Blame Madison Avenue

As we find ourselves careening into yet another political season — this time the “midterm” elections — I can’t help but think about how much commercial television advertising has influenced plugs for political candidates.

And not for the best, in my opinion.

True, commercial ads have been around since the Republic was founded, and there has always been interplay with their political cousins. Television, however, upped the ante by allowing more sleight of hand, subliminal messages and outright misrepresentation.

For example: A man with a pained expression stares out from the screen, explaining that he has a splitting headache. He takes two capsules of Product X. When next seen, he is playing with his children, smiling and declaring “My headache’s gone!”

That’s inspiring. Yet if you read the tiny type at the bottom of the screen, it says “a simulation.”

The pained man is an actor. He didn’t really have a headache, and Product X didn’t really make it go away.

Many political ads do pretty much the same thing. They warn of a problem that doesn’t exist, then talk about how their candidate will solve it.

Then, there are the commercials that compare a product to a mythical horrible example. One that sticks in my mind touted a well-known muffler company. It showed a customer bringing his car into a shop filled with what looked like extras from “Deliverance.” The new muffler wouldn’t fit, so the most brutish of the group picked up a big hammer and roared: “I’ll make it fit!” as the customer looked on in horror.

Sure, the muffler company in the ad would be far better than those clowns, if they were real. But they are merely straw men.

The worst of the current political attack ads take a similar approach. I remember one that purported to show that a candidate’s opponent was soft on crime by photo-shopping him into a group of inmates, all actors.

If an ad makes a comparison between Candidate A and his opponent, Candidate B, that’s fair game. Likewise, if the ad points out some position held by Candidate B and states how Candidate A would do or see things differently.

But some of these ads attack the opponent while saying absolutely nothing about the favored candidate. In that case, it’s just a cheap ploy to put the other guy on the defensive while avoiding having to say anything about your own platform — if you even have one.

Finally, there is the commercial that shows gorgeous scenery, happy people, children and dogs, but only provides the slightest intimation of what product it is actually endorsing.

Politicians have perfected similar feel-good ads — the candidate with his or her family, shaking hands with obviously supportive constituents, etc.

The problem is, a candidate can be a wonderful family person but a lousy public servant. The two really have very little to do with each other. In fact, candidates for national office often hardly see their families for the eight months or so they’re chasing that job.

At the moment, my television set is broken, and I’ve been meaning to call the cable company about it.

Maybe I’ll just wait until December.


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