Last year, many of us watched the Senate campaign between Thom Tillis and Kay Hagan play out on our televisions and splashed across the papers in the most expensive race in U.S. history. More than $103 million was spent as the candidates engaged in a spirited campaign.
Thom is not just a huge supporter of business at the lake or simply one of our own. I have known the Senator and his wife Susan for more than a decade and they are both personal friends. I cringed watching the attack ads on TV and seeing the messaging in newspapers. Much of it was baseless and untrue. I’m also quite certain the same could be said in regards to the attacks on then Senator Hagan.
A product of South Carolina, one of our native sons was a master of negative advertising. The late Lee Atwater had few rivals in his ability to spin, boxing candidates into corners, and helping his party and their candidates onto victory.
In the last few weeks I have read things on social media about local candidates for office that I think would make even Lee Atwater blush. Social media such as Face Book and Twitter allow anonymous critics to hurl filth with the only true goal – to maliciously hurt another individual. Some keyboard cowboys and cowgirls launch personal attacks that they would never do face to face. What some claim as fact is nothing more than pure fiction designed to prop themselves up by pulling others down.
In the end, it is our community which is hurt most by the baseless accusations and negative attacks. Negative campaigning is nothing new. The founding fathers of our country did not get along either. Even George Washington was falsely accused of being senile by those who sought to take his office.
Perhaps no one said it better than Lee Atwater himself. Facing the illness which eventually took his life at age 40, he said, “My illness helped me to see that what was missing in society is what was missing in me: a little heart, a lot of brotherhood. The ’80s were about acquiring—acquiring wealth, power, prestige. I know. I acquired more wealth, power, and prestige than most.”
“But you can acquire all you want and still feel empty. What power wouldn’t I trade for a little more time with my family? What price wouldn’t I pay for an evening with friends? It took a deadly illness to put me eye to eye with that truth, but it is a truth that the country, caught up in its ruthless ambitions and moral decay, can learn on my dime. I don’t know who will lead us through the ’90s, but they must be made to speak to this spiritual vacuum at the heart of American society, this tumor of the soul.”
The words we choose can be daggers to the soul or inspire others to reach new heights. In the end – the choice is ours.