As we come up on the midterm elections on Tuesday, the electorate is bombarded by television and radio ads and if you drive anywhere on Scottsdale’s Scottsdale Road the ubiquitous campaign signs blight the otherwise beautiful Sonoran landscape. Even in the Arizona Voter’s Guide, where the candidates are given an opportunity to state why they deserve your vote, half the candidates (almost exclusively the Republican candidates) use the space to attack their opponents. And the relentless television ads wouldn’t be so bad if there were at least some variety. Unfortunately, the political ad selection playlist is as limited as Sirius-XM or Top 40 channels when it comes to playing something other than Taylor Swift.
So the electorate is already numb thanks to the relentless campaign advertisements, almost all of them negative, life is full of distractions and priorities and the time to research the candidates and ballot issues is often the first thing to get cut. The biggest threat to a Democracy is an ignorant electorate and when the electorate is mentally bludgeoned from non-stop adverts and distractions, folks will be swayed by the sound bite and video clip.
And this is exactly what campaign operators and managers hope for to win an election. Campaigns have been won or lost based on a phrase or a comment, and it is even more critical considering that every cell phone is an audio and video recorder and every public and private appearance an opportunity to get caught. Whether it was George Allen’s 2006 “macaca” moment, Christine O’Donnell’s “I dabbled in witchcraft.”, or the Todd Akin “the female body has a way to shut it down”, candidates are often their own worst enemy. And I haven’t even mentioned what can happen on social media, am I right Congressman Weiner?
But what if there really isn’t a moment or gaffe that the campaign can sink its teeth into? Well it can always manufacture something and the best way to do so is take something out of context.
Exhibit 1: "I want individuals to have their own insurance," Romney said. "That means the insurance company will have an incentive to keep you healthy. It also means if you don’t like what they do, you can fire them. I like being able to fire people who provide services to me. You know, if someone doesn’t give me a good service that I need, I want to say I’m going to go get someone else to provide that service to me." The highlighted words would be used over and over as part of the mosaic portraying Romney as a heartless vulture capitalist. However, when looking in full context, who wouldn’t want the freedom to choose their insurance company, amongst other things.
Exhibit 2: “If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.” The above was from a speech by President Obama in Roanoke, Virginia in 2012, and the highlighted text was immediately yanked out of context by the GOP and used to reinforce the Obama is an anti-business socialist and that government does it all. Clearly, when looking at the full context, the president was making the point that businesses cannot succeed without government infrastructure investment.
Exhibit 3: "And don't let anybody, don’t let anybody tell you, that, you know, it's corporations and businesses that create jobs. You know, that old theory, trickle-down economics. That has been tried. That has failed. It has failed rather spectacularly. You know, one of the things my husband says, when people say, ‘What did you bring to Washington?’ He says, ‘Well, I brought arithmetic.’ And part of it was, part of it was, he demonstrated why trickle-down should be consigned to the trash bin of history. More tax cuts for the top and for companies that ship jobs overseas while taxpayers and voters are stuck paying the freight just doesn't add up.” This sound bite was pulled from a recent Hillary Clinton speech where she was making the point that cutting corporate taxes will not increase jobs. Of course this was seized by the right that Hillary was actually saying only government can create jobs. In fact, with 70% of the U.S. economy coming from consumer spending one could argue that it’s you and me that create the jobs. But at the heart of the matter is corporations are not here to create jobs and reducing their tax burden will only swell their margins just as the inappropriately named American Jobs Act of 2006, that allowed repatriation of foreign earnings at lower tax rates and did nothing to increase jobs.
Exhibit 4: "Even as we face the most serious economic crisis of our time, even as you are worried about keeping your jobs or paying your bills or staying in your homes, my opponent's campaign announced earlier this month that they want to ‘turn the page’ on the discussion about our economy so they can spend the final weeks of this election attacking me instead," Obama said in the speech. "Sen. McCain's campaign actually said, and I quote, ‘If we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose.’" This may be the nuttiest one of them all as the 2012 Romney campaign actually took a 2008 Obama speech and tried to take John McCain’s words and pawn them off as the president’s. Out of context and off the charts. And when confronted about it, the shameless Romney campaign just shrugged it off.
An apathetic and dispirited electorate leads to low voter turnout, and it is likely 2014 will not break the 40% turnout level like every other midterm election since 1970. Are Americans sick and tired of the Blitz Campaign Barrage? Are those that plan on voting influenced by misinformation campaigns and ads like those referenced above? When so many people are relying on cable news and cable news has become partisan PR entities, there really isn’t an escape from the noise, lies, and confusion, but that’s no excuse. Voting is a right and educating oneself is the voter’s responsibility. Yes it takes effort to fight through the BS and come to your own conclusions.
As Lou Reed said “Don't believe half of what you see and none of what you hear.” Now I need to find out more about this campaign sign, Milhaven, and those drunks.