Campaign Ads Are Ruining American Politics

President Obama and Mitt Romney, in their ongoing efforts to reduce what ought to be a nuanced and comprehensive political conversation to a series of dumbed-down talking points, recently released two new campaign advertisements. The ads are negative in nature (surprise, surprise), but this time they targeted not only the supposed political shortcomings of their opponents, but also their vocal chops.

In Obama’s ad, we are treated to a series of short, context-less quotes about Romney’s apparent use of outsourcing and tax loopholes while he pitifully warbles “America the Beautiful” in the background. The empty conference rooms and eerie echo effects make the video feel more like a horror movie preview than a political advertisement (idea for a B-list slasher: Mitt Romney: Red, White, and Blood). The ad concludes by calling Mitt Romney “the problem” with America.

Not to be out-hate-mongered, Romney countered with his own ad that presents little more than a trio of dramatic headlines (you know, those things meant only to grab your attention and encourage you to read the full story) to demonstrate Obama’s love of campaign donors and hatred of the middle class. In a classic monkey-see monkey-do type move, Romney also attempts to mock Obama’s rendition of “Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green. The most absurd part of the ad is the fact that the President sounds pretty damn good in his sound byte, rendering the ad not only misleading but also ineffective.

These ads and others like them expose the woefully misguided political priorities of both Romney and Obama. While Americans struggle through unprecedented economic and social hardships, these two potential presidents argue over who would make the better American Idol. As a voter, I would rather hear how Obama plans to deal with Syria or how Romney plans to reinvigorate the economy than watch another 30-second pissing contest. I think Mara Liasson said it best in a her recent story “Are Candidates Missing the Big Picture?” (Spoiler alert: yes):

“Why are the presidential candidates running such insubstantial campaigns? On any given day, it seems like the debate is about whether President Obama
thinks entrepreneurs built their own businesses or what year Mitt Romney gave up control of Bain Capital — instead of big solutions to fundamental problems like economic growth, energy or immigration.”

By disregarding substantial issues and drumming up controversy over frivolous matters of political intrigue, campaign ads are doing an enormous disservice to voters. Rather than illuminating their own concrete plans for the future of our country, Romney and Obama are trying to poke holes in the weakest, most arbitrary parts of their opponent’s records while ignoring or concealing the most substantive parts of their own. Although Romney seems to be the worst offender in this regard, Obama has shown himself similarly committed to political misdirection and spiteful aggression. The sad truth is that this is what all political advertising has been reduced to, or should I say, what it has always been about:

Although neither Obama nor Romney have gone so far as to suggest that the opposition supports the nuking of adorable toddlers, there is certainly no shortage of emotional manipulation, inflammatory rhetoric and even outright lying in their advertisements. These types of advertising tactics are dangerous; they promote extremism and polarization, impeding the open exchange of political opinion. Not to mention, they’re just plain sleazy.

And things are only getting worse. A study by the Wesleyan Media Project shows that negative ads have accounted for 70 percent of all advertising in the 2012 election compared to just 9 percent in 2008. At this rate, 2016 will see the beginning of televised candidate fistfights. Sure, it’s important to evaluate a politician’s flaws in addition to their strengths so voters can make fully informed decisions. But evaluation quickly becomes demonization if a certain level of civility is not upheld, and so far civility seems to have given way to political petulance.