Even after being in politics, I have yet to understand how the constant demonization of one’s opponents is a constructive pursuit. The idea that we should be as loud and harsh as we can while speaking to those we disagree with seems to be the prevailing method of politics, not only among those who are elected, but also those who elect.
We see it in all areas of the political process these days, but the place where it baffles me the most is in the continuous assaults on the Missouri legislature by Gov. Eric Greitens. Since taking office it seems his go-to response to any legislative opposition is to call these people “career politicians” and imply this statement makes them corrupt and untrustworthy. These repeated statements may resonate with a certain voting base, but the claims show either willful ignorance, nasty politics or a bit of both on the part of the governor.
One of my colleagues in Jefferson City told me that when running for office in 2016, Greitens contacted this legislator asking for their support. The legislator said that the prospective governor would not want it. Greitens asked why not. The legislator replied that Greitens would not want to be associated with a “corrupt career politician” in Jefferson City. From there, the conversation promptly ended.
Those whom the governor would call career politicians are actually very rare in Missouri politics. Strict term limits have assured that there will be no such person as in days past. It is a minority in the legislature who serve the full eight years they are eligible for in either chamber. There are many fewer who go on to serve in the other chamber, and even fewer still go on to statewide or other elected offices. Even for those who serve full terms in the House and the Senate, I would have a hard time portraying them as career politicians — let alone those who serve far fewer years.
Also evident in the governor’s attacks is the irony that although he derides them, he in effect seems to be creating career politicians via his use of multiple special sessions. In my view, one of the best deterrents to a “career politician” attitude is the fact that the legislature is in session for five months. Then the rest of the year, our officials are at home, in their districts, around their constituents. Nothing grounds you more than seeing and conversing with the people you represent at the store and around the community.
During his first months in office, Greitens has benefited tremendously from the fact that Republicans hold supermajorities in the House and Senate. Without them, he would be in no position to get many parts of his agenda achieved. His continual criticism of those who are for the most part in agreement with him in principle makes his combative attitude toward them seem even more illogical.
During my time in office I was often critical of then-Gov. Jay Nixon for his approach to the legislature, which was implemented from afar and after the fact much of the time. Greitens seems to be cut from the same cloth. Rather than attempting to work with those who make the laws, he likes to throw bombs from the lofty tower of virtue that he has created for himself.
We live in a day where many of us are discouraged by the negative tone in our political discussion, on all sides. It is sad that our governor chooses to exacerbate this negative tone by disparaging not only his obvious political opponents, but also those very near his own ideology and those whose support he needs to achieve his agenda.
Liberty Republican Myron Neth served two terms in the Missouri House of Representatives from 2011 to 2015.