The Sorry State of Campaign Ads

An accurate depiction of the issue at hand.
The threatening music and menacing voiceover immediately grabs our attention. We are saddened to see hardworking Americans struggling with debt, and ask ourselves what monster subjected these innocent people to such hardship.

What’s that you say? Harry Reid? A monochromatic and sinister looking Reid stares back at us from the screen, as the doomsday voice informs us of his immigrant-loving, American-hating ways. After a short rundown of Reid’s immigrant policy, several arguably racist shots of immigrants and Americans, and a dozen melodramatic special effects, the voice enthusiastically announces: “Harry Reid: the best friend an illegal alien ever had.”

Does Harry Reid really hate American families? No. Do we have any insight into Sharron Angle’s policy stance on immigration? No. Are we slightly frightened? Well, I certainly am. Yet this exaggerated, scathing degradation of a fellow public official’s reputation is hardly uncommon in the run-up to the 2010 midterm elections.

The popularity of political attack ads, where the primary goal of the ad is to tear down the opponent’s character, is the highest to date, accounting for close to half of all political ads, according to the Associated Press.

If we consider that Democrats are reluctant to remind the electorate of their achievements due to the large swathes of angry and disgruntled Americans, or the fact that Republicans hardly have a party-wide, coherent set of ideals to run on, the emphasis on attack over actually promoting the stances of the candidate is not surprising.

As Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post put it, “The approach reflects a stark reality of this election cycle: going negative is the only way to turn the election from a referendum on Democratic control of Washington to a choice between two candidates. So, go negative—early, often and hard.”

This approach might be effective in the short term, but it promises to have far-reaching negative consequences for the nation and both the attacking and the attacked candidates.

As the country suffers through crises—both foreign and domestic—voter awareness of today’s issues and politicians’ stances on these issues is critical in alleviating rampant and widespread dissatisfaction with the federal government and coming up with solutions to such problems.

Attack ads, however, preclude rational discussion of an issue or how each candidate would address an issue. The disillusionment bound to develop in connection with candidates who are elected based on the perception that they are less evil than their opponent will only heighten Americans’ dissatisfaction with government.

Mike Willes, CEO of Deseret Media Companies, has recently launched a website that allows people to rate political ads in an effort to encourage candidates to focus on issues at hand to appeal to voters. He urges candidates to refrain from personal attacks, to maintain respect, and to strive to inform voters in general. “If you have a more informed electorate, in the long run, you will have better decision-making and better politicians,” he asserted in a recent interview.

Some think that the conservatives who viciously attack the healthcare bill will fight to repeal it. However, those who support the bill’s repeal may fail to consider that it is highly unlikely that Obama would repeal his own bill. Thus, politicians elected under the false pretense that they will repeal the bill will later face an angry electorate for not following through with their purported campaign goals.

Attack ads like this, from the 2004 Presidential Campaign, are not new to the 2010 campaign, but have frustratingly grown in popularity.

As Americans, we cannot allow politicians to capitalize on our fears to serve their own personal interests. With so many important issues facing the country today, we must reject the use of scare tactics and blatant lies in favor of open, informed discussions; we can scarcely afford to be ignorant about the political agendas of our representatives.

One of the most suspect examples of the targeted, manipulative attack ad can be seen in the particularly vicious battle between Reid and Angle, as illustrated above, which Politico journalist Manu Raju noted “seems to be ignoring the main problems in Nevada….Instead, this race seems to be turning on who can deliver the strongest and most effective punch”.

Electing candidates based solely on the soundness of their policies is the first step in solving the country’s problems. For this to happen, candidates must recognize and stop today’s destabilizing and uninformative attack ads.

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