Annually this time of year brings a certain dread. It was not something I thought about much as a kid when September meant back to school and plans for the much anticipated holiday of Halloween. The days start getting shorter, the nights cooler and before we know it the leaves will have changed and we will have the annual leaf exchange with some of our leaves going to the neighbors and the favor being reciprocated. It’s Minnesota, so autumn can usher in an early winter with ice and cold, snow and the slight reprieve from an air conditioning bill is replaced with the arrival of the first heating bill.
None of what I have mentioned so far is what I dread. Seasonal changes are part of the joy of Midwestern living and as much as some seasons pose more challenges than others, there is a beauty to the rhythm and I like the familiarity of sowing and harvesting, of the earth working hard and then hibernating beneath a blanket of snow in preparation for doing it all over again. The elements that I might dread on a single day are what makes us hearty folks appreciate the sunny warmth of Indian Summer or the precipitation in the spring which is not frozen. What annoys me about this time of year is political ads!
I follow politics fairly attentively and on some issues have very strong opinions. I rarely vote a straight ticket, as I recognize that my mayor has no influence on state or federal legislation and my school board members aren’t going to create laws. While I will read literature sent or dropped off at my home and engage with a candidate or their representative when they are out door-knocking, I have avoided running for public office (despite being encouraged to several times) because I have no interest in bothering people at their home. Phone calls from campaigns are another thing that I will answer but would never want initiated on my behalf. I read the newspaper, watch the news, listen occasionally to talk-radio and will watch televised debates and then use the internet to track down information on a candidate I want clarification regarding.
I hate candidate radio ads but despise the televised commercials. We have spent the better part of a decade using precious classroom time to address bullying among school children and then every fall we undo everything by having adults who are seeking leadership positions say horrible things; fabrications, many exaggerated, some half-truths, others out-and-out lies and then ask you for your vote. Oh, I listen to who has paid for the ads, often not the candidate but an organization or committee. I personally feel like if it is being done on your behalf you need to own it or address it.
I do watch commercials the first time I see a new one and then again the second time it’s on, to verify that what I could not believe they said the first time was actually what I heard. I actually think some are clever, some are humorous, most strike me as simply annoying. It’s not a partisan issue either, some of the best ads I’ve seen this election have been for a candidate I have no intention to vote for. I have never relied on commercials as a way to learn about a candidate. I get that this is how the game is played but it saddens me that our politicians are often selected by voters who are lured in by a slogan, a sticker or thirty second soundbite.
I encourage people to put down their remotes, pick up a newspaper, take a look at a website and don’t be mesmerized by a slick ad that was likely produced by individuals that won’t even be voting for that candidate. If you are like me, there is probably no political party that has a platform that you agree with 100% but think about your values and a few key topics. Please, more than one issue, nobody should be so close-minded at to have a singular topic mandate all of their voting decisions.
I would enjoy it if we decreased the length of our campaigns to perhaps two months for literature and websites and if radio and TV ads were given perhaps a month (ideally less but to accommodate our recently increased absentee ballot availability) to air. I would love if perimeters for advertising were that candidates be required to provide information about their political opinions on issues and what they are in favor of or opposed to and that candidates or committees not be allowed to address their perception of another candidate, as that would be their responsibility to cover in their own ad.
So far this season I have been annoyed by the use of children in ads for a candidate because they don’t vote and I would hate for a child or parent to feel pressured about accepting or declining participation in an ad. I’m not a fan of poor actors trying to portray “average folk” changing a tire because of pot holes or talking “candidly” from a script. I think having a teacher in a classroom identify their political party can be alienating to students or their parents. There are also dramatically voiced ads about candidates doing perfectly legal things but stated in a way that makes it seem horrible. You know. like when you say to your dog “Oh you big dummy, you ate another sock you stupid pup.” but you’re saying it in dog owner baby-talk that has your dog’s tail wagging. Do you really want to be swayed by that? If a politician did something that wasted eleven million dollars, that would be news worthy but if as a businessman the candidate does something that increases revenue by that amount we are implored to think of that as a bad thing. Having a shrewd businessman trying to save the city, state or country money is somehow evil? The one that agitated me enough to inspire this rant is the one focused on a candidates hairstyle and his habit of slicking his coif down with his hands. It doesn’t matter what your political ilk, this clearly has nothing to do with political competence. This candidate comes from wealth as the result of his family owning a well-known store and somehow this is supposed to make you not want to vote for him. No this is not an ad about the governor. This wealthy guy whose name is synonymous with a store is from the other major party. The Governor’s campaign would have thought it ridiculous if their gubernatorial candidate were referred to this way in an “attack ad”.
Bottom line is I think that politics have gotten too expensive, campaigning too negative and advertising too ridiculous. Briefer campaign periods, common sense in guidelines for ad content and a focus on politics might be intelligent and refreshing. Autumn is my favorite of the four seasons and it would be really nice if each year I did not dread it.