I’ve been quiet long enough. Somebody must say it. The negative political ads must stop. Now.
More than ever, they just need to go away.
Notice I didn’t say “all” political ads must stop. Just the negative ones. The ones with the focus-group buzz words, labels and name-calling.
Please note, I have nothing against commercials. Whether you’re advertising used cars, retirement living or supermarket specials, I’m all for you. You make my paycheck possible, and I appreciate it.
But in a world filled with hatred, partisanship and anger, the last thing we need right now are candidates for our state and nation’s highest offices stooping ever lower by the day.
It’s nothing new, I know. Long before the age of high-powered, national-PAC funded consultants, politicians were slinging mud at each other.
In the early days of newspapers, cartoonists and pundits were questioning candidates’ heritage and morals. Our history books are filled with slogans and epithets, quite racy for the 19th century, accusing politicos of extramarital affairs, mixed-race romance and fathering children out of wedlock. Perhaps I should be thankful that the harshest labels that are thrown around today are usually “liberal” and “moderate.”
I grew up in Alabama, where four-term Gov. George Wallace successfully practiced, and later apologized for, incredibly nasty campaign tactics. He lost his first bid for governor, famously learning he had been beaten in the game of gutter politics, and vowed never to let that happen again.
Four years later, and many times after that, he took the much lower road. He never again lost a statewide election.
(Ironically, in 1982, while frail and in constant pain, he won his fourth and final term due to his sincere remorse about his previous tactics. He apologized to those he had offended and won enough of their votes to prevail.)
The national political consultants would never state this publicly, but they learned a valuable lesson from Wallace’s success: Many of us simply won’t to go to the polls to vote “for” someone. It takes a lot for us to get out of our easy chair, slip on some clothes, start the car and go vote. It isn’t enough, apparently, to cast a ballot for that nice man or that qualified lady. But give us a villain to vote against, and we’re on the way!
Some might argue, “What’s wrong with that?” Certainly, if two people are running for the same seat, and one of them is believed to be downright terrible, an “against” vote may be warranted. Surveys have shown that most of the votes cast in the 2016 presidential election were actually votes against either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.
But the current nonstop barrage of negativity can’t be good for our collective psyche. Doesn’t it sometime seem like these ads are written and produced on one big national assembly line, with a “fill in the blank” for the candidate’s names? This person is “the only true conservative.” Another person is “Trump’s best friend.” Still another is “Trump’s worst enemy.”
Photos of opposing candidates are edited to make them look evil and menacing. If candidate John Doe ever got a parking ticket, the negative ad is likely to say, “John Doe BREAKS THE LAW. Do you want a CRIMINAL representing you?”
There are some well-known elected officials who have said privately that they regret some of the advertising tactics that helped put them into office. In each case, they claim their campaign officials went too far, and in retrospect, they wish their tone had been more civil. But would they employ the same tactics again, if it meant the difference between winning and losing? We all know the answer to that. This successful strategy begs the question: is it their fault for dishing out the hateful words, or is it our fault for eating them up?
Even the few positive ads are factory-made, rubber stamp. Do all our political hopefuls wear plaid/checked shirts, carry guns, inherit their deep religious convictions from saintly parents, and somehow amass million dollar fortunes by “starting from scratch?” No doubt, some of this is real. But when you see it over and over, you start to wonder, don’t you?
If the constant bombardment of negative advertising bothers you as much as it does me, let’s agree to do something about it. Whether you see a candidate in person, or you prefer to send a letter or e-mail, or post on their Facebook page, you can tell them what I did.
Dear political candidate, I will NOT vote for anyone who runs a negative ad about another candidate. Just tell me what YOU will do to make my part of the world a better place. Do you want my vote? It’s that easy.
The ball is in your court. Only we can stop the noise.
David Carroll is a Chattanooga news anchor. You may contact him at 900 Whitehall Road, Chattanooga, TN 37405 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @davidcarroll3.