Attack Ad Blues

Image: CagleCartoons via NBC News

“Now let me tell you a story…’bout the Attack Ad Blues…” (with apologies to George Thorogood and his Delaware Destroyers)

Once upon a time, when American politicians first understood the Marshall McLuhan mantra that the ‘medium is the message’ (another Canadian genius, we have spawned several), political campaign television advertising had a vestigial legitimacy. Slagging the opposition with assaults that maintained only a tenuous connection to truth has been campaign sport since the first Athenian demos, but throughout history such attacks usually made at least passing reference to why our guy was right for the job! The electronic mass media was revealed in the early 1960s as a primary persuasive tool to reinforce why a vote for the other guy was a small step on the road to perdition.

The 1964 ‘Daisy’ ad attained its deserved place as combination art and mesmerizing message. ‘Daisy’ brilliantly melded child-like innocence with the blunt Democrat warning that Barry Goldwater had too itchy an H-bomb trigger finger to trust with a Cold War US presidency. No vituperative personal attacks, no 150 decibel caterwauling about opposition candidate immorality – ‘Daisy’ was a message, one designed to persuade, not titillate or promote dumb-ass wedge issue politics…a message to be accepted or rejected by the citizens as they determined best…a message that was part of the larger Democratic platform to be evaluated, and not its defining feature.

So let’s think real hard about how the 2012 attack ad thunderbolts the Dems and the GOP  hurl at each other actually advance the fundamental principles of the Great Republic. Free speech is a liberal democratic cornerstone – the Borderless News and Views commentators and the Fox News crew confirm this proposition every day. Last week I offered an opinion in the Toronto Globe and Mail that any voter so brain-addled as to be influenced by the unerring dumbness of the Canadian equivalents gets the government they deserve. As with so many things American, your hyper-polarized politics ensures the entire concept descends into farce.

Many otherwise noble and committed Democrats feel compelled to dwell on the minutiae of Mitt Romney’s life at Bain Capital. This stuff gets awfully lame to yer obedient scribe. One hates to be a spoil sport, but ‘creative destruction’ wasn’t invented by Mitt, the distinction falling to the undoubtedly clever economic theorist Joseph Schumpeter (1883-1950). Further, Schumpeter’s theories are not necessarily bad, or wrong. He viewed economic cycles as waveforms to be either controlled or ridden out, Big Kahuna style …and a question to those who see Bain Capital as the Republican Achilles’ heel – Chairman Mitt almost assuredly broke no laws in his outsourcing zeal and painful capital reorganizations…y’know, laws, the framework of a liberal democracy?

Instead, why not blast away, morning, noon and night on the fat immobile targets that are avowed Republican policy, ones that stretch all credulity on a range of issues as broad as our continent. Make the voting public confront this simple question – is GOP incoherence on gut issues such as abortion rights, healthcare, bank regulation, gun control, and immigration what you want for your nation?  Take the high ground to victory! From the melting White North, it seems to me that President Obama faces an opposition that welcomes absurd Birther conspiracy theorists, wacko ‘search on sight’ anti-immigration true believers, and a sad, pathetic constituency that embraces personal freedom for everyone …except anyone different than them. This is surely the Tea Party effect at its most puerile – and that, folks, is no mean feat in a group where mere banality, high decibel “sez you!”, and comic book rhetoric would raise these clowns at least three intellectual rent districts.

Think hard, Democrats – is victory as sweet if you simply out-slag someone? For a party of supposed commitment to principle, just because ‘they’ do it hardly makes it right. You have options!


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