I admit, I started a recent story about travel by declaring that people were afraid of a lot of things this summer, like terrorism, Zika — and a Trump presidency.
The remark drew several unprintable responses, presumably from Trump supporters who thought I was dissing their candidate. (Never mind that the statement is true and that their conclusion is false.)
Here’s one comment I can publish. It comes from longtime reader Ellen Titus.
“I have been following you for many years and admire your consumer protection work,” she says. “Yesterday, you made reference to the current presidential election in a snide remark. I do not think this is the arena where you need to share those feelings. Please keep doing what you do so well, and do not alienate those of who do not share your political beliefs.”
Oh, I get it. A consumer advocate shouldn’t make any kind of partisan statement on a site that happens to bear his name. After all what does advocacy have to do with politics?
Actually, it has everything to do with politics.
(For those of you who are uncomfortable with the topic of this story, perhaps this is a good time to click away. The next post will be along any minute.)
Maybe you haven’t been paying attention, but I’ve co-founded two nonprofit advocacy organizations that work on policy matters in Washington. As such, I’ve had a front row seat to the best and worst kind of partisanship. I’ve been consulted by representatives on both sides of the aisle on legislation and have been invited to testify in front of Congress.
Newsflash: Advocacy is all political.
But I think I understand what Titus is saying is: “Don’t give us a reason to dislike you.” Or to be more blunt about it, don’t you dare come out as a liberal, lest your conservative readers flee this blog.
By the way, I didn’t just come out as a liberal.
Here’s my view: I like to think of the good people who read this site as my extended family. I have relatives who only read alternative news and are stockpiling food and weapons at an undisclosed location, because, you know, those tunnels under Walmart will be used in a military coup that will install Barack Obama as president for life (I’m not making this up). I have others who are far to the left of Marx (Karl, not Groucho) and think Bernie Sanders is too conservative. When we gather for a family reunion, we try to focus on what we have in common.
In the same way, my politics and your politics are less relevant on this site. We’re all united in the goal of making the world a better place for consumers. But our beliefs are still very much a part of who we are, and to pretend we don’t have any would be naive.
If you must know, I’m in the “none of the above” category, when it comes to presidential candidates, as I suspect many of the folks reading this site are.
There are aspects of the mainstream candidates that I find appealing. For example, I like elements of Donald Trump’s views on tax reform. I think the current tax code is hopelessly confusing and unfair. But I also support some of Hillary Clinton’s healthcare ideas. As someone who grew up in a country with universal healthcare, I strongly believe healthcare access is a basic human right.
But am I going to quit my day job to volunteer for either one of their campaigns? Or even endorse a candidate on this site? On the latter question, I’m with Titus; that’s really a step too far.
Besides, even if I thought it was a good idea to endorse someone, I’m not excited enough about any of the major party candidates to give them my stamp of approval. At least not yet.
Truth is, standing up for the consumer defies easy labeling. You’re not reflexively anti-regulation, as some conservatives are, because you know that sensible rules can protect consumers. You’ve seen it. But you also know that throwing money at every problem, a liberal thing, isn’t always the answer (case in point, the TSA). When you advocate for consumers, you have to follow your conscience and not worry about where you might land on the political spectrum.
I have to admit, I’m pretty unhappy about the campaign rhetoric up to this point. Apart from the fact that it’s been really impolite, if not downright inappropriate, none of the candidates is addressing consumer protection sufficiently. I’d really love to see one of them come out in favor of policies that will help empower customers instead of leaving them to fend for themselves.
I’m bracing for the angry emails that say, “How dare you bring politics into this? I’ll never read this site again.” If you’re in that camp, please save yourself the trouble. Good luck finding an advocacy site that more closely represents your views. I wish you the very best.
But if you’re one of the enlightened readers who thinks advocacy transcends easy categorization and is still optimistic that the candidates might come out in favor of protecting consumers, then maybe you’ve found a home.
Welcome to your extended family.