You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

Why Political Candidates Should Spend More Time Learning the Issues

Getty Images/Bill Pugliano

Another week, another candidate caught “plagiarizing” his campaign platform from other politicians. This time it was Democrat Gordon Ball, who is looking to unseat Senator Lamar Alexander in Tennessee. Ball blamed the incident on an intern, saying, “I had no idea that this material was cut and pasted on my website from other sources.” That’s probably true, and ultimately, it doesn’t matter since Ball has little chance of actually winning the race. But this transgression represents a larger and more disturbing trend in political campaigns.

Ball isn’t the first candidate that has been caught stealing his platform. Less than two weeks ago, Mary Burke, who is running for governor in Wisconsin, faced a similar scandal. Before her, it was Monica Wehby, who is looking to unseat Senator Jeff Merkley in Oregon. As far as plagiarism scandals go, these are pretty tame. As my colleague Brian Beutler explained recently, the campaign platforms of most Democrats have similar ideas (the same goes for Republican candidates). After all, that’s what message discipline is all about. Political consultants—the ones who actually write these platforms and who are fired when the “plagiarism” is discovered—are trying to stay on message. When those consultants copy platforms verbatim from other politicians, it’s dumb and lazy, but it doesn’t demonstrate anything in particular about the candidate.

But shouldn’t we hold our politicians—all of them—to a higher standard than this? We all know that political consultants are heavily involved in creating these platforms. These incidents demonstrate just how disconnected the candidates are from that process. We should demand more than that. Candidates should actually consider the issues before they regurgitate the party line.

I’m not naïve enough to think that policymaking will trump politicking on the campaign trail. And we don’t need every congressman to lead on policymaking. Many can (and should) be followers. But that doesn’t mean they should ignore the issues. Maybe, just maybe, if candidates spent a little more time doing so, they would support slightly different policy solutions than the rest of their party. Political consultants would no longer be able to borrow language from other campaigns and they would avoid these embarrassing “plagiarism” scandals.

That wouldn’t just be good for policymaking. It would be good politics as well.

Danny Vinik

News from Thursday:

EBOLA: Liberian officials plan to prosecute the Ebola patient in Dallas, Thomas Eric Duncan, for allegedly lying on a health questionnaire before his international flight out of the country. Texas health officials say that 100 "potential contacts" linked to Duncan are being monitored for disease symptoms, while four family members who had been in contact with him have been confined to their home. An entire NBC News crew, including medical correspondent Nancy Snyderman, is returning home because a freelance cameraman has tested positive for Ebola. The cameraman will go to a U.S. hospital, while the rest of the crew will remain in isolation. (Dallas Morning News, NPR, Vox)

REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS: A federal appeals court has upheld a Texas law that will close abortion clinics across Texas, leaving maybe just eight in operation. (MSNBC)

IMMIGRATION: President Obama spoke at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute gala, promising executive action on deportations “between the November elections and the end of the year.” (Reuters, Huffington Post) Danny Vinik thinks Obama doesn’t enough credit for his handling of the “border crisis.”

FERGUSON: Since the death of Michael Brown in August, over 3,000 people have registered to vote in Ferguson, Missouri. Voter registration booths and cards have targeted protests in the city and neighborhoods outside. (USA Today)

Articles worth reading:

Standing by their story: In 2010, nearly two dozen academics, economists, and money managers signed a letter warning that the Fed’s policies would cause inflation. With no signs of inflation in sight, reporters Caleb Melby, Laura Marcinek, Danielle Burger asked them whether they had changed their minds. Nine responded and all nine said they hadn’t changed their minds. (Bloomberg)

Keep your friends close and… Former Representative Jane Harmon, a California Democrat, advises Obama to nominate a Republican for Attorney General, and she's got just the man for the job: former Solicitor General Ted Olson. (Politico)

The gap within the gender gap: With Democratic prospects for holding the Senate slipping, Greg Sargent says the key will be turning out women voters—particularly single women and minorities. (The Plum Line)

“Focus on the Family in a white coat”: Paul Waldman wants to know why the New York Times is giving a fringe conservative group of doctors the same credibility as a major medical society. (American Prospect)

Hate Read of the Day: Politico's Jonathan Topaz explains how Rand Paul took to "The Laura Ingraham Show" and stoked Ebola fears, warning "This could get beyond our control." You'd think a doctor would know better.

Stories we'll be watching:

The jobs report for September comes out this morning at 8:30. Watch for Danny Vinik’s analysis immediately afterwards.


Rebecca Leber illustrates the difference between Ebola care in the U.S. and in West Africa, by juxtaposing a pair of photos. Jonathan Cohn considers a controversy at the University of Michigan—and new research on the brains of deceased NFL players—and wonders what can be done about football’s concussion problem. Elsewhere at the New Republic, Alec MacGillis reports that coal tycoon Bob Murray is still urging his employees to donate to Republicans—and nobody seems to be asking whether or not such efforts are legal.