Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Rankest Pair of Sox in the Hamper

I doubt that anyone hates a negative political campaign more than I do. I even took a three or four election hiatus from voting some years ago out of disgust for the character of the advertising the two main parties were foisting upon us.

It hasn’t gotten any better but a number of wise people managed to convince me that I wasn’t accomplishing anything by not voting. Their idea is that, even among a hamper full of sweaty clothes, one pair of sox has to be less offensive than the others. So a good citizen is obligated to sort through the dirty laundry and find the least soiled of the stinking sox to wear for the next four years.

I find that logic compelling enough that I’ve lifted my ban on voting, for the time being at least. And I’m paying some attention to the “negative” ads that play incessantly on the TV screen and pop up in my computer. To paraphrase a famous contemporary politician, my thoughts on those ads have been evolving. In fact I’ve come to the conclusion that a positive political ad is, perhaps an oxymoron. If not an oxymoron, it is at least a sure path to political oblivion. I’ll explain.

If a candidate – at least in our era – were to simply put out ads, or make statements, that highlight his or her capabilities for public office but did not try to contrast them with the ideas, and abilities of his or her opponent he or she would be telling the voting public very little that they need to know. It may be well enough to pull out the first pair of sox from the hamper, sniff them, check for holes, and declare them suitable for the task. But a little more effort, and some caparison with others in the hamper might allow the wearer to win the business contract or woo the heart of the one they seek to impress.

So I’m making distinctions (sorting sox) between negativity now. And I am declaring negativity okay if it:

·       Makes comparisons of the two candidates based upon the best factual evidence available
·       Clearly identifies the sources of any critical (derogatory)  material affecting the opponent
·       Only focuses on issues relevant to the candidates’ worthiness for the office they seek
·       Does not distort issues or images using doctored photography, sinister sounding narrators, or “spooky” musical underscores
·       Avoids any suggestion that an opponent is deficient in loyalty to the United States unless they have been convicted of a felony related to matters of public interest

Based on those criteria there are few ads being run today that I find acceptable. It is rare that I hear an ad from either party of which I could not dispute the factuality. That should not be. And it is particularly irksome when a smiling candidate steps forward, in full color, at the end of a deeply sinister, darkened, and photo-shopped ad to tell me that he or she approves that message.

If we insist that negativity have a noble purpose – to contrast the abilities and proposals of two candidates – we may still lack rose scented politicians, but at least we have some hope that the one we get will not smell like the rankest pair of sox in the hamper.

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