The Rules of the Politics Game -- Are There Any?

Lying and lack of integrity have been equal opportunity labels with both parties in the game of politics, and the repercussions to individuals at fault have been few.
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In politics, there are winners and losers. That's inevitable, just as it is in football, baseball, basketball or any sport. Like in sports, the audience -- in this case, the American electorate -- expects that the rules will be articulated, documented and fair.

In sports, those who don't play by the rules are ultimately eliminated or fined. Take tennis super-star Maria Sharapova, Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, Olympic Gold Medalist Ben Johnson, baseball star Pete Rose, to name a few. The fines, suspensions and banishments are meant not just as penalties but as checks and balances to ensure integrity and credibility in the sport. Without public confidence that competition is fair and based on a level playing field, fans would lose confidence, and support for the sport would be diminished.

Not so in politics. Many politicians have lost elections because of unfounded and salacious -- sometimes slanderous -- claims from their opponents. Notable among too many to mention are the George W. Bush swift boat claim (depicting John Kerry as a braggart or false war hero) and the Lyndon Johnson 'Daisy Girl' ad (juxtaposing Republican candidate Barry Goldwater with the viscerally-feared mushroom cloud of a nuclear explosion).

Numerous PolitiFact news outlets have documented politicians telling lies, half-truths, or making false innuendoes. In 2015, Donald Trump warranted the "Lie of the Year" award based on his many documented distortions. This "award" was also given to Democrats for alleging in 2011, that "Republicans voted to end Medicare;" to Romney's campaign in 2012, for falsely stating that Jeep was pulling plants in Ohio and relocating them to China; and to the Obama Administration for claiming in 2013, that "If you like your health care plan, you can keep it."

Lying and lack of integrity have been equal opportunity labels with both parties in the game of politics, and the repercussions to individuals at fault have been few.

Through the years, the bar for the rules of politics -- with the exception of legally-mandated campaign finance reports -- has been set pretty low. It's widely speculated that dead voters in Chicago clinched JFK's presidency in 1960 and that dubious hanging chads in Florida in 2000 clinched George W. Bush's presidency. Whether true or not, the fact that these breaches can even be contemplated is shameful to the American presidency and reinforces the image of less-than-truthful politics.

In a more recent election, 2014, candidate Ron Paul's challenges to the Republican party platform and nominee Mitt Romney were not met with open dialogue but, rather, with abruptly shutting off microphones. Hardly transparent or fair. Nonetheless, accepted by the delegates of the day.

But today is a new day. I believe that a new trend is emerging, aimed at the stilted rules of both parties. There seems to be a healthy check and balance in the wind, care of Trump and Sanders supporters, both of whom believe that their party's systems are rigged to support only the establishment candidate. And this sentiment about fairness is spread across the political spectrum.

Take Bernie Sanders, who has repeatedly said that, "The American people are fed-up with establishment politics." Millennials, who support Sanders in large numbers, agree.

In Ohio, Governor John Kasich is going up against his own party on redistricting, alleging that gerrymandering, a long-time Ohio (and national) political tradition is patently unfair. In Ohio and many states, Democrats, Republicans and Independents cannot get elected to congressional seats because the legislatures have engineered the geography of specific districts to be either pre-determined R or pre-determined D.

Donald Trump has discovered that he can win a state primary or caucus but lose delegates because the state party has chosen delegates who, according to his convention manager Paul Manafort, are really "Trojan delegates." These are fake Trump delegates who are pledged to Trump on the first ballot but who will vote the state party's choice on subsequent ones. Trump bemoaned that, "They have land mines all over the place -- it is unfair."

The news media is also weighing in, especially with the prospect of a contested RNC convention. Conservative talk-show host and founder Glenn Beck said on Meet the Press: "You can't disenfranchise people. People are very very disenfranchised and they're angry and that is something we don't want to add fuel to. You can't continue to disenfranchise people. It must be fair play."

Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), in a recent video posted on his website, said that politics must be "...inspiring people on our common humanity and our common ideals and our common culture on the things that should unify us."

There are no more worthy principles within the American psyche or our common ideals than fairness and integrity. Both are essential to our belief in the vitality and possibility of the American Dream, itself based on the premise that, "In America, anything is possible." By definition, if the system is rigged or unfair, then anything is not possible.

Lying, cheating, subverting elections -- all the shady dealings that heretofore have dotted American politics -- will not stand the test of time, as more and more citizens believe that the two-party system is rigged and that politics-as-usual is unfair.

The current election shows us that the political system must restore fairness, integrity and honesty as the operating system that guides our parties, politics and elections. If the parties do not quickly align their actions with these shared values, I predict that within a generation, the parties themselves will splinter and disintegrate. Simply for self-preservation, they should do the right thing.

In today's environment, Americans may still accept that politics is a zero-sum game, but they may no longer accept that a political system that functions without values is of value.

Muszynski is Founder of Purple America, a national initiative of Values-in-Action Foundation to re-focus the American conversation to a civil, productive and respectful dialogue around our shared values. To see America's shared values and get involved, go to Project Love is a school-based character-development program of Values-in-Action Foundation. To see information about Project Love school programming, go to

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