Be it resolved

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. Never have. Hate them.

New Year’s resolutions are responsible for the hordes of delusional new gym rats who invade every facility with a treadmill for two weeks (before quitting) and make it impossible for regulars to even work out.

Resolutions are responsible for eating salads in steak restaurants in January, unhappy ex-smokers who will be smokers again in a month, overly aggressive former (and soon to be again) procrastinators, and a temporary increase in cheapness accompanying the new spike in penny-pinchers.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with committing to improving one’s self. But the artificial, scheduled, forced nature of Jan. 1 being a catalyst for these desired self-improvements doom them to failure almost every time.

So I don’t make them.

But what if, rather than hollow and unrealistic commitments about ourselves, we came up with resolutions as a group, say about the upcoming year in Maine politics. Promises and goals that would make the upcoming election season a great deal more bearable.

Here goes. Be it resolved that…

We will not engage in ad hominems. It is the easiest thing to do in politics but the least becoming of those who engage in it. Attacking a subject personally, as a way of invalidating and undermining their argument, happens all the time.

And it may even work. After all, a lack of trust in the messenger usually leads to lack of trust in the message. But it shouldn’t work, and impugning the people behind the arguments instead of the arguments themselves is the single most reviled thing about politics. We should all endeavor to stop that.

We will not engage in straw men. A straw man argument is when you create your opponents argument for them, in order to make it easier to attack it. Think of putting up a scarecrow (a man made of straw) and then taking out a club and destroying the thing you yourself created.

This can take many forms, such as attacking Republicans, preemptively, for flirting with Mike Michaud’s sexuality at some future point and time, despite no such attacks having occurred and no such attacks likely to ever occur. By creating the boogyman yourself, it is easy to kill the boogyman. It is a dishonest, inappropriate and unfair tactic that has no place in real debate.

We will not engage in team politics. So often, we make decisions about who is right or who is wrong based only on what “team” the individuals involved are on. This could be Republicans vs. Democrats. It could be tea party vs. establishment. It could be liberal activist vs. centrist.

By viewing things in terms of “us” vs. “them,” you tend to only defend your own side, even when it doesn’t really deserve it, and only attack the other side, even if it doesn’t really deserve it.

We all do it, myself included, and we should stop.

We will base decisions on logic, not emotion. It doesn’t matter what the decision is, be it what policies to support, or what candidates to vote for, emotion pollutes reason and prevents sensible policy and campaigns.

Passion is a great thing but should usually be distrusted in politics. If you find yourself getting worked up into a hyperbolic lather over something or someone, you should probably consider just how realistic what you are going crazy over is. Almost without fail, reality is far different than what is inciting your passions.

We will rationally judge the people who are running for office. I don’t begrudge anyone who supports fringe candidates from doing so. What I do begrudge are people who delude themselves regarding what they are doing by supporting those people.

It is hard to judge viability in candidates. We don’t always get it right, and, yes, occasionally, a candidate who we dismiss as having no chance stuns the world and comes out of nowhere to win.

But that is quite rare. Successful campaigns – even for scrappy outsiders fighting the establishment – need a little bit of money, some good, competent people on the campaign team, and a candidate who can appeal to a lot of people.

There are some people running now who simply aren’t going to go anywhere. And that’s fine; there’s nothing wrong with supporting somebody like that.

But the constant drum beat that “the man” is holding the fringe candidate down, and that people with no base, no money, and no talent, are on the verge of not only a win in the primary, but a general election victory, is unhelpful. Let’s be realistic about our candidates.

These few resolutions would be a good start in making our politics more palatable in the coming year. Let’s all do our best on it, people.

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Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.