Last week I was forwarded a text by a voter in the 47th Assembly District, which happens to be the district my mother has served for the last 4 years. And while I normally try not to talk politics when it comes to her campaigns, the outrageous claims and lies made by her opponent (a person who has known her for decades and has known just how committed she is to the community), couldn’t be ignored. Anyone who attempts to paint my mother as a corrupt politician knows they aren’t simply bending the truth, they are snapping it in half, burying both pieces, and replacing it with a complete fabrication. The claim would be comical if it weren’t so insidious. I understand how political operatives work, but when the candidate herself is the protagonist in the farce I have to question why she really wants the position as well as what kind of legislator she would be if elected.
Then I saw more duplicitous campaigning from another candidate that I didn’t expect. She’s a local school board member running for state assembly in the 40th Assembly District. She’s a Democrat running against a Republican and decided as part of her campaign strategy to create yard signs with Trump’s name and her opponent’s name together as if on one ticket. She then had those signs distributed throughout the district she wants to represent. I thought, perhaps a consultant from an independent expenditure committee was behind the scheme (that seems like something a political operative who is just concerned about winning would do believing it’s a clever political play) but it was actually the candidate’s campaign. Later her opponent posted a letter addressed to her from the Trump campaign thanking her for being the area's largest in-kind donor. Now I’m wondering what kind of legislator she would be if elected.
These local examples and the entire negative campaign climate at the national level caused me to think about the process of campaigning and the nature of politics today. It also prompted me to reflect on campaigning and how it really is an audition for the role of public servant. So if it is an audition, what does it mean when candidates knowingly lie, stretch the truth, or resort to devious tricks to win the role?
Augusto Boal, the Brazilian theatre practitioner, politician, and founder of Theatre of the Oppressed often compared politics to the art of theatre. He referred to it as the “sovereign art” and after living for years in exile he returned to Rio de Janeiro and successfully ran for city councilor as a theatrical act to prove his theory. And as a public servant he worked with the people he served to craft and pass laws and important legislation. Politics is more than spectacle; in his world the roles are real. When we cast our votes we are selecting the best actor for that role. And for the role of public servant, I would argue, good character is one of the most important attributes.