- 'HICKY': The intended audience.
"John [Boozman] wants to cut taxes not raise 'em ... Blanche [Lincoln] is the one voting for all of Obama's spendin'," says the fisherman with a fake Southern accent to his pal.
That's just one of the shallow, quick and meaningless messages from any number of politicians you've been seeing on television this campaign season — all predicated on the notion that you're so gullible, naive or stupid that you'll believe them.
The Boozman "fishing" ad has drawn a lot of attention, leading one columnist to declare that the congressman was playing Arkansans for chumps. That's a pretty fair assessment. Most analysis of political ads focuses on the message, but every message has a receiver. The ads say a lot more about what the candidates think about those who receive the message than they might like to admit.
It seems pretty clear the creator of the fishermen ad expected its audience would be old, white, scared Arkies who are too simple to comprehend a message any longer or more complex than "John wants to cut taxes," or "Lincoln = Obama."
At least one of the actors in the Boozman ad was actually from somewhere around here. In Virginia, the National Republican Senatorial Committee ran an advertisement against West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin, a Democrat. The casting call asked for actors with a " 'Hicky' Blue Collar look." The characters were to resemble coal miners and truckers, and beat-up hats and Dickies' jackets were the preferred attire.
Former President Bill Clinton said of the ad, "Paid actors told to act like hicks. That burns me up." It's hard to believe casting instructions for the Boozman advertisement were much different.
Granted, 30 seconds is hardly enough time to lay out complicated policy positions, but using that amount of time for cheap attacks and conventional cliches like "tax and spend liberal," and "Washington insider" are an insult to the audiences' intelligence.
Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse comes a radio advertisement from Second District congressional candidate Tim Griffin, attacking his opponent, Sen. Joyce Elliott, for her lack of character.
Griffin attacking Elliott for her character is like Boozman telling Lincoln to get a personality. Elliott has, for some unknown reason, shied away from digging through Griffin's past and making an issue of his shady dealings, like his role in the ousted U.S. attorneys scandal, although that strategy seems to have changed as election day approaches. But if Elliott wasn't going to make character an issue, Paul Charlton, a life-long Republican and one of the U.S. attorneys who was purged for political reasons during the Bush administration, was set on it.
"[Griffin] essentially destroyed Bud Cummins' chance to stay in office as U.S. attorney even though Bud was doing a terrific job," Charlton said. "He had slandered Bud while he was a U.S. attorney and used his position with Karl Rove to move Bud out of office. Bud handled it very much like a gentleman and with a great deal of grace and I don't think I could say the same of Mr. Griffin."
Absolutely at issue, Charlton said, was Griffin's character. But Griffin's campaign thinks that you're so uninformed about his past that it can all be washed away over the course of a 30-second radio advertisement.
This kind of political advertising and rhetoric will continue as long as the public accepts it. Polls show that voters don't like negative advertising, but the campaigns keep churning it out. So what can you do about it? For one, you can vote against candidates who try to win you over with drivel like, "The other guy wants to raise your taxes." When someone says they want to "cut wasteful spending," the media and the public should expect and demand answers to simple questions like, "How?"
George Orwell once said something about politics and the English language. "Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one's own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase into the dustbin, where it belongs."