(I wrote this a few years ago and it was published in Michigan Lawyers Weekly. I know the election isn't until tomorrow. However, as this post has some general observations about political ads, I have some specific things I'd like to say about specific ads from this Michigan election cycle. I'll wait until after the election to post those observations).
Now that this election cycle has ended, I can say that we all have come out winners. Because our party’s candidates were elected? I don’t know and don’t care. Because the voice of the people has again been heard in this great land of ours, etc.? No, sir. The citizens of this country have won because the endless barrage of TV political attack ads has now ceased. Well, almost entirely. As always happens, some small local TV or radio station will re-run an ad 7 days after the election, outlining, in strident tones, the many personal and professional shortcomings of Candidate A. Unfortunately, this reprobate is now Congressional Representative A. Hope the station’s license isn’t up for renewal soon.
Anyway, we can all breathe a collective sigh of relief as our airwaves are turned over to holiday ads for various Chia creatures, Ginsu knives, Inside the Egg Scramblers and Sea Monkeys. Sad to say, I think that the folks who try to sell us these things deal more honestly with the public than the producers of current political ads.
I don’t know if negative campaigning is just becoming increasingly prevalent, or if I am just getting generally more intolerant as I grow older. In recent years I have become more tolerant of my inability to say no to dessert, to exercise every day, and to keep my lawn weed-free. So, I am persuaded that the ads have become worse.
Notice how the average political attack ad nowadays doesn’t even mention the name of the candidate you are supposed to vote for. Just convince the public that Candidate B is the biggest rat since Al Capone (no disrespect intended, Al), and they won’t care who they vote for (even a modern day Dutch Schultz), as long as they are voting against Candidate B. Obviously, this tactic only works well in a two candidate race. Otherwise the public might elect the first Whig since William Henry Harrison in 1840.
Attack ads have become so prevalent that every candidate, sadly, feels some compulsion to use them. Candidate C feels he can’t just ask for your vote, after telling you what a good job he wants to do. No one seems to want to take the high road. No candidate feels safe assuming the American public can make considered, reasoned judgments on the issues of the day.
A typical ad production session might go like this:
AD MAN: “Well, here are some examples of campaign slogans that have been successful historically, and I thought we might want to tailor them to our campaign.”
POL 1: “ Let’s hear ‘em.”
AD MAN: “Tippecanoe and Tyler, too.” Presidential campaign of 1840. Got Harrison and Tyler elected.”
POL 2: “Mentions Vice-Presidential candidate, too? Too much information. Too cerebral. It will just confuse the voters. Sounds goofy, too. Hate it. Move on.”
AD MAN: “I Like Ike.”