Let the Voting Begin

by Carolyn Chase


Has anyone else noticed that advertisements are getting more and more absurd? On the threshold of the onslaught of political advertising - selling everything from "family values" to fear - why does anyone still believe paid propaganda? When I heard an ad on TV recently touting that a slice of American cheese contained "love and magic," -- I couldn't help but think that something is deeply wrong.

      Do we crave meaningless feel-good -- even if lying -- slogans? Sure! Reality is none too fun in comparison.

      Millions are about to be spent on self-serving political ads, with a lot of expectation that people are going to believe them -- and respond.

      Maybe they will respond -- by ignoring them and looking behind the campaign facades. Recent research has reported that, as millions of Americans turn to the choice-driven and connected context of the internet, they are turning away from the advertising-dominated one-way push of other media.

      As in Oz, when the curtain is drawn back, important truths are unconcealed. But campaigns and advertising turn more and more to rank salesmenship over substance because they believe that's what works with consumers. If it's good enough for cheese, if must be good enough for candidates, right?

      The term "self-serving ad" is repetitive because all ads are designed for one thing and one thing only -- to convince you to connect and take action based on that connection. Whether it's real or not is only a matter of interpretation.

      All those cars in TV-land ads are never shown in traffic. The "magic and love" of the cheese are somehow lost in the translation. The same is unfortunately true for political candidates seeking to weave polling research into market-based messages to move people -- whether or not those messages are consistent with what the candidate will care about, or even be able to do anything about, while in office.

      Voters are being treated just like consumers -- someone to be sold a bill of goods on any basis the sales team can identify. The old saying, Caveat Emptor, or Buyer Beware, should be equally if not more so applied to today's information-overloaded voters. Voters Beware! Unfortunately, candidates do not come with 30-day take-it-back warrantees.

      A recent mailer by candidate Linda Davis in District 1 stated, ""You may be aware that my opposition is now running a very negative campaign." There was no evidence offered to support this statement. It went on to state, "I will NOT run a negative campaign -- period."

      I wonder if lying about one's opponent qualifies are "going negative"? Maybe it's actually being negative.

      I especially wouldn't believe anything coming in the last few days before the election. This is ground zero for inflammatory "hit and run" pieces, where opposing campaigns don't have time to respond.

      Davis has a history of such an approach. In her past campaign for State Assembly, Davis referred questions to political consultants Bob Schuman and John Hoy, who created a misleading and false mailer on her behalf.

      Arriving in mailboxes too late for a response, according to the Union-Tribune article at the time, "Schuman and Hoy admitted the charge is false but expressed no remorse." They evidently felt justified at sharing their suspicions with voters -- regardless of the fact suspicion is not exactly a decent public standard. Smear pieces with half-truths are seen as justifiable attempts to gain ground.

      In District 7, Jim Madaffer and Deanna Spehn agreed to sign a "Clean Campaign Pledge" stating, "I hereby, pledge to run a clean campaign, a campaign on the issues. I agree to allow my opponent to view all campaign mailing and print publications 48 hours before mailing and/or publication." While not perfect -- what if an opponent objects to your mailer? -- it could at least allow for some response and help blunt an unfair "sneak attack."

      Politics is an arena where people are confronted with truly demonstrating the content of their character. How far will they go to attempt to get power?

      One of the basic conundrums of politics is that those who are most successful in the warlike campaign mill process are not necessarily well suited when it comes to being effective at day-to-day governance and the representation and reconciliation of the needs of thousands of people and all that entails.

      What is a politician's real day-to-day job? Dealing with conflict resolution between parties in attempting to determine the public good. Too often it is dominated by equating the public good with self-serving special interests.

      But there's no getting around the fact that the daily fiber of politics is about how officials choose between conflicting interests. Do they reconcile them? On what basis do they choose? Who gets access to power and resources, and why? How do they deal with losses? Do they forgive and forget, or hold grudges?

      Unfortunately, these human aspects of any candidate's skill-set tend to be the least revealed. In an era where we are overloaded with information, it's even easier to miss the subtle clues about who a candidate behind the campaign facade really is.

      At this point, I wouldn't believe anything on any political ad or mailer if I didn't follow-up to understand what was the substance behind the allegations. Thank goodness, the internet does allow for more direct connections to citizens and other involved groups, in addition to the campaigns.

      The "absentee chase" begins today when voters can take control of the timing of their civic duty and vote by mail. The Registrar of Voters kindly provides the names and addresses of all the voters requesting absentee ballots. Campaign then "chase" the ballots to insert their messages into the decision-making thinking of the early voters. With well approximately 30% of San Diego voters casting ballots prior to election day, and with the numbers rising steadily, the cascade of paid propaganda begins this week.

      If weary voters respond to last-minute charges, smears or even just feel-good appeals, they will only deserve the representatives that they get.