Mudslinging is a political sport
Now that the mid-term elections are behind us, we can finally breathe a sigh of relief from the steady onslaught of negative ads that have become the weapons of choice for political candidates seeking to sway voters to their side. According to a Washington Post analysis, more than 80 percent of the money spent by independent groups and political parties during this election cycle has gone into advertising campaigns that oppose a candidate.
These ads portray the opposing candidate as a villain filled with turpitude. Many of the TV ads are characterized by showing the opponent through a dark lens filter, using an unflattering photograph Photoshop-doctored for sinister effects. The candidate's profile is set against a backdrop of ghoulish landscapes that look like a setting for a zombie movie. In a grim voice the narrator tells us in lurid detail all the horrific things the person has done while in office or will do if elected to office. Sufficiently warned of the coming Armageddon, we are encouraged to vote against the candidate. I emphasize against, because that's what attack ads are all about.
Most of the scripts in negative television, radio and print ads have an element, in varying degrees, of distortions, calumny and counterfactual information cleverly crafted to convince an audience that the person depicted is a threat to their very welfare. One has to make a conscious effort to separate fact from fiction.
Once these kinds of ads are set in motion, the competition has no alternative but to fight fire with fire. "You may not like the process and what it's doing, but you can't unilaterally disarm if the other side is doing it," said Richard Hoblt, a consultant for the Republican Party.
During this past campaign season, hundreds of millions of dollars were spent by super PACs, non-profits and unions. Additionally, over $100 million were spent by tax-exempt groups that are not required to divulge the source of contributions. By any standard that's a lot of money going into various information and news media outlets with ads attempting to convince us our vote should be based not on the merits of one candidate but rather on the corrupt and mendacious character of the opposing candidate.
Is this what elections have come to? Voting against a person cast as an ogre? I stubbornly cling to the notion that I should vote for a candidate who embodies my values and principles. I should be able to decide for whom to cast my ballot based on the trust I have in that person to make good law, respect and uphold the law, defend my rights and represent my interests in public office. If my candidate loses because a majority of the electorate voted for my candidate's opponent, so be it. I can only hope they made an informed decision before casting their ballots and their choice was not premised on some canard circulated to influence a gullible public. By the same token, if the candidate I support emerges victorious, I expect that person to carry out the promises and pledges that were made during the campaign and not succumb to the supercilious persona many of our elected officials have assumed.
It would truly be refreshing if, once elected to public office at any level, the successful candidate would dedicate his or her time and energy to making life better for his or her constituents rather than doing whatever it takes to make the business of politics a career. But maybe that's just the Pollyanna in me talking.
While you can, enjoy this quiet respite from the assault on your senses and sensibilities. But be prepared to once again brace yourself. Before you know it, candidates will once again be slinging mud at each other on the political battleground.