Hello Fourth Estate – Democracy in Missouri Needs You

fourth-estateLast night, I attended the forum for Congressional candidates in Missouri’s Second District sponsored by the League of Women Voters. It was terrific, except two vital parts of the democratic puzzle were nowhere to be seen. Republican Ann Wagner is now zero for three when it comes to showing up with other candidates to allow voters to hear competing views on how best to represent the District. And once again, the mainstream media also took a rain check. Too bad, because there were a lot of good ideas to hear, especially from Democrat Bill Otto. Unfortunately, for most voters, the forum didn’t even happen.

St. Louis’ only daily newspaper, the Post-Dispatch, said about Ann Wagner in 2014, “There’s a saying in politics that elections are won by those who show up. Perhaps that’s so for voters, but a key part of U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner’s strategy for re-election in Missouri’s 2nd Congressional District is not showing up.” Fine words by the Post, but quoting the great philosopher Michael Jackson, they should have also been looking at “the man in the mirror.” They, along with St. Louis Public Radio and all media outlets were pulling their own version of Ann Wagner at the debate.

It’s easier for me to give Wagner a pass than the media. She seems to resist all opportunities to connect with the public candidates-mo-02in general. Maybe she suffers from social anxiety and that would be a solid reason to pass. Maybe she inwardly knows that in an open forum, lockstep Republican answers sound hollow because they lack the empathy that is fundamental to solutions that actually serve the people. Maybe she is following orders from the “Incumbents Anonymous” group that shuns appearances against their opponents. Whatever it is, she did not show.

But the media is not a single entity. There are more than a dozen mainstream outlets in the St. Louis metropolitan area, and not a one was anywhere to be seen. For the network television stations, maybe they had to cover another crime, or once again be “on your side” so they could flaunt their civic-mindedness while ignoring elections, the pillar of civic engagement.

It is not as if nothing happened at the debate. The lead for the story might have been that incumbent Ann Wagner did not show and there is mystery as to why, but then there were three distinct points of view presented by representatives of three of America’s four major political parties.

Bill Otto is not an ordinary Democrat, particularly for Missouri. The empathy that so defines progressives was present in his answers to the Westlake Landfill, Social Security, labor unions, education, health care, gun control and a host of other issues. His answers were concise and direct. His four years in the Missouri General Assembly has taught him that not all Republicans stonewall every issue and that there are ways to create compromise. His personal story is a compelling one and “pay it forward” is a fundamental tenet of his views on public policy.

Libertarian Jim Higgins was also present and pretty much stuck to the Libertarian party line, even to the point of reading his answers from prepared talking points. He may not have been a “pure libertarian” because he acknowledged that the government had roles to play in veterans’ health care and even background checks tor potential gun buyers.

By being AWOL, the media may have missed one of the more interesting Green Party candidates in the country. David Arnold only spoke about the environment when forced to, specifically questions about the Westlake Landfill and climate change. His major point was that artificial intelligence is about to make most of our jobs obsolete, so we need to move away from and employment-based economy to an income-based economy. He may have been a very good prophet, but did not quite seem to be ready for prime time as the representative of the Second District.

The League billed the event as a forum and it was because virtually all of the questions came from the audience. Maybe the media would have had some good ones, but we’ll never know. One local television station was busy reporting that “Twisted Ranch now offers 27 different ranch dressings.” Now that’s deplorable.