As we near the climax of yet another federal, state and local election campaign, we are bombarded again by the pundits, columnists, editors, bloggers and various organizations and citizens criticizing the dirty politics of mudslinging and attack ads. As echoed every two years since the 1790s, this election is described the dirtiest, sleaziest and most uncivil, by far, in history.
While obviously, my personal experience does not predate the 20th century (my earliest memory of election was President Roosevelt v. New York's Gov. Thomas E. Dewey in 1944), in all honesty, I have noted little difference in personal attack ads in more than 60 years. I suppose the allegations of increased odious behavior are based primarily on either media stoked controversy or whose ox is being gored; nevertheless, the conduct of political elections is all too predictable.
This is hardly an endorsement of unprofessional and offensive campaign tactics. I agree with much of my Missourian colleague, David Rosman's "Political attack ads are worthless in making smart decisions" and I applaud Missouri House District hopeful Kelly Schultz's efforts to run a civil, issue-oriented campaign. The "has done his/her homework" informed voter is neither swayed nor impressed by purely political or personal attacks.
Nevertheless, advantages do accrue from attack ads and other obnoxious skullduggery. If these tactics were not in some way beneficial, they would have long since fallen to disuse. Face it, political advertising is not cheap — only effective methods survive.
There is of course an entertainment factor in mudslinging. Imagine a candidate for office standing before you with the following: "My worthy opponent is upright, honest, caring, intelligent and filled with integrity — clearly dedicated to motherhood, apple pie and the flag and unalterably opposed to sin in any form. However, I implore you to vote for me instead because I am more upright, honest, caring, integrity sated, ad infinitum." Can anyone imagine a more humdrum, boring process?
Also, since politics is a contact sport, political campaigning is not unlike training or driving mules — first the candidate must obtain and hold the constituency's undivided attention. I won't attempt to describe the art of gaining a mule's attention as I am certain there are a few who understand, but keeping voters motivated requires a continuing supply of read meat in the form of strong and persistent rhetoric.
Finally, albeit unfortunately, the use of hateful, ad hominem and demeaning attack ads actually works. The lazy, uninformed, usually apathetic or purely emotion driven voter will buy into the rumor, innuendo, lies and damn lies of unprincipled candidates or political organizations. Enough of the electorate is either sufficiently gullible or lacking in political acumen to carry an election or a proposition down the wrong path, regardless of party affiliation.
Consequently, the informed voter will take with a grain of salt these hoary fairy tales: "Democrats are European wannabe socialists," "Republicans want to take away your Social Security," "Democrats are soft on crime and anti-defense," "Republicans are racist warmongers," "Democrats are the party of the working man/woman" and "Republicans are the party of the rich." One who subscribes to one or more of these myths and votes accordingly is due a reality check.
We are subjected to barrage after barrage of this propaganda drivel — the educated among us know that any scintilla of belief in these charges exists solely on the lunatic fringe of either party. Nevertheless, those outre' types are out there along with the uninformed and emotional bleeding hearts — they can turn an election or an amendment/proposition.
Missourians have not been immune to approving such wrong-headed issues — term limits come to mind. We have a rather full and lengthy ballot in Boone County — a slate of federal, state and local candidates, along with three Constitutional amendments, two statewide propositions and City of Columbia Propositions 1 and 2.
If you intend to exercise your right/privilege to vote, please do so responsibly — know the candidate and understand the issues — recovery from an unwise decision is a lengthy and painful process.
J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.