Take Politics Off the Playground

Our leaders need to stop schoolyard taunts and get to work solving our problems.


“Timmy” Kaine? Really?

Up until then, the conference-call conversation had been politics as usual. It was rough, for sure, but about what you’d expect. In their preview of President Obama’s bus tour through Southern swing states, you didn’t expect Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, North Carolina GOP Chair Robin Hayes and his Virginia counterpart Pat Mullins to flatter the commander-in-chief.

But while making the legitimate point that Democratic politicians in Virginia weren’t exactly anxious for a photo op with their party’s leader, Mullins said one of the few exceptions was Obama’s friend, 2012 Senate hopeful “Timmy Kaine.” Over the phone, I could hear him smirking. We were suddenly back in the schoolyard, where we’ve been for the past few years, with the old (and lame) trick of needling some kid you don’t like by making fun of his name.

Later that day, in a high school gym in Wilkes County, N.C., the president slipped in his own subtle snark during a serious pitch for his jobs bill, offering to “chop it up into some bite-sized pieces” so recalcitrant Republicans would understand it.

He smiled when he said it, the school smarty getting by on wit while making the bully boys even madder.

Yes, I know. Politics is a contact sport and was ever so. But here in North Carolina — and, I expect everywhere, from even a glance at the polls — the public wants its representatives to grow up. They want cooperation — not standoffs — and results. They wish leaders would spend as much time figuring out how to solve the country’s problems as they do plotting to be king of the playground.

Time to cue a chorus of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.”

In 2011 the meanness for meanness’ sake is making tough times even tougher to bear. The discourse resembles taunts that would merit a timeout if practiced by our children. Instead of setting an example, politicians have turned the dialogue of democracy into endless rounds of recess trash-talking.

One example: “Our Occupy Wall Street is like your Tea Party? Nuh-uh.”