Revitalize your patriotism
S.C. Statehouse Report
SEPT. 2, 2002 - - As Labor Day represents the traditional final
big push for politicking in a campaign year, thoughts turn to ways
you can show your patriotism by learning more about candidates.
Years ago before television, candidates turned out huge crowds
at local courthouses and stump meetings to talk or shout about issues.
The 1858 debates of Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas still are
considered the national model for thoughtful, insightful debates.
But since the advent of television, things have changed. People
are bombarded with advertising. Americans work longer and harder.
They guard "down time" with family and friends. And with
numerous scandals that drained the national psyche, people increasingly
distrust politics, politicians and government. They're more cynical,
This atmosphere, called a "culture of complaint" by Time
magazine critic Robert Hughes, permeates modern-day politics. Candidates
are obsessed with raising money to get out their scripted, controlled
message. A lot of campaigns try to limit public exposure in favor
of TV ads so a candidate won't have the chance to make a gaffe.
Fewer people run for public office. This year in South Carolina,
for example, only 38 of the state's 124 House seats are contested.
In fact, these days, the debate about whether candidates will debate
often is fierier than any resulting debates. Incumbents and front-runners
generally seek to limit debates because they don't want to muck
up their leads with a televised mistake and want to keep opponents
from having free publicity. Challengers urge, cajole and yell for
a lot of debates, but often are forced to deal with little real
opportunity to engage.
"Anything we can do to open the free flow of information between
candidates and the public is what we need to push for," said
Laurel Suggs, president of the League of Women Voters of South Carolina.
The LWV, in affiliation with South Carolina Educational Television,
will sponsor a series of debates with statewide candidates starting
Sept.26 to give people a chance to see candidates for statewide
office. Only candidates for State Treasurer and Comptroller General
won't debate because of "scheduling conflicts" - - which
really means one of the candidates (you pick which) didn't want
to be on television.
Suggs said post-debate surveys show debates make a big difference,
particularly among undecided voters. The only problem is few people
actually watch. But media coverage about debates expands their influence
beyond the actual broadcast.
"Our leaders need to have leadership skills and engender confidence,"
Suggs said. "This is the only opportunity statewide when they're
unscripted and that voters aren't being shown something that just
the campaign wants them to see."
You'll still see some scripted sound bites during the LWV-ETV debates,
but there's more of an opportunity to get a flavor of the candidate's
leadership abilities. You'll also get more information and "more
than a pat answer," Suggs added.
While debates start 7 p.m. Sept. 26 on ETV with candidates for
agriculture commissioner and secretary of state, you can get the
first look at how Gov. Jim Hodges and GOP gubernatorial challenger
interact at 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 5, when ETV broadcasts an hour-long
In October, you can turn to ETV to see debates for attorney general
(Oct. 17), U.S. Senate (Oct. 20), lieutenant governor (Oct. 24),
superintendent of education (Oct. 31) and governor (Nov. 1). Each
starts at 8 p.m. (More: www.lwvsc.org)
A healthy democracy requires you to do more than display an American
flag. It requires you to participate in the elections process by
listening to your candidates, picking the best and voting.
Renew your commitment to democracy this campaign season. Tune in
and turn out - - the best ways you can show your patriotism.
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