Everyone in America either knows the routine by heart or is swiftly reminded of it every time an election rolls around. You're minding your own business, watching 60 Minutes or Reading Rainbow, and suddenly it's a commercial break and a sepulchral voice starts lecturing you as a familiar smirking politician Ken-Burnses his way (in vintage newsreely black and white) across the screen, interspersed with spinning facsimiles of newspaper headlines like something out of a 1930s gangster movie.
"Candidate Smith," intones the voice. "He's done Creepy Thing A. He voted for Creepy Thing B. He wants to do Creepy Thing C. He'll sell your children to a Satanic death cult and that's not even Creepy Thing D."
The smirking pol is abruptly replaced by the least insincere-looking footage the commercial's producers could find of his opponent. "Candidate Brown," the voice says soothingly. "He's Not At All Creepy." (The actual slogan is usually a bit more imaginative than this, but scarcely catchier.)
Finally the masterpiece is rounded off by a still shot (in color) of Candidate Brown gazing serenely at what is apparently a vision of the Virgin Mary in the distance; accompanied by a terse recording of the voice of same informing you that he approved this
Now Candidate Smith may or may not have done all those creepy things, and Candidate Brown may or may not, in contrast, be the Anointed One. Probably not, in both cases. That's not what is most disturbing here.
Nor is it the fact that the campaign bosses who approve these attack ads apparently believe with utmost sincerity that a voice which reminds one of Chester M. Lester, at large from the State Correctional Facility for Men Who Enjoy Pulling Down Little Girls' Underpants, will be interpreted by the populace as a herald of trustworthiness.
No. It's the fact that no matter where in the country you are, whatever the issue and regardless of party, the voiceover on the ads is always the same guy.
And that whoever the fellow is, he's been playing the Democrats, the Republicans and just about everyone else off against each other for the better part of the last forty years.
Attack ads do their job in that they're not going to endear anyone to Candidate Smith. But they hardly make for attractive election campaigns. Far from engaging people in the political process, the only person who's being turned on by these ads is ol' Chester. He's the real winner of every election since Johnson whipped Goldwater. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is Creepy Thing E.