I wanted to fill this blog post with video clips of the deluge of negative political TV ads I’ve been watching for the last two months, some of which are intentionally funny, some of which are unintentionally so, and some of which are just distastefully manipulative. But I can’t find them anywhere online – it’s as if they never happened.
On the eve of election day there are finally some positive ads with reasons – policy, character, whatever – that you might cast a vote in someone’s favour. But for months all we’ve had are slurs. Illinois is far from being a swing state in the Presidential race (see this nice New York Times graphic to get a sense of the swing states and the solidly Democrat and Republican ones), so most of the effort is being expended on the Congress race.
What you got, for weeks, was a series of one-minute or thirty-second smears followed, at the end of the ad, by two seconds where a soft-lit image of the sponsoring candidate appeared, saying ‘I’m XX, and I approve this message.’ Or sometimes it’s one of these mysterious PACs like the ‘Now or Never PAC’ or the ‘Freedom Works PAC’.
The flood of negativity seems to have four main streams flowing through it. Tactic one, which surely has the depressing effect of dragging down everyone’s respect for politicians, is to claim that your opponent is self-interested, power-hungry, and enriching him or herself at the taxpayer’s expense. Judy Biggert (Rep) wants pay rises for herself and higher taxes for the middle classes, claims Bill Foster (Dem). Bill Foster is ‘out for himself’, claims Judy Biggert, and wants to pay no taxes himself.
Another tactic, popular in moderate Illinois, is to argue that the Republicans who seem reasonable (such as Bob Dold, who’s pretty moderate) are actually Tea Partiers. A current ad has whistling tea kettles popping up in incongruous settings – the park, a bench, the Lake Michigan shore – to make the point that the Tea Party is out of place here. To do it credit, it’s a) quite funny and b) bothers to include a second half that tells you what the Democrats would do instead – principally, it seems, go around tidying up the tea kettles.
This general approach is also applied to the abortion issue: there’s a crude but effective ad where a clip of Joe Walsh (Rep) saying that there should be no exception to a ban on abortion is replayed a few times and labelled ‘too extreme without exception’. But other ads ramp up the emotion, with women being told that in the worst moment of their lives, if they’re raped, Republicans will accuse them of lying. There was even one full of children crying in a Republican future where services for families were cut.
Finally, you can simply make out that your opponent is downright nasty and mean. This can produce ad and counter-ad. Tammy Duckworth (Dem) accuses her opponent Joe Walsh of skipping out on child support to go on holiday around Europe. Walsh’s son has now released a video telling her to stop attacking their family; but at the same time their campaign is trying to smear Duckworth as corrupt.
I think my favourite, though, is the anti-Bill Foster ad which plays out like A Christmas Carol. Bill Foster, it says, once sacked some people at Christmas. Worse: he outsourced work to China! (The fact that China has the temerity to grow its economy as large as America’s is seen as an act of pure evil over here.) But no, no, actually even worse: he let some Illinois jobs go to… Wisconsin!
And there you have it. Crying kids, Christmas, kettles on the beach. Choose wisely.