This is not a post about the rotting pile of rat carcasses that is political advertising. I’ll let the media pundits, those same people who make wads of cash off the controversies ignited by those ads, criticize them without acknowledging a shred of the hypocrisy that oozes out of their mouths like puss out of an infected boil.
No, this post is about something even more disturbing. It’s about what the ads tell us about the candidates and, consequently, about ourselves.
First, the candidates. The underlying theme of all political ads is “different”. No matter how it’s voiced – change, new direction, new perspective, outsider, experienced – it is all about being different. Which it should be given that it’s advertising. But consider this. Do any of the candidates actually sound different in their ads? What’s their tone? The sights and sounds? The texture of the message?
Do any of the candidates actually behave differently in how they run their campaigns? How’s their attitude toward their opponents? Is there honesty and integrity in how they conduct themselves? Do they admit mistakes or consider that their opponent might be right about something? (Of course not! That would be admitting weakness! Waffling if you will! We can’t have any one in office with the wisdom to change their mind!)
Now let’s draw some conclusions. Since each candidate assures us that they approve their messages, and the purpose of advertising is to make us believe in them, I believe that it is entirely appropriate to assume that we are getting the best image that they can project of themselves as well as a great peek into their management style and skill.
So, if we are getting an accurate representation of our candidates in their ad campaigns (at the most basic level they sound and behave the same) and we are getting an accurate representation of their qualities as leaders (yell at their adversaries, twist the truth to their own advantage and get defensive when the tables are turned), why, why, why do we believe that they will be any different from the ones who came before?
They tell us outright, through their actions, “We are all the same.” Yet, we continue to elect people after having witnessed the train wreck that was their campaign and expect them to magically become new people once the election is over. They won’t. They prove it to us every election cycle. Actions. That’s how you truly know a person’s soul.
What does this say about us? It’s not good.
How depressing it is that we force fellow citizens who have decided (maybe against their better instincts and the advice of every person close to them) to pursue public service, to pimp themselves in this manner. Because of our small mindedness, shortsightedness, need to assign blame, and receive immediate gratification, absolution and justification, we force good people to behave inconsistent with who they are as human beings. Sure, there are probably some who glorify in the mudslinging side of politics and can’t think of anything better than beating down an opponent with lies or wielding their power for personal gain (etc., etc.) but my bet is that most don’t (or at least don’t start out that way) and that it causes many sleepless nights.
Man, it’s easy to complain, isn’t it. Sit back on our couches and snipe at whoever we don’t like and ridicule whoever we don’t agree with. It’s easy to name the problem – when it’s someone or something else. That’s it isn’t it? It’s never me, its always you. But guess what? The problem, people, is not politicians. Or the media. Or special interests. Or the left. Or the right. Or whatever other boogieman you want to name. The problem is looking back at us in the mirror. We have allowed the current situation to be. We have happily relinquished responsibility for our democracy to those who would cynically use it and abuse it because it is easier that way. We complain every two years and then go back to the same behaviors that got us here in the first place. Hit reset. Start a new game.
So what do we do? Hell if I know. What I’ve just written is a look inside my thinking – which comes from personal observation and experience. What I do know is that until we each take responsibility to ferret out the truth, to understand the issues beyond the sound bites and manipulative marketing, it’s only going to get worse. Until we demand political advertising that is respectful of our democracy and our vote, it won’t get any better.
Now I’ve got to go home and watch reruns of Family Guy.