Thursday, October 07, 2010

One Way Out Of This Mess

Doesn't matter who you talk to. Neighbor. Co-worker. Stranger on a street corner. Ask them about political ads on TV. Here's what you hear: "Can't stand 'em." "Don't watch them." "Never pay any attention to that garbage." "I change the channel as soon as I see one."

Of course many if not most who say that are lying. If no one is watching the ads, how does anyone in Wisconsin know who Ron Johnson is, much less support him? He has no public record to examine because he's never held any public office. He's never even sought one before. In his current bid for U.S. Senate, there haven't been any candidate debates yet. Johnson has avoided media interviews like the plague.

His campaign has consisted of TV ad after TV ad after TV ad. If no one's paying attention to the TV ads, no one would know Ron Johnson exists.

To seriously compete for public office in our country nowadays, you have two options: Have a personal fortune or be willing to take out a second mortgage on your soul. Either way, you spend a bundle and people conclude you bought the office. One way, we end up with a House of Multi-Millionaires. The other, a House of Whores. This is the Cash-22 of contemporary American politics.

Voters have it in their power to break us free of this wretched plight. All the money is needed to pay for TV air time. If people really and truly would do what they say they do already, namely ignore the ads completely, it wouldn't take that long for candidates and their operatives to figure out that spending boatloads on TV is a colossal waste of money. They would be forced to innovate, to come up with new ways to reach voters. They would have no choice but to debate and do media interviews.

And we would have something more closely resembling an actual democracy.


Anonymous said...

I don't watch TV and don't see the ads (thank God!). BUT, I still know about the candidates and their ads thanks to the fact that the media report on the ads more than they report on the facts behind them.

blurondo said...

I've suggested on other occasions, that all TV political ads should be banned during the 60 days prior to election day.
The electorate would be saved from the 60 second hot button messages that are nothing but exaggerations and hyperbole.
This could even lead to the re-birth of the newspapers.

Anonymous said...

As someone who is now working on a campaign, I'm more sympathetic to the people putting these ads out than Mike is.

If you want people to vote for you, how do you let them know who you are and what you stand for? Or who your opponent is and what s/he stands for?

Sure, you can mail out campaign literature, but there's nothing about printed material that makes it inherently more honest or in-depth than a TV ad. And I suspect that the people who are complaining about TV ads probably just send the campaign lit directly into the recycle bin.

It seems to me that the fundamental problem is that people want all the advantages of living in a democracy (or a kinda-sorta-democracy) but don't want to put up with any of the irritating aspects of democracy, like TV ads, or annoying people knocking on your door asking you who you're going to vote for, or strangers leaving pieces of paper in your screen door.

I'm for full public financing and requiring all media to run political ads for free. But that might result in more ads rather than less, and there's no guarantee the quality of the ads would be any better.

Anonymous said...

Previous comments says "If you want people to vote for you, how do you let them know who you are and what you stand for? Or who your opponent is and what s/he stands for?"

Since when do TV ads tell us much of anything about where a candidate honestly stands? And when's the last time an ad by one candidate come even close to accurately describing what an opponent stands for?

I agree there's nothing about printed material or any other kind of campaign message that makes it inherently more truthful or believable. But the thing about those other forms of campaigning is that they can be done at a fraction of the cost of TV ads.

The biggest problem with TV ads is not their dismal content. It's their cost. TV is what has turned American politicians into glorified street walkers.

Mike McCabe said...

It should be noted that America stands alone among the world's major democracies as the only one without some system of free air time for candidates. Go here to see the list of countries that allow candidates to communicate with voters via the public airwaves without paying and the much shorter list of nations that don't.

Anonymous said...

I agree that a big problem with TV ads is their cost and how that drives all the campaign fundraising and election spending, which in turn produces government corruption. But to me, the biggest problem with them is their content. Can you imagine what would happen to car sales if auto manufacturers advertised the way politicians do? Toyota...can't be trusted not to kill you.

The politicians are slitting their own throats with their ads.

Anonymous said...

From an earlier comment:

"Since when do TV ads tell us much of anything about where a candidate honestly stands? And when's the last time an ad by one candidate come even close to accurately describing what an opponent stands for?"

Well, let's take Russ Feingold as an example. If Ron Johnson says that sending jobs overseas is "creative destruction," should Feingold tell the voters about that? If so, how?

Or let's go back to 2004. Would it have been fair for the Kerry campaign to run a 30 second ad saying George W. Bush started an unnecessary war that led to the deaths of more than a million people?

I don't have a problem with negative ads, as long as they're factually accurate. But determining whether an ad is accurate is obviously more work than just reacting to its negativity.

Yes, I'll agree that lots of TV ads -- and especially the negative ones -- are dishonest, take quotes out of context, misrepresent an elected official's past votes, etc. But elections are really the only opportunity we have to hold elected officials accountable, and what other mechanism do we have to do this?

Anonymous said...

Other commentators have frequently asked what other mechanism other than TV ads and debates might be sources of information about the candidates. Let us remember when real candidates traveled from city to city or town to town to talk to the public, not just invited audiences, about their positions on various issues.
We didn't live in so much of a privatized, almost police state, environment where those running for election actually feared much of the public they claimed to want to represent.