Election Day. On this magical date once every couple of years, the halls of local middle schools are turned into the heart of the American political system. When you drop your ballot in the box, you can rest assured that you’ve done your civic duty, and you are now an upstanding citizen – minus the tax evasion and littering and whatnot.As much fun as voting is, I’d have to say my favorite part about election season is the attack advertisements. Seriously, nothing glues me to the television like two people taking pot shots at each other, especially if they’re politicians. What’s so amazing about these 30 seconds of advertising heaven are the subtle nuances.
As the adage goes: A picture is worth a thousand words. Politicians use this to their full advantage when trying to smear their rivals.
First of all, they love to run unflattering photos of their opponents. These scream that not only did the incumbent vote against an increase in public education funding, but his ugly face undermines the integrity of the great looking people of this city, state or country.
Another photo that is a favorite of attack campaigns would be the “smug politician.” Nobody likes a pretentious jerk, so just hoist up one of these snapshots and accuse their opponent of being against discount muffler repair for pregnant teens. They’ve pretty much won themselves the election.
Something else that is important to note about these commercials is how the “good candidates” always try to make themselves look like God’s gift to mankind through a bunch of audacious promises like: “Mr. Smith is for higher taxes and lower pay for teachers. I will desalinize the oceans and reveal the secret of how to turn lead into gold.” After the mud slinging dies down is a great time to sucker punch your opponent and start thumping your chest.
In 2002, Congress passed the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act that required politicians to say they approved the messages that their campaigns had put together. This little number has served to put an exclamation point on the end of these advertisements. What used to be a modest “my name is Mr. Jones, and I approved this message” has turned into something more spectacular. Now politicians use this little snippet to take any final blows at their opponents that might be deemed necessary. Now, you are more likely to hear “my name is Mr. Jones, and I approved this message because Mr. Smith is no good for Texas, and he also cheated on his 10th grade Algebra II test by writing the formulas on the palm of his hand.”
While we think political fighting is bad today, we’ve got nothing on 1856. Back then, Congressman Preston Brooks of South Carolina savagely beat Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner with a cane after a round of debates about escalating violence in Kansas. Sumner was badly hurt and was absent from the Senate for three years.
Before you go out and cast your vote and make this great machine known as democracy run, take the time to enjoy the wonderful smear campaigns littering the airwaves. Laugh, gasp and marvel at the idiosyncrasies that make attack ads so can’t-turn-your-head-away extraordinary. And remember, as long as no one busts out a cane, it’s all good clean fun.
David Hall is a freshman news-editorial journalism major from Kingwood. His column appears every Tuesday and Friday.