I’ve said it before, but I must say it again. The negative political ads must stop.
Notice I didn’t say “all” political ads. Just the negative ones. The ones with the focus-group political action committee buzz words, scare tactics, and name-calling.
Some of you are being spared, for now. But if you are blessed (and I sincerely mean that) to live in Georgia, or any state that borders Georgia, you are being barraged with nonstop nastiness.
The U.S. Senate runoff elections have put Georgia in the national spotlight. These races will determine which party will control the Senate, so their importance cannot be understated.
But according to many of the political strategists, Georgia voters might stay home unless they are agitated into a lather to vote “against” one candidate or the other.
Please note, I have nothing against commercials. Whether you’re advertising comfortable underwear, Medicare coverage, or reverse mortgages, I’m all for you. Even if I’m not interested, I’m glad Tom Selleck is getting some work.
But in a world filled with partisanship and anger, we do not need candidates for our nation’s highest offices stooping ever lower by the day.
This is nothing new. Long before the age of high-powered consultants, politicians had plenty of mud to sling. In the 1800s, newspapers were filled with cartoonists and pundits slamming those who dared run for office. Our history books are filled with colorful slogans and epithets, accusing politicos of extra-marital affairs, mixed-race romance, and fathering children out of wedlock. Perhaps I should be thankful that the harshest labels we see today are usually “radical” and “criminal.”
I grew up in Alabama, where four-term Governor George Wallace famously engaged in down-and-dirty warfare. In 1958, he lost his first bid for governor, having been beaten in the game of gutter politics, and he vowed never to let that happen again. Four years later, and many times after that, he took the very low road. He never again lost a statewide election.
(In 1982, while frail and in constant pain, he won his final election after expressing remorse about his old tactics. He apologized to those he had offended, and won enough of their votes to prevail.)
The political kingmakers would never state this publicly, but they learned a valuable lesson from Wallace’s winning streak: many of us simply won’t to go to the polls unless we are motivated by anger. It takes a lot to get us out of our easy chair, start the car, and go vote. It isn’t enough, apparently, to simply “like” that nice man, or that qualified lady. But give us someone we can fear and/or hate, and we’re on the road.
You 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 past two presidential elections were intended to be statements against either Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, or Donald Trump.
But this cannot be good for our collective psyche. It seems 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 “the only one who can stop them from stealing your money.” They drop a lot of big names, including Trump, Pelosi, Giuliani, and Schumer. Wait a minute. I thought we were voting for someone in Georgia?
Photos of the opposing candidate are edited to make them look evil and menacing. If John Doe ever forgot to return a library book, the stern announcer will say, “John Doe BREAKS THE LAW. Do you want a CRIMINAL representing you?”
Some elected officials admit they regret some of the ads that helped them win. They say their campaign officials went too far, and now 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 begs the question: is it their fault for dishing it out, or is it our fault for lapping it up?
Even some of the positive ads are factory-made. Do these candidates really wear ball caps and plaid shirts, and somehow amass vast fortunes by “starting from scratch?” Maybe. But it makes me wonder.
Despite these ads, It’s perfectly all right to support someone because you agree with their platform and beliefs. But that doesn’t mean you approve of their messages.
If the noise and name-calling are offensive to you, do something. Whether you see a candidate in person, or you post on their Facebook page, encourage them to follow the advice of that classic 1970s hit: “Tell Me Something Good.”
(David Carroll, a Chattanooga news anchor, is the author of “Volunteer Bama Dawg,” available on his website, ChattanoogaRadioTV.com. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 900 Whitehall Road, Chattanooga, TN 37405)