s plan to build a bridge to an underground parking lot to divert traffic from Balboa Park’s plaza. Every city in the United States would like to have residents like Qualcomm co-founder Irwin and Joan Jacobs contributing to the solution of civic problems, he said.
Galinson offered several recommendations for restoring civility to the political process, including the shortening of the campaign season, government funding for political candidates with a ban on money that can be pumped into campaigns by outside interests such as Super PACs, corporations and labor unions. He advocated lengthening the terms of members of Congress so that they would not have to campaign for reelection the moment they take office. Additionally, he called for the revamping of California’s initiative and referendum process so voters would not be faced with so many complicated ballot issues. Legislators are paid to legislate, he said; they should be the ones making these decisions.
On the current presidential race, Galinson noted that First Lady Michelle Obama is coming to San Diego next week, and reported that the fundraiser at the home of Joan and Irwin Jacobs has already sold out tickets at the $10,000 and $5,000 levels, although some tickets for $1,000 still remain.
He said that President Obama did better in the second televised debate against Republican challenger Mitt Romney than in the first, however, both Romney and Obama got a bit nasty. He said he didn’t think either finger pointing, or walking behind the other candidate’s back is an effective way to win voters during a debate. As for the vice presidential debate, in which Vice President Joe Biden laughed and made faces while opponent Paul Ryan spoke, Galinson said: “I have known Joe Biden for 25 years. He is a good guy, but he makes faces all the time.” He said Biden does not understand how these gestures are perceived.
On the question of whether Obama has put distance between the United States and Israel, Galinson said while the president made a mistake visiting Egypt “without stopping by Israel to say hello,” Galinson said for himself support for Israel is a “litmus test issue” and that he believes Obama passes the test as well as other litmus tests like support for women’s choice. He also noted that even in Israel there is a perception that “Netanyahu is a tough guy to warm up to.”
Overall, however, he said, “this administration has been positive” about Israel. “They are supportive, but they don’t do the fuzzy, huggy, kissy stuff like Reagan.” Yet if one were to compare Obama’s and Reagan’s records, he said, Obama’s record is more pro-Israel than Reagan’s was.
Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World. He may be contacted at email@example.com
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