Playground or Politics?

Sunday, January 24, 2016

As I shared here, I have been entrusted with a weekly column in the prestigious Southeast Missourian, with my first one in the January 12, 2016, newspaper.

My second column was published on January 19 and is available online for your enjoyment and reflection--or read it right here:

Playground or Politics?

For months, Americans have tuned in to watch the Republican presidential candidates gather on stage to answer questions crafted to reveal who is most qualified to lead the nation. Because the field is the size of a small army, these debates have been divided in two -- undercard and main -- based on polling.

I watched the JV team members swallow their pride and mount the stage each time. Those debates gave us some of the best exchanges and revealed some of the most talented candidates in the entire race. Carly Fiorina, for example, emerged after the first undercard debate as a force with whom to be reckoned. Granted, I doubt she actually has a shot at the Oval Office, at least not at the top spot, but no one can credibly deny that she has a commanding grasp of the issues, is articulate, and is undaunted-- particularly as it pertains to taking it to Hillary Clinton. Her impressive performance garnered her a main stage podium in subsequent debates.

Which brings us to last week and the Fox Business Channel debate. Sen. Rand Paul did not qualify for the main debate and responded by announcing he would not participate in the undercard, either. He disputed the accuracy of the polling used to determine which debate candidates qualified for and accused the powers-that-be of trying to mute his message.

"We will not participate in anything that's not first tier," he said, because he has a "top-tier campaign" and deserves to be on the main stage with the varsity team. Translation: "I'm taking my toys, leaving the playground and going home." Yes, his decision was childish at best, and he followed it by sticking his middle finger up -- literally -- "at the media" during an interview with ABC Radio.

Really, Rand?

Though Paul used this perceived slight to "take his message directly to the voters of New Hampshire and Iowa" and to fundraise, he has done the American people a disservice.

The proper response, even if he really were the "top tier" candidate he fancies himself to be, would be to behave like a top-notch diplomat. The proper response for someone who wants to be the leader of the free world would be to humble himself, show up on stage with the others -- Sen. Rick Santorum, Gov. Mike Huckabee and Carly Fiorina (who, once again, found herself in the undercard debate) -- and answer the questions that matter to Americans. We already have a president whom many feel is afflicted with a severe case of arrogance; we don't need another.

Truth be told, this is not Paul's time. If ever it was or if ever it will be, I do not know. But I do know that at this time, when national security is the No. 1 concern among voters, Paul's message is not the message people are embracing. If the NSA is the first thought that comes to mind when your name is uttered, now is not your time. If your picture could easily be in the dictionary alongside the word "isolationist," again, now is not your time. Americans are craving safety and security, and we want a leader who will do what's necessary to provide and protect that. It will take more than the "Stand with Rand" mantra to drag Paul's "top tier" campaign to the top of the pack.

Had I been considering casting a vote for the senator from Kentucky -- which I was not -- his behavior last week would have put the kibosh on it. It revealed deep disrespect for the process by which we weigh candidates who want our votes, and it was a slap in the face of the other candidates, who found the humility to appear on the lesser stage because they recognized the American people deserve as much.

Fiorina disputed the polling also, but what was her response? "In the Fox News poll, I'm in sixth place, which would qualify me," she said, adding, "But hey, I'll debate anyone, anytime, anywhere. I'll be in South Carolina, and what I know is that polls don't win elections; voters do."

Fiorina demonstrated leadership. Leadership demands a willingness to do what's necessary -- as unpleasant or humbling as it may be -- to get your message to as many as possible. Paul could learn a lot from her. His decision to skip the debate reveals an inability not only to lead in this most crucial time in American history, but to follow, as well.

Adrienne Ross is an editor, writer, public speaker, former teacher and coach, Southeast Missourian editorial board member and owner of Adrienne Ross Communications.

Read my first column, "Obama's Empty Chair and Sincere, Empty Tears," at the Southeast Missourian here.

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