Two-time Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson refused to appear in televised commercial during his campaigns in 1952 and 1956, saying that doing so was beneath his dignity.
Too bad that Adlai’s not on the ballot today. He’d get my vote.
Election season once was the political junkie’s most exciting time of year. It was like draft day for the fantasy football fanatic.
Alas, no more. The barrage of television commercials is as depressing as it is offensive, with messaging and negativity aimed squarely at manipulating the least informed voters. Attack ads do two things: they make anyone running for office look greedy and/or crooked; they also effectively win elections. Alas, that’s the problem. No one—winners or losers—emerge unscathed.
Journalist Michael Kinsley said it well when he described how what is often termed a “gaffe” by a candidate is actually one of those rare moments when he or she accidentally goes off message and tells the truth.
I’ve yet to see a television commercial during this campaign season that doesn’t tick me off. So, in the spirit of offering an alternative, here’s the script for a campaign commercial that I’d like to see. It’s for any office and a candidate from either party—or, even better, an independent.
SCENE: A candidate sits at a desk. A simple backdrop, maybe a shelf with a few books. There’s no American flag (not because we don’t like the flag, but we’re tired of phony patriotic props).
The candidate speaks:
“Good evening, voters. I appreciate the opportunity to speak tonight, because I’ve decided that the professionally produced attack commercials add nothing to the public debate.
“Before I start, let me point out that my opponent is an ethical person with high standards, someone whom I respect. I do think, however, that I’m the preferable candidate, and by the time I finish this talk, I hope you’ll agree.
“We have a number of challenges before us. Simply put, our government does not have the resources we need in order to satisfy everyone. In fact, governing involves knowing what NOT to do more often than embarking on new programs. Please keep in mind that few government programs benefit everyone. In fact, any new legislation carries with it the possibility of unintended consequences. So I’m not going to promise that I’ll bring every one of you prosperity. I won’t, because I can’t.
“Our worst problems won’t be easy to solve. Take crime, for example. It’s horrible when anyone is victimized by a violent crime, but the reality is that crime rates are actually going down. When politicians say that they’re going to be ‘tough on crime,’ what they’re really saying is that they want your vote. They want to scare you and then offer up some ineffective program like ‘Three Strikes’ that ends up doing nothing more than driving up prison costs.
“Or take the pension problem. I’d love to go on and on about how irresponsible politicians have moved the state toward bankruptcy simply because they didn’t stand up to the unions. That may be true, but blaming them doesn’t solve the problem. The answer is to pursue legal means to reduce the costs. Unfortunately, we’re going to have to cut programs in order to pay off these deals that never should have been made in the first place.
“Education. We have some major problems here. The sad reality is that public education is not producing the results that we want. Just ask any community college teacher, and she’ll tell you that students are coming in without basic skills. Here again, I could blame teachers, or parents, or administrators. I’m not going to do that—unless they continue to act as a roadblock to find solutions. Some charter schools have had dizzying success. Instead of fighting them, let’s try to study what they’re doing and adapt it.
“My opponent has been hollering at me on his attack ads because I’m not enthusiastically supporting everything with the word ‘green’ in it. Others are mad at me because I believe that global climate change is, indeed, a threat. What neither side is doing is looking toward good science. What policy will have an impact? Using nuclear power might be a better answer than having rich people drive Priuses. Are we ready to put aside our prejudices and do what’s best for the environment?
“I hope you vote for me. I don’t have easy answers. But I will work with anyone who has good ideas—no matter their political affiliation. Thank you.”
Tom Honig is at [email protected] He doesn’t expect that this speech will be used by anyone. Send comments on this article to [email protected]