Opinion

Adventures in Kansas campaign lingo: Vote for me! Not that other person!

September 28, 2022 3:33 am
Political messaging

Political rhetoric in Kansas hits rote notes, while avoiding the nuance of actual people's lives in the state. (Getty Images)

This morning, let’s imagine some homespun Kansas campaign rhetoric. It could be from the governor’s race. It could be from a U.S. House race. It could be from anyone you please.

“My dear friends, I urge you to vote for me rather than my opponent! I’m fantastic, but they’re awful.

“My opponent won’t confirm their connection to an unpopular politician in their party, even though anyone with eyes can see they are joined at the hip. Good, old-fashioned Kansas common sense proves that. Why, look at this photo of them together drifting across the screen right now.

“What? No, please don’t ask about the unpopular politician in my party I might be connected to. I don’t have any comment on that. Focus on the future.

“Let’s understand once and for all that voters are tired of talking about the high-profile issues that benefit my opponent’s stances. Voters want to talk about the high-profile issues that benefit my stances instead! Those ones really mean something to everyday Kansans, who gather around the table at night to chew on stalks of wheat or whatever the stock footage you’re watching now shows.

“I’m also against outside money in politics! No one likes it at all. Those attack ads run against me are egregious and foul, and fair-minded people will see right through them. I will note, however, that I support the out-of-state organizations generously running ads on my behalf on every cable television channel. They’re civic-minded, that’s all there is to it.

“I want to talk about Kansas for a moment. This state taught me everything I know! I learned from my parents and community. That’s why I want to give back to all of you. Please note these pleasing images of sunflowers and buffalos. Here’s an old man riding on a tractor. Is he my father or grandfather? If you think so, sure!”

 

My dastardly opponent

The political rhetoric heats up now, as it heads into the nastier stuff.

“My opponent, on the other hand, doesn’t know Kansas at all, despite also living here and learning from their family and community. Something just didn’t work out for them, I suppose.”

“On the subject of my opponent, let’s dig into their vileness.

“You’ll notice that as we describe all of the terrible things they’ve done, this unflattering photo of them will grow darker and darker. Perhaps it might even burst into flames! That’s how you know they’re unfit to lead Kansas. Most of us don’t walk around with weird expressions and spontaneously combusting.

“They are an insider, while I’m an outsider. They have worked in government for years. Yes, I also worked in government for years, but it was different for me. I’ll explain why later.

“They also don’t have an agenda! Or maybe they do have one. Either way, both options portend a dark future. If they do have an agenda, it’s full of proposals that will harm those everyday Kansans I mentioned, the ones who ride tractors and chew wheat while looking at buffalo. If they don’t have an agenda, they clearly haven’t thought through all the challenges facing this great state.

“I don’t want to cast further aspersions on their character. But a few minutes from now, some ads from my civic-minded supporters will do the job.

“In conclusion, I’m good in all of the ways you might want a politician to be good. My opponent is bad in all the ways that a politician could be bad, which overlap with the good things more than you need to think about right now.

“May God bless the great state of Kansas, and all the everyday, commonsense, just-folks people in it.”

 

In conclusion

You understand my point in today’s exercise, I trust.

The problem isn’t that all politicians are the same, or that all proposals work out equally well. The problem is that so much of the rhetoric at this time of campaign season circles around and around like a snake eating its own tail. Political consultants earn good money to create this kind of stuff. They plaster ads across the airwaves that hit on a handful of key points, over and over and over again.

We all deserve a better and more honest political dialogue in both Kansas and the country. Kansas doesn’t usually host high-profile political races, but the gubernatorial and congressional contests this year have attracted national notice. That hasn’t improved the quality of the exchanges.

While I enjoy poking fun at it, at least within the safe space of this column, it also discourages me that smart people like our current candidates willingly reduce themselves to stale, carbon copies of themselves, counting each moment until Nov. 8. Not all Kansans ride tractors, chew wheat or look longingly at buffalo. Many of us live in cities, vote for politicians in both parties and have a nuanced view of the world.

We deserve races that underscore and encourage that nuance. However unlikely that might be.

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Clay Wirestone
Clay Wirestone

Clay Wirestone has written columns and edited reporting for newsrooms in Kansas, New Hampshire, Florida and Pennsylvania. He has also fact checked politicians, researched for Larry the Cable Guy, and appeared in PolitiFact, Mental Floss, cnn.com and a host of other publications. Most recently, Clay spent nearly four years at the nonprofit Kansas Action for Children as communications director. Beyond the written word, he has drawn cartoons, hosted podcasts, designed graphics, and moderated debates. Clay graduated from the University of Kansas and lives in Lawrence with his husband and son.

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