Editorial: Duckworth, Walsh and the politics of gotcha

Permit us, please, to make this nonpartisan observation about the 8th District Congressional race between Rep. Joe Walsh of McHenry and Tammy Duckworth of Hoffman Estates: Last week's hullabaloo is a prime example of “the silly season” that election campaigns frequently become.

Walsh, speaking off the cuff at one of his town-hall meetings as he often does, said something related to Duckworth's military service record that went a bit across the line the way politicians occasionally go across the line. “I'm running against a woman who, I mean, my God, that's all she talks about. Our true heroes, the men and women who served us, it's the last thing in the world they talk about.”

Duckworth's campaign then seized on the comment to exploit it for full political effect, describing it as an “insult (to) those who sacrificed to make this country free.” Veterans, of course, are not only an important voting bloc but also one that receives considerable support from the general public, so we suspect that hurt feelings aren't the exclusive cause of her outrage.

And that, of course, also has made it a juicy election story for the news media, which has gone after the story full throttle.

Meanwhile, Walsh has been running around feverishly trying to apply damage control with his own inimitable style.

As regular readers of this space know, we frequently don't see eye to eye with Walsh. But look, here's the central question: Does Joe Walsh lack respect for servicemen and women? That's highly doubtful. It doesn't jibe with what we all know about him.

And here's another fundamental question: Do we want our politicians to measure every word they say or do we want them to be real with us? Most people would say, “real.”

If those are the questions and those are the answers, why then has the last week of this important Congressional race been consumed by this? Why should Walsh care how much Duckworth talks about her admirable service record? Why should Duckworth take his charge of her alleged self aggrandizement and make it out to be more than it is?

Part of the onus here is on the candidates and part of it is on the news media. Both should be bigger and better than they are.

But perhaps most importantly, the onus is on us as voters to be discerning — to ask whether the candidates and the news media and the pundits are talking about things that matter or whether they're playing to applause lines and gotcha politics.

In this case, Walsh should acknowledge that he ought to have been more precise with his wording.

And Duckworth should get over it.

And the two of them should renew a substantive debate over their approaches to jobs, the economy, the debt, health care, foreign affairs and yes, concrete veterans issues — real things that really matter.

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