Campaign

Schadenfreude in modern politics: How would you judge?

“Nobody
who walks into the valley of our political system emerges unscathed,” observed David
Brooks in his recent New York Times column, “Would You Run?” That comment is especially true for
the two Senate candidates who are competing — in the relentless and unforgiving
spotlight — for President Obama’s former seat.

 In
Illinois, a cautionary tale of great rewards — at the risk of perilous personal
attacks — is playing out, as political contenders vie for the title of U.S. senator
in a modern-day coliseum called American Politics. Schadenfreudepleasure
derived from others’ misfortune — may well be a part of “fight club politics,” but it’s not pretty. When we
succumb to it — indeed, indulge in it — civility inevitably falls.

It’s
natural for us to make judgments when we observe politicians; they don’t call politics
a “spectator sport” for no reason. What matters, however, is how we judge
them.

Sports
fans of all stripes know how important the video replay is in helping us determine
whether that ball hit the line or actually went out of bounds as the umpire called
it. In observing the contenders for Illinois Senate, I can’t help but marvel at
how the race is this close even though they seem to be from different political
leagues: one a professional, nationally ranked athlete, the other an earnest, but
awkward, neophyte.

David
Brooks marveled at Kirk’s “brilliant career,” list of affiliations — Cornell, London
School of Economics, Georgetown Law, State Department, World Bank, etc. — and past
decade as a “fiscally conservative, socially moderate” U.S. congressman, representing
the northern suburbs of Chicago. Brooks noted that Kirk had stumbled along the way
to being Illinois’s Republican nominee. However imperfect he may be, I sympathize
with Brooks’s observation of how cruel and judgmental the stadium crowd can be.
I increasingly wonder: Who will run for office if it means having every foible magnified
tenfold and splashed across the Internet? Who will want to step out onto the court
and compete if it means having one’s worst moment in his or her worst game judged
repeatedly by a stadium crowd that didn’t see the game in its entirety?

Kathy Kemper is founder and CEO of the Institute for Education, a nonprofit foundation that recognizes and promotes leadership and civility locally, nationally and in the world community.

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