Ruth Bass: In governing, reason rules over rant


RICHMOND — The endless campaign to be president is reaching a crucial stage. After months of listening to candidates rant, rave, accuse, lie, shout, reason, swear and philosophize, some people in the Midwest are going to enter a voting booth. Well, not really. They are going to be invited to tea down the road or at the parish hall, and they'll cast a vote in the Iowa caucuses that seem so weird to the rest of us.

It's hard to say what they will do at these gatherings. They bear little resemblance to our trips to Town Hall where we hide inside flimsy, temporary booths and use a special pencil to make dark circles on a ballot that will be sucked up, seconds later, by an electronic counting machine. (We enjoyed the outdated ballot box, actually, when our contributions had to be cranked in by a neighbor.)

The grand hope in this corner — and it probably deserves a guffaw from all but the most optimistic among us — is that voters will consider that the person chosen has to be able to govern. That's the key: Can he/she govern?

Governing has nothing to do with where the candidate prays, how loud he shouts, whether he fires people up by swearing on stage about the man who failed with his microphone, whether he has operated on children's heads, whether he's angry or seemingly angry, whether he promises moon and stars, whether he seems like a socialist or a tea drinker.

Governing has to do with scads of common sense and high intelligence. It has to do with people like Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker who looks at a Democratic legislature as an opportunity to figure things out, not a moment to declare war. Governing has a lot to do with spilling out ideas rather than sounding like a broken record.

Governing doesn't involve hate, racism or turning voter discontent into anger. It is not screaming "Fire!" in a crowded theater. It is not about taking the pledge of allegiance, waving the flag, espousing rights and freedom, defending the constitution — and then denigrating groups of people on the basis of their religion, the color of their faces, the country of their origin, even their gender.

Governing requires thought and compromise. Abraham Lincoln said government was of, by and for the people — he didn't exclude anyone. He would not have said Muslims weren't welcome, Mexicans were criminals, refugees from Middle Eastern countries might be terrorists.

It's to be hoped that the American voter sees through all the rhetoric we've been subjected to for far too long. It's to be hoped that it's not anger that sends them into the famous caucuses of Iowa or the voting booths in the "live free or die" state. In their anxiety to woo just one more vote, too many of today's candidates have promised the moon but don't own it — and certainly don't know what the man in the moon thinks. Yet they continue to claim the ability to do — solo — things that presidents can't do alone.

Together is the route. The ability to govern requires the ability to listen and to actually hear what people say. Not every liberal idea is evil incarnate, not every conservative idea is unacceptable. Listening involves the ability to understand that a spoiled child – the one who gets his/her way every time by screaming, kicking or slamming doors — should not be president.

And once this round is over, let's have a limit on what candidates can spend, a limit on what people and companies can donate and, most important, a limit on how long a campaign lasts. Even the dimmest of us should be able sort all the messages in a maximum of six months.

Ruth Bass is a former Sunday editor of The Eagle. Her web site is


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