Indeed, the inumerable variations of campaign advertising this election season have been particularly nasty, brutish, and short. Americans have been innundated with the dark art of what philosopher-journalist Walter Lippmann once called the "chattering gossips, unscrupulous liars, congenital liars, feeble-minded people, prostitute minds [and] corrupting agents" who create "public sentiment." Four billion dollars. All that money. And what did it deliver to our homes and computers? It bought plenty of unhinged accusations, didn't it? And more than its share of idiot candidates. It bought fear and prejudice. And ads worthy of ridicule on YouTube. All that coin, and all those negative buys, may have influenced an election or two (or 10 or 20) but sure didn't bring much context or perspective, let alone useful wisdom, to the American people.
I write today having just returned from the garbage can in my kitchen, where I have just deposited, unread, another half-dozen election-related mailings sent out en masse this election year. They come to the house each day, desperate and cynical solicitations, all facilely extolling the virtues of one candidate or cynicallly demonizing the record of another. These pamphets and placards, these silly four-colored tracts, these impromptu economic bailouts for the Post Office and printing companies, these demeaning assaults upon people of good faith. How many forests of how many trees were wiped away to send this crap to potential voters? And how many more will fall when the 2012 presdential campaign spends $10 billion to spread the slanders around?
I write with the television on in the background, emitting the sound of one rude and misleading campaign advertisement after another. That these ads flourish tells you they succeed. That they succeed tells you that we are still, despite all the information and knowledge surrounding us, largely an ignorant and incurious people, willing to be eagerly certain about our political choices but unwilling to spend the time it takes to truly understand or explain why. Thanks to Chief Justice John Roberts and his fellow conseratives on the United States Supreme Court, thanks to the Citizens United ruling last January, these destructive advertisements now may be funded secretly by corporations and individuals. Democracy demands wisdom. But it doesn't provide a flashlight.
In my neck of the woods--I guess because there is enough Citizens United money floating around to look beyond the coming election--we already are accursed with ads seeking the repeal of the Democratic health care reform law. The "viagra for rapists" ads, for example, are instant classics, not just because they are so insulting but also because of their gall. Along the same lines, I saw an ad last week in which a nitwit candidate wanted me to consider him an honorable man because he had belatedly owned up to lying about a very serious matter. Never mind whether "Mr. Vote For Me I Own Up To My Bad Lies" can win--how about explaining to me why anyone would vote for him and thus settle for such low expectations for public office. Surely we can do better, no?