Archive for Thursday, August 12, 2010

Just give the facts, please

August 12, 2010

Whew! Am I ever glad the primary election is over. Maybe we’ll have a short break before we start being bombarded with more general election advertising.

In the primary it seemed that you couldn’t turn on the television or go to the mail box without an explosion of political propaganda. Unfortunately, most of it was very negative and shed very little light on the candidates or their positions. There is little doubt in my mind that voters are confused and unhappy.

Every time I watch a political ad I became more disgruntled. Candidates spend most of their time badmouthing their opponent or arguing their ideological positions. Frankly, I don’t care how liberal, conservative or moderate a candidate is. I just want to know where he or she stands on each issue. Don’t tell me how badly your opponent voted or try to confuse me with guilt-by-association claims.

I kept thinking that political advertising was like two guys wrestling in a pigpen. There was a tremendous proverbial mudslide, which covered up the issues.

Now there is nothing new in mudslinging. In fact, it would seem to be an American tradition and only George Washington escaped scathing attacks. After Washington retired following two terms in office, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson slugged it out twice, each winning one time. For the most part, all American elections have featured attacks and counter attacks, although it seems to be getting worse.

For example, after the Civil War the Republicans “waved the bloody shirt.” They were successful in attempts to blame the Democrats for fermenting the war. They referred to the Democrats as a party of “rum, Romanism and rebellion.” It worked for several terms but ultimately times changed and new voters faced different issues.

The Democrats on the other hand spent most of the 1930s and 40s blaming the Republicans for the Great Depression. They charged that President Hoover took no action to prevent the depression. They were pretty successful with this fantasy until Dwight Eisenhower ran for president. They learned that the country was more interested in the leadership of a war hero than in past history. The 1960 election brought fear tactics about John Kennedy, who was a Roman Catholic. The public didn’t buy that either. Once again reason prevailed over propaganda.

There have been many hot-button issues that were used to sway voters. Some of them seem silly now. The gold standard debate thrust William Jennings Bryan, a little-known Nebraskan, into the Democratic nomination for president in 1896. Many candidates floundered over the question of prohibition in the first few decades of the 20th century. Some office seekers waffled and referred to prohibition as a noble experiment. In Kansas and Missouri, Sunday “blue laws” were hotly debated and probably cost candidates votes. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1970s that Sunday sales were allowed in Missouri.

Some presidents are able to take controversial action and receive voter support. President Theodore Roosevelt made sweeping changes and was widely attacked by big business. The general public, however, agreed with him and he was re-elected with an overwhelming margin.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt was popular with the common man, but certainly not with big business or the media, which angrily referred to him as “that man.” Yet he was elected four times.

I have a suggestion for the candidates in the general election. Just tell me why the country or the state will be better off if I vote for you. Give me specific solutions to our pressing problems and don’t use generalities. And by the way, forget the mudslinging. As Sgt. Friday of Dragnet used to say, “just give me the facts” and I’ll give you my vote.

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