Washington’s three-term Republican governor thirsts for a presidential candidate who offers hope, speaks to voters as rational adults and proposes programs of opportunity for all Americans.

Share story

WE live in an age of instant communications. The smartphone is king, shopping online is simple and information is just a click away. But electronic political debate now is like the description of the Platte River in Nebraska by an early explorer who exclaimed, “It is a mile wide, an inch deep, and muddy.”

Voters this spring were subjected to a series of TV political debates that were more reality show than a serious argument of national and international issues. I was reminded of a conversation I had with a TV news director many years ago. I was asked to do political commentary regularly in a 1 minute time slot. When I questioned how serious one could be in that short time period, he exclaimed, “It doesn’t matter, we want more heat than light.” He could have been in charge of this year’s presidential debates.

As many as 16 GOP candidates lined up on the stage scrapping for every moment at the microphone. One candidate, Donald Trump, occupied center stage at every debate, supposedly because he was ahead in political polls. He also hogged more than twice as much time as any other candidate. It was hugely unfair, but bought television sponsors what they wanted: a big audience. In the process, they created a monster.

I listened with astonishment and dismay as the debates descended to who sweats the most or who had the largest penis. Schoolyard taunts drowned out any serious discussion of issues. We learned little of candidates’ political philosophy and almost nothing of their plans for America. Only one, Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, captured in a single sentence what a president could do when he said, “When we lift one another, we succeed.” That voice was lost in the shrill hubbub of presidential debates gone awry.

We deserve better than that.

Gabriel Campanario / The Seattle Times

One-hundred-fifty-eight years ago, voters listened avidly to the Lincoln-Douglas debates. America was deeply divided and on the brink of civil war. Abraham Lincoln and U.S. Sen. Stephen Douglas, incumbent U.S. senator from Illinois, agreed to seven debates. They alternated who would start. The first candidate spoke for 1 hour, the second for 1½ hours, and the first would end with a half-hour rebuttal.

These debates were 3 hours long, before standing audiences of as many as 15,000 and were printed in their entirety in the newspapers of the day. The debates were posted on the outside wall of newspaper buildings and crowds gathered to read the transcripts and engage in their own political debate over what Lincoln and Douglas proposed.

It was extraordinary and serious political theater. Lincoln was generally considered the winner of the debates, but the Illinois Legislature, in a partisan vote, re-elected Douglas, a Democrat, as senator. Two years later, Abraham Lincoln was elected as our first Republican president.

There is little question that the partisans of 1858 knew more about the political beliefs and policies of Lincoln and Douglas than today’s tuned-in voters know about any candidate for president. No one in today’s Twitter world would listen for 3 hours to a serious political debate. Current political candidates understand that and too often resort to slogans, accusations and diatribe as substitutes for rational discussion of issues.

I thirst for a candidate who would offer us hope instead of eternal political warfare. A candidate who would speak to us as rational adults rather than simpletons whose votes can be bought. A candidate who would propose comprehensive and even difficult programs to open the door of opportunity to all Americans. A candidate who would lead us wisely in our international role as a leader among nations.

In my inaugural address as governor more than 40 years ago, I said, “I would rather cross the political aisle than cross the people.”That adage still applies today, and our country will be better, stronger and safer if our new president leads — not just some of us, but all of us.