Our political campaigns have degenerated into fund-raising campaigns and advertising campaigns. Politicians spend more time raising money than they do legislating because they know that having the biggest ad budget is the key to holding on to their well-paid jobs. The staggering amounts of money that must be raised to be considered a serious candidate, and the fact that far too many voters are influenced in their decisions by the ads they see on television, are the means by which moneyed interests control our government. We are a plutocracy masquerading as a democracy.
I don’t watch much TV and that has probably saved me from a nervous breakdown. I will readily admit that, as a general rule, I don’t like advertising. I do enjoy ads that are amusing or entertaining. Political ads never meet either of these standards. I have a special hatred for attack ads. They are preaching to the choir in my case. I was persuaded long ago that very nearly every politician in our venal, corrupt system is, well, venal and corrupt.
There is a serious discussion of the rather serious issues facing our nation taking place in a select group of magazines (don’t ask Palin to name any of them) and among some of the bloggers on the Internet, but the candidates and their surrogates rarely join in the discussion. Most candidates do have position papers buried deep on their respective web sites, but the give and take of arguing in support of their positions is sadly absent from the political process. The presidential and vice-presidential “debates” that took place recently involved little more than mind-numbing repetitions of their favorite talking points, most of which are really ad slogans cleverly crafted by their media handlers. The candidates have gotten far too adept at staying on message.
With both Obama and McCain making noises out of the gate about taking the high road, my hopes for an issues-oriented contest were elevated. Those hopes have, of course, been dashed. I know that Obama has gone negative as well, but I have been especially taken aback by the surrealistic nature of the scurrilous attacks from the tag team of McCain and Palin. When Republican candidates draw a rebuke (however mild) from Karl Rove for going too far with what are typically referred to as Rovian tactics, they should know they’ve gone too far. That’s tantamount to Satan himself being disgusted with your sinful behavior.
(A brief aside: Speaking of the Devil, I think the only unanswered question in this campaign is whether McCain and Palin will accuse Obama of being the Anti-Christ. I don’t believe for a second that McCain or Palin truly think that Obama hates America, or is a socialist, a terrorist, or a Muslim. It is conceivable that Palin does believe that he is the Anti-Christ and although McCain might not have shared her belief originally, she might well have convinced him by now. She did, after all, convince him that she would be a good candidate for vice-president.)
If I were Obama, I would sue McCain and Palin for slander and libel. This, of course, assumes that he is not, in fact, a terrorist-loving, America-hating, Muslim, socialist. (Why did “The Main Street Mavericks” pull their punch? Why not call him a communist?) If he is any of those things, I would advise him to avoid making the mistake made by Oscar Wilde when he sued for slander the father of a young man he had buggered and ended up going to prison for being a homosexual.
I would advise other politicians to take the same course of action. A healthy round of slander and libel suits would be far more entertaining than the endless reporting of poll results that passes for journalism these days. A few victories here and there might give future candidates something to think about before they set out deliberately to distort the positions and impugn the character of their opponents.
I know that attack ads go back to the days of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson and that money has always found a way to seep into the system, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. I can’t shake the nagging feeling that a serious discussion of the issues would serve the voters and our country better than endless name-calling and mud-slinging.
I will grudgingly admit that attack ads occasionally serve some purpose, especially when the allegations are true and lead to corruption charges and the removal of a criminal from public office. I also accept the fact that a ban on political advertising would violate the First Amendment. So I am left to dream of a day when voters simply refuse to watch attack ads, either through the miracle of Tivo or by simply turning to another channel or turning off the TV when an attack ad comes on. Perhaps that would eventually lead to people attending rallies falling deathly silent when red meat is hurled at them from the podium.
I also occasionally dream of flying, sometimes it’s Superman-style, other times it’s more like I’m swimming through the air. My flying dream will probably come true before my dream about voters developing an aversion to attack ads.