Us and Them: Not a Good (Out)look | New NY 23rd

This article was submitted by Lee Marcus, author of “Hearts Afire: The Story of Moonwhistle School” and a frequent contributor to this blog.

Congressperson Tom Reed lives in an Us and Them world. He’s got his voter base; everybody else is fodder. His leadership style is similarly bifurcated. At a town hall he’s friendly to all and likes to search for common ground, or at worst, agree to disagree. So agreeable is he. Then he goes home and writes to his base using vitriol and name calling to malign his political opponents. Gotta keep that base fired up. 

Why is that? Is he saying he can only lead people who are foaming at the mouth? Why can’t Tom Reed lead people who want to talk about issues like pre-existing conditions, milk prices, school safety, veterans’ hospitals, lack of internet access, protecting our lakes and streams, improving our roads, safeguarding Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, creating jobs so our children don’t have to move away when they grow up? Aren’t these the causes that matter to families in the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes Region?

Instead, Reed’s focus is on dirty campaign strategies, like sending his campaign manager and volunteers out to troll the rallies of the Tracy Mitrano campaign, photobombing every speaker on the podium with signs (straight out of a 1967 coloring book) that read “Extreme Ithaca Liberal.” Then they cook up a media story that the Mitrano people are harassing Reed’s campaign! 

Reed even had his people place those awkward signs next to candidates’ placards during the Democratic primary. When, several days after the primary, a retired minister picked up a bunch of campaign signs, including one of Reed’s, along a highway, thinking he was doing a community service by removing trash, it turned out that Reed’s sign was equipped with a GPS device. The man who thought he was performing a civic duty by cleaning up the signs was arrested and charged with petit larceny, which could lead to a jail sentence and a fine. 

Our congressperson, like all incumbents, is anxious to keep his seat. Understood. But the tactics he’s using toward that purpose are not about serving his community, as the Reverend was certainly doing. They are not about sharing ideas for improving our lives here in western New York. Reed’s tactics are about maligning his opponent and dividing our community into Us and Them. He is fomenting hate, which is a precursor to violence. And he is doing it wholesale. 

Take the words “Extreme Ithaca Liberal.” It would be one thing if he were talking about extremists, but he’s talking about our kids’ teachers and coaches; parents and grandparents; business owners; farmers; first responders; church leaders; your neighbors. 

It would be different if he were talking about people from Ithaca. But Reed used his school-yard taunt against all five of the Democratic primary candidates, no matter where they live. In fact, he describes anyone who questions or even tries to reason with him as an extreme Ithaca liberal. That’s just goofy; and it would be laughable, except that the congressperson clearly does not intend to represent the NY 23rd district. He intends to represent his voter base and his out-of-state, deep-pocket donors. Can you imagine Amo Houghton doing that? 

Finally, what is his problem with Ithaca? Have you ever heard of a politician blackballing a whole city in his own district? It’s hard to imagine what a medium-sized city could have done to so offend one small man. Ithaca does have a lot of people who are devoted to education. Is that a bad thing? What, then, does Reed really think of the people he calls his base? Ouch.

I would like it if Mr. Reed would explain to us all how we are served by being divided into Us and Them. And, since members of the House of Representatives, like himself, have to run for office every two years, when will he get around to talking about issues and solving problems? There’s always another election right around the corner, and fires needing to be stoked to work up the base. 

Well, Mr. Reed, there’s no time like the present. Why don’t you do us all a favor and campaign as if all the people who live in your district matter? Stop playing dirty tricks on your opponents. And consider this: everybody who disagrees with you is not an extremist. You are not the norm. You have your views, other people have theirs. How about a little respect for democracy and the American way of debating issues, educating voters, winning on the merits?

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