Our TV screens have been invaded. Every election cycle has ads hailing politicians as the noble saviors of this great, yet sadly weakened nation.
But if we are to have such awe-inspiring heroes, they’ll need some dastardly villains to face off against. The opposing party disagrees with us, so we must show the people how horrible they truly are.
Even if we disagree with politicians, it is hard to make them appear completely abhorrent. Unless we just twist the facts and use appeals to emotion, attacking the candidates directly instead of their ideals or plans.
Attack ads are nothing new. The first notable example, often claimed as the turning point for this medium, occurred back in 1964, when Lyndon B. Johnson ran an ad against his Republican opponent. The ad showed a little girl picking flowers, with a countdown narrated over her actions. When the countdown hit zero, a nuclear explosion went off, implying that choosing Johnson’s opponent would lead to nuclear war.
This ad became notable not necessarily for the content, but because it expanded well beyond its original scope. Media outlets started to cover it as news, which brought the attention of the public. It became news and impacted public opinion.
Nowadays with the mass creation of Super PACs (Political Action Committees) flooding millions of dollars into political ad campaigns, these kinds of ads are more widespread than ever.
Just like in 1964, notable attack ads today get hosted on a variety of network and cable TV news channels. This magnifies their impact, said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania in an interview with NPR.
Super PACs add to the issue by creating a buffer between politicians and those who would try to hold them accountable for their actions.
Since a Super PAC can attack anyone and is not officially sponsored by a candidate, there are almost no consequences. If the ad receives criticism, it can be shifted from the candidate onto the Super PAC. If the ad is a success, the opponent is hurt and the candidate uplifted.
The problem is America does not want or need its politicians having a slap-fight over the airwaves. Talk about the issues. Talk about the facts. Talk about what you are going to do to help this country.
Stop using rhetoric-infused hyperbole. Stop talking about how your opponent once caused everyone in America to lose their jobs based on some dodgy statistics you twisted to fit your campaign.
Stop wasting our time.
Most people will agree that these ads are distasteful and represent the problems with politics today. So why do they still exist?
Part of the problem is that these ads tend to stick in people’s minds. We remember the negative things more easily than the positive.
The other side of the issue is how much media representation they get. On the same previously mentioned NPR broadcast, Vin Weber, a Republican consultant and former member of Congress talked about an ad against John Kerry in 2004. Although the ad was only broadcast to about 1 percent of the population, almost 80 percent claimed they had seen it, due to the amount of coverage it had been given by the media.
Just because a tactic is effective at persuading people does not make it ethically acceptable, or a good argument in a campaign. Attack ads make politicians seem dirty, and they don’t seem too eager to escape the stereotype.