SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

November 2, 2012

Benton: Race on the back burner

Nelson Benton
The Salem News

---- — Nothing like a superstorm to put a campaign season dominated by super PAC-fueled negative advertising in perspective.

Less than a week before Election Day, few in New England and the mid-Atlantic states, at least, are thinking about Obama vs. Romney. It’s us vs. Sandy. The helplessness we all feel in the face of nature’s fury dominates the discussion.

This was nothing any president or congressman could have prevented. Even wholesale cuts in our carbon production — advocated by those who believe global warming helped fuel the devastating tidal surge that inundated the New Jersey shore and lower Manhattan this week — wouldn’t provide relief until many decades, if not centuries, from now.

The 24-hour coverage of the devastation had veteran Democratic political consultant Michael Goldman of Marblehead lamenting of the controversy over Mitt Romney’s comments regarding the export of U.S. auto manufacturing jobs to China, that “if not for the storm, this lie would be driving campaign coverage.”

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Negativity in U.S. politics goes back centuries, but it’s the fact that one cannot escape it that likely has so many Americans counting the days until election season is over. Indeed, in Tuesday’s comic strip, Blondie describes a neighbor dressed up as a TV mouthing campaign ads as “the scariest costume ever.”

North Shore residents have certainly seen enough of the ads posted by the Richard Tisei and John Tierney camps and their supporters depicting each as the gravest threat to the 6th Congressional District in a generation. They’re no doubt anxious to cast their ballot and get on with life.

Last week, I attended a panel discussion on the presidential race hosted by Arizona State University’s Cronkite School of Mass Communications in downtown Phoenix. The consensus: The tone of political debate in America has gone from bad to worse even in the last four years.

Most disturbing according to one panelist is the fact that “we’ve stopped listening to each other,” choosing to seek out and believe only those news sources whose biases match our own. And it’s not just a tea party phenomenon.

Indeed, John Hook, a news anchor for the local Fox affiliate, recounted being shocked during the 2004 Democratic convention in Boston when delegates were instructed to turn their heads toward his network’s booth in the Garden and boo the reporters assembled within. He said he immediately removed any identifying decals from his microphone and camera and, when asked who he was reporting for, replied simply, “a Phoenix TV station.”

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My former colleagues at The Salem News made an excellent case this week for the re-election of Sen. Scott Brown and the election of Republican House candidate Tisei.

There’s no question that the Republican leadership in Congress bears much of the blame for the fact that today we find ourselves at the precipice of yet another fiscal cliff. It’s allowed the desire to unseat Barack Obama to take precedence over the compromises needed to produce a balanced economic policy.

But anyone who thinks Elizabeth Warren and Tierney would be less strident in opposing the policies of a President Romney is fooling themselves.

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Nelson Benton spent 40 years covering politics on the North Shore before retiring from The Salem News. Contact him at nelson.benton3@gmail.com.