The debate between Kentucky Senate hopefuls Rand Paul and Jack Conway got really, really nasty yesterday, with insults thrown from both sides of the aisle. It was so ugly, in fact, that, in a breach of debate etiquette, Paul refused to shake Conway’s hand at the end of the night.
The men attacked each other’s viewpoints, which is par for the course, and angrily debated each other’s position on Medicare, healthcare, and Social Security, among others. But in between, they took every opportunity to attack the other personally. Conway led the charge, questioning Paul’s faith in Chrisitianity and membership in the group NoZe during his time at Baylor. Paul, in turn, challenged both Conway’s honesty and his manhood, implying that his opponent was lying every time he opened his mouth.
Polls show that the race to represent Kentucky in the Senate is a dead heat, with Paul’s lead within the margin of error. This seems to have given Conway a second wind, and both he and Paul have responded in the manner that was so evident in the debates last night.
This behavior is hardly new, and they are certainly not alone. The presidential race in 2008 was a particularly nasty one as well. The Obama-Biden camp maintained that the McCain-Palin camp had been a big supporter of Bush’s disastrous policies, and was going to lead the country into more of the same. McCain and Palin tried to paint Obama in particular as a traitor and inexperienced. In the end, of course, Obama won, but that may have had as much to do with the unpopularity of Bush’s politics as anything else.
Things can get as ugly between opponents of the same party as they do between members of opposing ones. The race between the two Republican candidates vying for their party’s nomination for Georgia governor earlier this year got increasingly nasty, with Congressman Nathan Deal calling his opponent Karen Handel’s conservatism and position on issues such as gay rights and abortion into question. Handel in turn pointed to instances that she believed proved Deal’s political corruption. Deal eventually won the nomination.
In 2006, the race between New York attorney general hopefuls Andrew Cuomo and Jeanine Pirro was particularly ugly as well. In one of their debates, Cuomo consistently hammered at Pirro’s ethics and criminal investigations, while Pirro took aim at what she saw as Cuomo’s inexperience. Cuomo eventually won the seat, and Pirro’s negativity was actually cited by voters as a reason they didn’t vote for her.
Political debates have a history of being ugly that goes all the way back to the beginnings of our nation. But the millions of dollars being spent on it today threatens to overwhelm even the most optimistic of voters. Many candidates from both sides of the aisle are speaking about faith and trust in government. This approach seems hardly the way to get it. In the end, it hardly matters who triumphs in the Kentucky Senate race, because neither candidate will be able to walk into office with the trust of their constituents.
Evan McMorris-Santoro, “Rand Paul to Jack Conway: “You Demean Kentucky.”” TPMDC.com
Gary Kamiya, “The GOP goes back to its ugly roots.” Salon.com
NewYorkTimes.com, “Politics of attack.”
Ewa Kochanska, “First GOP Gubernatorial Debate Takes Some Ugly Turns.” Examiner.com
Jen Chung, “Pirro and Cuomo, so nasty together.” Gothamist.com