by J. F. Kelly, Jr. | Coronado

Election campaigns have a certain entertainment value but I’d rather undergo a root canal than watch a month’s worth of political commercials on TV. Most of them are totally devoid of redeeming social or educational value. Our brains will become numbed by an endless barrage of silly political ads, most of them repetitious and many juvenile enough to be insulting to the intelligence of those that are even moderately well-informed on the pertinent issues. Trouble is, that leaves a very large percentage of those who are not.

These folks haven’t the time, interest or energy to read up on the issues and rely instead on paid political ads often containing sound bites taken out of context, corny dramatizations and muck-raking. Such people are, of course, the principal target audience for the political ad writers whose value is measured by their success in manipulating voters. We learn from an early age that voting is more than just a right; it is a responsibility. But is it being responsible to vote for something one doesn’t understand? Becoming informed on the issues as best we can is surely the greater responsibility.

Political ad writers love to use dramatizations to get their sales pitches across, using actors to portray ordinary, sensible people like us. It tends to be effective in selling merchandise and services and it apparently also seems to work in selling politicians and propositions. Viewers tend to identify with the actors who are invariably attractive, cool and persuasive. But dramatizations are not reality and they provide a poor basis for voting decisions.

Attack ads intended to destroy or discredit the opponent are a poor substitute for political messages that focus on the issues and describe how the candidate himself can make a difference. Polls show that mainstream voters and independents are increasingly turned off by savage personal attacks. Voters whose minds are not already made up want to know about what a candidate has to offer, not about the personal shortcomings of his or her opponent from someone who has a vested interest in making that opponent look bad. Voters can determine those shortcomings objectively, all by themselves.

Most irritating of all are the political ads for or against ballot measures. California leads the way here. There are nine on the current ballot. The titles often bear little relation to what the measure would accomplish or prevent and capture the interest of gullible voters with righteous sounding titles like “Save our schools” or “Save our children”. Who but a bad person wouldn’t want these things? Problem is, the proposition may have little to do with either outcome. The wording of proposition titles can be grossly misleading, leading voters to support something quite different from what they presumed from the title.

Sponsors of such ads who deliberately contrive the wording of ballot measures to deceive voters deserve to have those measures rejected by the voters, whatever the merits of the measure. Voters should read the legislative analyses in the official voter information guide and form their own conclusions. A wealth of information on a measure may also be available on the internet, but consider the source of the information before relying on it..

Ads that depict opponents in unflattering poses or looking guilty or confused may also be a sign of a candidate who does not have a convincing message of his own or who is trying to deflect attention away from his own shortcomings. The TV ad showing gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman with a long and lengthening nose provides a current example. Finally, name-calling is usually the last resort of a candidate who has run out of convincing arguments.

Millions are spent on campaign ads representing, in my view, a tremendous waste of resources. For the most part, the political “messages” they pay for provide a biased and distorted basis for voting decisions. From the standpoint of the voters, the money would be far better spent on debates and town hall style meetings where the candidates have to think on their feet, but, unfortunately, since we are a nation very much conditioned by what we see and hear on TV, that’s where much of the campaign spending goes.

Voting is indeed a responsibility in a democracy but it isn’t nearly enough just to vote. The greater responsibility by far is to become informed on the issues. The future of our communities, states and country depends upon an enlightened electorate. Don’t rely on political ads for objective information. They are designed, not primarily to inform, but rather to sell you a product, namely a politician or a proposition. Do your own research. Tune out those juvenile dramatizations. They are not reality. Don’t be influenced by sound bites without first putting them in context. Don’t be manipulated by the ad writers. Think for yourself. Your vote is too important to let them do the thinking for you.


copyright 2010 J.F. Kelly, Jr

J.F. Kelly, Jr. is a retired Navy Captain and bank executive who writes on current events and military subjects. He is a resident of Coronado, California.

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