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The Cold Filtered Ramblings of Gene Mueller

Complaining about negative political ads?

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It's getting harder and harder to watch TV these days.

The shows are fine (America's appetite for so-called "reality" fare continues to confound, but that's the subject of another blog) but the ads in between are making real-time viewing a chore.

Negative ads abound for candidates of both parties and run back-to-back-to-back.   It's national and it's local.  They even show up on YouTube, where a 30 bash serves as your unwanted introduction to that day's must-see viral video.

There's no escape, and no end, at least not until Election Day.   How much gets spent on such commercials, you ask?  And why do candidates insist on using negative ads.

The answers: gobs.  And, because they work.

Two political reporters said as much on the local Sunday morning talk show I dipped into today, and I know so because I asked one of the candidates.

I had the honor of being on a Milwaukee Press Club panel asking questions of Republican Senate candidate Tommy Thompson.   I got to lead off, and my first question went something like this: how could Democrat Tammy Baldwin build such an impressive post-primary lead over you, considering the strength of the Thompson political brand in Wisconsin?

Thompson said he was broke after surviving a heated GOP run-off, and had to "go dark" on TV.   Baldwin, he claims, was able to unleash a batch of negative ads and was helped by outside money to, as Thompson put it, lie about him.   And, he says, it worked.  

Your eyes can tell you what happened since: Thompson was able to re-establish a media presence and battle back to the point where the race is now virtually tied.   Thompson and his special interests returned to TV with a vengeance and they're using the same negative approach Baldwin did.

You watch.  You absorb.  And sadly, you respond.  Just the way the founding fathers drew it up, right?

True, our constitutional authors couldn't foresee mass media, electronic marketing, robo-calls and other must-have-in-the-candidate-toolbox weapons needed to mount a campaign.  True as well is the fact that lies, distortions and negativity were part of the electoral landscape since Burr dueled Hamilton.

You'd think we'd be more sophisticated by now.   You'd think we'd be beyond such pandering.  You'd think we'd demand more.   And, we do--people will say they want honest debate, that we'll do our own research and make our own decisions.  Sadly, the numbers show that many of us let the ads shape our decisions, turning what should be a proud constitutional exercise devolve into a pinch-your-nose-and-vote-for-the-person-you-despise-the-least chore.

It's on us to not just demand better, but to prove we won't accept anything else.   Until then, it's back to your regularly scheduled program, already in politically-distorted progress.

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