Jack Ohman

A coarsening of the political discourse

Republican Doug Ose responds to questions during his debate with Democratic Rep. Ami Bera for the 7th Congressional District.
Republican Doug Ose responds to questions during his debate with Democratic Rep. Ami Bera for the 7th Congressional District. jvillegas@sacbee.com

Doug Ose, the Republican challenging Rep. Ami Bera for the Sacramento-area 7th Congressional District seat, came into The Sacramento Bee editorial offices the other day. I try to meet the people I draw, to see how they look in person.

Ose was cordial. I found him pleasant, and he had a dry sense of humor. We shook hands and exchanged greetings. I had heard good things about him, and he did nothing to dispel that impression.

So when I watched the debate on KVIE, I expected to see the same Doug Ose I had met.

I did not.

The man I saw in the blue suit on television bore little resemblance to the skilled and charming politician with whom I had chatted. In his opening statement, Ose referred to Bera as burglar in your home, waiting to rob voters blind. I was almost dumbstruck. Bera is a son of immigrants who became a physician and oversaw admissions to the UC Davis medical school, and lives in Elk Grove with his wife and daughter. One can disagree with Bera’s politics. But he is a success story, an honorable guy, and certainly not a burglar.

Bera offered no response to this incredibly over-the-top analogy. I get that politics is a rough sport. Certainly, worse things have been said in debates. Ose could have likened Bera to a fox guarding a henhouse. But calling him a burglar was beyond the pale.

As the debate wore on, I was struck by Ose’s repeated assertion that Bera had voted 10 times to cut Medicare by $716 billion. Bera would deny it, citing The Bee’s story noting this assertion is demonstrably false. Ose kept repeating the canard, leaving an exasperated Bera to yet again say that this statement is, well, a lie.

The level of tone and discourse in American politics keeps getting lower. Republican gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari’s latest ad implies Gov. Jerry Brown is throwing children overboard to protect his donors. In the debate between Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove, and his challenger, Art Moore, Moore called McClintock’s decision to pull out of another debate cowardly. Many politicians duck debates. It was a political calculation, not craven.

There’s nothing new about scurrilous attacks in campaigns. But perhaps today’s politicians could study the arid irony of Jack Kennedy, or the sunny geniality of Ronald Reagan, and try to get their points across without snarling.

In any campaign, candidates have storylines, and they must stay on message. Ose thinks Obamacare is an ill-thought-out concept that needs to be dumped. Bera wants to fix it. Ose thinks climate science is debatable. Bera doesn’t. Fine.

America works relatively well compared to most nations because when one side prevails, the losers can expect, mostly, to live pretty much as they had. Life goes on. We try to agree to disagree without decapitating.

I’d like to see another Ose-Bera debate. And it would be great if the Doug Ose I met showed up.

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