Attack Ads and the Culture of Corruption
From the television ads for the 50th district California congressional election, we learn that Francine Busby, the Democrat candidate encourages child pornography while Brian Bilbray, the Republican, is responsible for people dying from the food supplements. But wait, there are other ads. Here’s one showing Bilbray courageously mounting a Bulldozer to personally push back sewage from Mexico. Here’s another one with Busby describing how she will personally change the culture of corruption in Washington.
Let’s talk about a paradox in national opinion polls. When asked about the performance of congress, less than 25% are satisfied. Yet when asked about their own member of congress they love him, with approval rate well over 50% Congress is made up of these elected members of congress. They pass the laws, make the rules and define the traditions with absolute autonomy. Yet, voters continue to admire the people who create a product, our laws, or lack thereof, that they abhor. What is going on here?
Just what kind of a system allows public figures to avoid the consequences for the defective quality of their output. The ads that are running on every local station for this election tell the story. You see, once you make a commitment, once you cast your vote for your choice for office, the very process is an affirmation that it is the other guy, the other party, that represents all that is wrong with Congress. Simplify and vilify. It works for grabbing an audience for a B movie, and it works for selecting a candidate with thirty second sound bites.
Readers of this page would prefer a more reasoned process of electing candidates. What is unfortunate is that right now there isn’t one. Because of the prevalence of sound bite campaigns designed for those who buy into it, there is a defensiveness against doing or saying anything that would provide material for these sound bites. This makes actual discussion by candidates about solutions to the real issues that face us impossible.
It is only in the fantasy land of thirty second ads that solutions to actual problems are painless. Years ago, projections were available showing increasing demand for oil from developing countries, while we knew that all of our supplies came from politically vulnerable regions. Our use of oil could only be curtailed by mandated conservation or increasing the cost of petroleum products through selective taxation. Both of these solutions became fodder for sound bite vilification so they were excluded from the political lexicon, unless it was to tar a poor unfortunate who did not get the word. No pain then, but now there is plenty, each time we fill up our tank.
It is the same now with the deficit. There are only two ways to cut it, by reducing expenditures or increasing revenue. Well there is another way, which is when tax cuts stimulate the economy leading to increased tax revenues. But this has limits, or else zero taxation would bring the highest revenues and we would all live happily ever after.
Actually doing either of the two viable choices, raising taxes or decreasing services, would exact a political cost, so they are not done, or even considered. Happy talk replaces the process of making choices. And even if you try to find out what a candidate stands for, it is nearly impossible.
The attack ads run by both major party candidates in this election is an integral part of the pathological partisanship that distorts our national legislature. Since these ads do not give in-depth information about the candidate’s positions, they gain effectiveness by repetition in the most expensive media. The money for these ads come either from special interests, from the left or from the right, who are rewarded by favorable legislation The problem with this type of campaigning is not esthetic. It leads to laws that are as distorted as the depictions of opposition candidates.
A book has just been published entitled, Fightclub Politics, how partisanship is Poisoning the House of Representatives, that begins to describe how far this institution has fallen from the ideal. It will not be fixed by those who are benefiting from the status quo, the entrenched incumbents of both parties and the special interests that feed the divisive campaigns that keep them in power.
Change will only come from an active citizenry who are willing to demand something better .