When I was in grade school, my school’s soccer team didn’t lose many games.
Our coach routinely would tell us not to “play down” to the competition, as that would put us in a position to lose.
“Play your own game,” he would say.
Unfortunately, I found myself watching cable news one day last week, as top Republican presidential candidates Marco Rubio and Donald Trump went back and forth on such important issues as how much makeup their opponent wore and the size of Rubio’s ears or Trump’s hands.
Not to mention Trump’s fake tan, how much Rubio sweats or how often each candidate repeats himself on the campaign trail.
“You repeat yourself all the time,” one candidate said. “No, you repeat yourself all the time,” the other responded. Or something like that.
Rubio started playing down to the competition, like an innocent kid finally convinced to stand up to the schoolyard bully. Trump is leading in delegate counts and in polls in most states that haven’t held primaries.
Rubio, like the other Republicans in the field, is desperate to make up ground.
Unfortunately, resorting to childish name-calling and sixth-grade insults is what Rubio believes is necessary to be successful as a presidential candidate in the fractured Republican Party in 2016.
That’s a sad commentary on our politics and our society. Candidates for the highest office in the land should be trying to propel themselves above their opponents by touting their achievements, strengths, goals and ideas. They shouldn’t be tearing their opponents down to prop themselves up.
It’s understandable that many voters in this country are fed up with the political status quo. American voters have plenty to be upset about.
But is Donald Trump really the guy who’s going to “make America great again”? Do we really want someone like that as the next status quo?
We’re not talking about a student council seat. We’re talking about the president of the United States.
The situation in the GOP presidential primary brings to mind the words of a well-respected former state legislator as she gave a farewell speech on the N.C. House floor in 2012. Then-N.C. Rep. Carolyn Justice of Pender County, at the end of a very contentious legislative session, urged her colleagues to be civil with each other moving forward.
When addressing each other, she said, they should say “yes, ma’am” or “yes, sir,” instead of “yeah.”
She said she feared lawmakers were perceived as a “bunch of stumblebums up here.” With so much cynicism about government these days, legislators shouldn’t do anything to exacerbate it.
“If we want respect, we have to act respectfully,” Justice said.
While legislative debates in Raleigh have gotten ugly at times, I don’t remember a single instance in my years covering the General Assembly that any legislator has resorted to making fun of another’s physical characteristics, other than playful joking among friends on occasion. In recent years, the debate in Raleigh thankfully has never devolved to such an embarrassingly low level as the presidential primary race.
If we can’t expect more from our top elected officials, how can we expect it from anyone?
Especially the real sixth-graders.
Patrick Gannon is editor of the Insider State Government News Service in Raleigh.