Friday, November 03, 2006

Trash Talk

The Associated Press was reporting with more than a week to go until Election Day that the major parties had spent nearly $160 million in ads attacking congressional candidates, compared to $17 million spent on ads with a positive message.

As AP reported, that's nearly $10 of nasty for every dollar of nice.

Anyone who has been watching the ads in state races in Wisconsin knows that the ratio might very well be worse here.

The professional political consultants who drive the strategic decisionmaking – and the ad buys – privately admit that campaigns are getting a diminishing return on each ad because viewers are increasingly tuning out the unrelentingly trashy messages. The campaigns' response to less bang for each buck? Raise even more money and buy even more ads.

The mantra of the political pros is that negative advertising is so prevalent because it is so effective. Yeah, sure they work. They make people a helluva lot more negative about politics and politicians. They make people hold their noses and choose between the lesser of evils.

If airlines advertised the way politicians do, would anyone in America fly again?

The candidates and their handlers can't seem to see beyond Election Day. They see negative ads as their ticket to office, but then when they get there they must realize that the public sees them as something between used car salesmen and child molesters. The way they are attaining power cripples them, undermining the very thing their legitimacy as elected officials depends on. Voter trust.

Going negative may be getting them elected, but it's also making it next to impossible for them to govern. I think the bosses at the Capitol are smart enough to see that. Which brings me to the real reason they can't get their campaigns out of the gutter. It's not that negative ads are so effective. It's that they're easy. It's far easier to tear something down than to build it in the first place. And it's far easier to trash an opponent than to inspire people.

Today's ads are a reflection of the poverty that grips our democracy. The greatest tragedy of our times is the absence of political leaders with the capacity to inspire.


Anonymous said...

You are one of the folks who made it OK to call the other guy corrupt and a crook at the drop of a hat. It was totally inevitable that such trash talk dominates this cycle - you and yours started it. A candidate gets a contribution from another district, that's "special interest" money meaning the candidate's corrupt. Raise too much money, same thing, and so on.

You make a living convincing the public that all officials are greedy and crooked. Why are you so surprised at the tone of the campaign?

Anonymous said...

Well, Gee, virtually all (state) officials ARE greedy and crooked. How they can stand to live their life in this swamp is puzzling. They like the status quo and refuse to clean up the system. They deserve the reputation they have and the voters deserve the government they've elected.

Anonymous said...

Looks like Mike has a habit of calling the kettle black. No one in Wisconsin is more guilty of trashing elected officials than is McCabe, he actually makes a very good living doing exactly what he protests against.

Anonymous said...

The sky is falling! The sky is falling! Can you write us a check? The fact is that the overwhelming majority of officials intend and try to follow the law. But, to do their jobs they need to get elected which means they need to raise money.

This lazy bumpersticker thinking, e.g., they're all crooks, is simply childish; it avoids looking at the real institutional problems; and it does a hell of a lot more to foster public cynicism than the actual conduct of officials does. If I were going to create an organization to discourage citizen participation and awareness it would look a lot like the WDC and it would hire a lobbyist a lot like McCabe who would relentlessly spew way over the top generalizations and misleading accusations of "corruption."

When an honest person wants to work in government to better his or her community, you folks are as big an obstical as other "special interest."