Opposition research and the common good

Some Republicans running for office lack balance and nuance.

Rich Elfers

Over the past three or four months, I spent a great deal of time doing opposition research for a non-profit organization called Common Good Governing. I was contacted because I had used the term “common good” in several of my columns. I started using “common good” when I was teaching Civics and Government at Green River College.

The term refers to a theme in the Preamble to the Constitution which states that two of the goals of the Constitution are to “provide for the common defence, [and to] promote the general Welfare.” This concept goes back to Christianity and to the ancient Greeks. “Love your neighbor as yourself” embodies this tension.

In other words, “common good” tells us that, in contrast to protecting individual rights (found primarily in the U.S. Bill of Rights), we need to think about what benefits society as a whole. Individual rights exist only to the point that someone else’s rights are not violated. The whole issue of whether to wear or not wear masks is a recent example of the struggle between “I’ve got my rights” versus “We wear masks to protect others as well as ourselves.”

The Constitution portrays individual rights and the common good in a state of tension with each other. Both are important, but both must be considered when making decisions.

The purpose of Common Good Governing is to get pragmatic people elected to the House of Representatives; folks who are more interested in making material progress on issues than serving a party and/or ideology. Opposition research entails digging into a candidate’s history and beliefs to discern faulty thinking that can reveal their character to voters.

At this time in our nation’s history, we don’t find many pragmatic people in the Republican Party. They have either been silenced or they have retired from public service.

I did research on about a dozen Republicans in competitive congressional districts across the nation. One extreme example was Thomas Massie, a representative from Kentucky. He was one of only three Republicans in the House who voted against the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act. This bill would have nationally condemned lynching of Blacks. Massie, who is really a libertarian, has managed to anger both Democrats and President Trump. Massie proudly announces that he is the most hated man in Congress.

One trait I saw among most of the Republican candidates I researched was their tendency to misrepresent Democratic positions in their campaign ads. They tried to tie Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) and her “Green New Deal” with a centrist-leaning candidate like Joe Biden. They also used the provocative far-left term “defund the police” to brand all Democrats as favoring the end of police—a ridiculous charge.

Another Republican incumbent, former Navy Seal Daniel Crenshaw of Texas, labeled his less ideological Democratic opponent a “socialist” and a “liberal.” Crenshaw used these terms as epithets to describe his opponent’s “extremist” positions but never defined the terms.

Unfortunately, many voters don’t understand that police, fire, and the military are all “socialist.” They serve the public for the common good. A “liberal” is by definition someone who is generous and empathetic and who is concerned with the plight of the poor and the oppressed.

Crenshaw also placed the blame on Democrats for the riots in places like Kenosha, Wisconsin, and Portland, Oregon, although rioters came from both the extreme right, the extreme left, as well as from a criminal element linked only by their own greed and their anarchy.

Among the male Republican candidates, I observed a trait of hyper-masculinity. Most of this group are military vets who strongly favor 2nd Amendment gun rights. There is no middle ground with them. Yet, like all the Bill of Rights, every person’s individual liberties end with the rights of others to be safe and secure.

None of these candidates criticized President Trump’s outrageous debate behavior or his mendacious comments about fraudulent mail-in ballots. Only one Republican, a woman, spoke against his refusal to state that he would step down peacefully if he lost the election. Their silence spoke volumes either about their political cowardice or their silent agreement with Trump’s anti-constitutional and anti-democratic comments.

If our representative democracy is going to survive, we need “post-partisan” representatives in both parties who understand the need to balance individual rights with the common good. Balance and moderation were two of the tenets of the framers of the Constitution. Balance and moderation are how we should live our lives both personally and politically.

Balance is sorely lacking in our nation on the eve of the November election.

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